“Dulce et Decorum est,” the Archeologist said.
“Pro patria mori,” Gamache finished.
“You know Horace?” Croix asked.
“I know the quote.”
(Bury Your Dead, Page 130, Trade Paperback Edition)
The quote is indeed Horace and originates in his Odes (111.2.13) and as Dr. Croix, the archeologist, points out, essentially means, “It is sweet and right to die for your country.” To which Gamache replies—to the shock of Croix—”It is an old and dangerous lie. It might be necessary, but it is never sweet and rarely right. It’s a tragedy.”
This exchange takes place in the basement of the chapel of the Ursuline convent where General Montcalm was buried after his death on the Plains of Abraham, a pivotal battle in the Seven Years War. Montcalm most certainly died for his country and in doing so ceded control of Quebec City—and eventually all of Canada—to the English.
Horace wrote the original words to inspire his own countrymen, the Romans, to reach war-like heights in the face of their enemies.
The great World War I poet, Wilfred Owen, would borrow the phrase to title, arguably his most famous poem, Dulce et Decorum est, in which he describes the horrors of being gassed in the trenches on the Western Front.
Contrary to Horace’s original motivation for his Ode, Owen’s poem—in the words of Dylan Thomas—was “to show, to England, and the intolerant world, the foolishness, unnaturalness, horror, inhumanity, and insupportability of war, and to expose, so that all could suffer and see, the heroic lies, the willingness of the old to sacrifice the young, indifference, grief, the soul of soldiers.”
The heroic lies
And here, the last line of Owen’s prescient poem (he was killed just one week before the signing of the Armistice):
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
“It’s an old and dangerous lie,” says Gamache to Dr. Croix.
34 replies on “CULTURAL INSPIRATIONS FROM THREE PINES: BURY YOUR DEAD”
Bury Your Dead leaves me breathless. Penny’s characters, storylines, settings, literary references, and life lessons are everything I long for in a good read.
And, as a Canadian living in the US I’m transported proudly home in my mind and in my heart.
I just love these Cultural Inspirations….Louise Penny’s writing does indeed keep bringing me home to what is true and honest….these articles are a most welcome side trip on that journey.
Do keep them coming….
My only sibling was one of the finest men that you would ever meet. His name is on the last panel of the Vietnam memorial. Our government had long known that the war was unwinnable. He had completed his enlistment and was scheduled to be home for Thanksgiving. But a “green” team had replaced him and he went into the air to protect a firebase so that they would not be killed. Consequently, we spent Thanksgiving in a funeral home. My mother never recovered from his loss and my father would die of a broken heart a year after my brother’s death. War. Who needs it?
Always wanted to thank you for helping me somewhat get to know your brother. The stories you shared set me on a path these past 19 years to learn more about my brother and the men he served with. The journey has been tough and sad at times. But the men I found and the stories they have are amazing. To think, I was able to find my brothers crew chief that survived the crash. We have become close friends. He still thinks of your brother as the best friend he had in Vietnam. The loss of our brothers was a total waste but hearing how they touched the lives of others has made the journey so worth it.
Thanking of you and your family. I was at Chris’s gravesite a few months ago. Viet Nam, what a true waste.
I am so thankful to read each of the previous posts and find hope and wisdom in the words, the same as what I find in each of the Inspector Gamache novels. Thank you, Louise Penny, and thank you to each writer of the thoughts above.
I think the quote speaks to those who would start a war. Everyone loses in some way. That is true even if the war is undertaken to free the enslaved , even those whose chains are other than literal. Justification for the sacrifices must be left to those who have made them.
I first learned of Wilfred Owen and his poems in the 1960s via the English composer Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. Britten takes the Latin Requiem for the Dead and intersperses it with nine of Owen’s poems. It was written to commemorate Coventry Cathedral, which was rebuilt after being bombed in World War II. It is a stirring work.
All a poet can do today is warn. Wilfred Owen.
I’ll have to listen to Britten’s piece. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you, yes, “An old and dangerous lie”war is such a tragedy, yet we continue.
I grew up in Lake George where Montcalm Street was name for the General.
I came to understand the horrors of war at a very early age. A great uncle I never met whose name is engraved on the The Menin Gate Memorial. A grandfather who suffered from what, today, we would call shell shock. One did not approach grandad from behind if he didn’t know you were there. A cousin who never came home. Two uncles I never met. They simply did not come home. A mother who lost her first husband in Germany whilst carrying my (half) brother, and a second husband, my dad, who didnt make it home from India until I was two. I grew up in two bombed out port cities. Every movie was preceded by Pathe News, which bombarded us with the reality of war, including vivid images of the concentration camps and earlier footage of the absolute horror and devastation of life in the trenches. There is no glory in war, ever. Thank you for your truly remarkable novels. They pull no punches.
I was first exposed to the horror of WWI, by an old soldier with shell shock. It is beyond my imagination to consider the horror of Everyman in the trenches. It was reinforced by, believe it or not, Downton Abbey. I read the book by Lady Carnarvon’s book detailing that era of her home. What struck me was the soldiers who recovered on the estate knowing they had to return to the trenches. I am appalled just imagining going back to that hell.
There is no greatness in slaughter.
Ecclasteces said that there was a time for peace and a time for war. My mother always made the comment that every war is ended by talk, eventually. She wondered why so many had to die before that happened.
Their deaths were not glorious. Their deaths were hugely significant to their families, who would give up glory and pride to have their soldier home.
“It’s an old and dangerous lie.”
Indeed. I can feel Gamache’s horror. As a man in a leadership position for what is essentially a domestic military force, he can not imagine the men and women who died, during the raid at the factory, thinking it was right and good to do so. So much about life and death in this, perhaps my favorite Gamache mystery. The weaving of three tales into one: Gamache’s wounded psyche, Beauvoir’s wounded body, and the soul-wrenching last 24 hours of Agent Paul Morin’s life. So many dead in the factory, so many dead on the Plains of Abraham, so many dead and buried under the buildings of Quebec City, so many dead bodies moved from place to place, so many rules about where one can be buried – and about how much money will get you where, and for how long, after death – and so many casualties in accidental injustices.
Yet I keep returning to life and love, Gamache’s (un)dying words given to Agent Lacoste – Reine…Marie. Reine…Marie – and Reine-Marie’s only thought as the doctor gave his initial report to her and Annie, He’s alive!
And in Three Pines, Old Mundin’s terrible choices and the hermit’s terrible choices. (Sweet Jesus, communication is so important in families!) Olivier getting his life back and Gabri getting his love back.
And Jean-Guy, starting down a long and dismal path, not knowing how much he would change, because, well, people can change, but not always for the better.
“It’s an old and dangerous lie.”
Thank you for highlighting the multitude of stories and angst encompassed in this, my all-time, favorite book. As I listened to it the second time, I am filled with awe at the capabilities of Louise Penny to entwine all of these stories into one – and don’t forget all the history included as well. I feel her characters in such depth, especially the vulnerability and sensitivities of Gamache.
Thank you. Glad to have so many people with me on this journey!
Wonderfully insightful analysis, thank you.
Such a wise commentary, Jennie. I have come to treasure these comments from others in the Penny tribe. You are the soulmates I have searched for over 70 years.
Just returned from visiting Quebec City – stayed in the walled city – loved wandering around with Bury Your Dead in hand as my guidebook!
I believe religion is the rationalization used by bullies to create wars. I believe humans are to be creative and there’s nothing creative about killing or hurting other human beings. I really appreciate this book and the insight it gives us toward war and the occupation of one country by another.
I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for stating it so well.
I have my grandfathers WW1 journal. A few times he was lucky to stay alive.
I just finished reading Bury Your Dead a few days ago. I especially learning the historical references you include in your books. Being an American I am pretty ignorant of our neighbors history. By reading this fabulous series I have learned much and look forward to each of the well researched books you present to us readers.
There is no “Right,” to war and sending our young to fight battles they didn’t start and can’t end is so very, very “Wrong.” And, then when our troops come home they come home to nothing….where are those who sent them into battle….whose taking care of those, who tried, often losing their lives. to take care of their Country? It’s shameful….I love Gamache words…..”It is a tragedy.” War is a tragedy.
Such wonderful writing…I learn something with each book and they make me want to learn more….
I agree it is indeed a tragedy, is sometimes wrong, but, tragically sometimes unavoidable, e.g., against Hitler.
Insofar as the rise of Hitler can be directly connected to WWI (which was a tawdry turf war that stole a generation of youth ), and particularly the shameful reparation payment extracted from Germany at the instigation of the British, WWII might be seen as being entirely preventable
Thank you for making this point. The so-called “war credits,” or reparations levied against Germany by France & Germany were intended to cripple the German economy for the benefit of the WW I Allies. Fortunately George Marshall learned that lesson & was in the position to implement what is called The Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe instead of wrecking it again.
Gamache s truly wised. I agree with your statement.
I am making copies of these Cultural Inspirations to tuck in my copies of the books and also to include in Three Pines books I give as gifts. They are really appreciated and amazing. I learn much!
Making copies to tuck into the books is a wonderful idea!
Unfortunately there will always be wars; they seem to be part of human nature. The recent Manchester attack is another cruel manifestation.
With the United States Memorial Day this weekend this is most appropriate. It also will remind the world that we sacrifice our young and have yet to find peace.
It is a truth that we should embolden on our souls and remind those in power of the horror of war and he suffering of the innocents.
Very appropriate words to contemplate as we remember our family members lost 100 years ago in France.