29 August 2013

"Ou Phrontis" at T.E. Lawrence's cottage

Clouds Hill was T.E. Lawrence's home in Dorset.
Lawrence ["Lawrence of Arabia"] first rented the cottage in 1923 while stationed at Bovington Camp with the Tank Corps, and he purchased it in 1925. He wrote "Nothing in Clouds Hill is to be a care upon the world. While I have it there shall be nothing exquisite or unique in it. Nothing to anchor me." 
In 1935, he left the RAF and returned to live at Clouds Hill. At the age of 46, a few weeks after leaving the service, Lawrence suffered severe head injuries in a motorcycle accident close to the cottage, and died in the Bovington Camp hospital on 19 May 1935. The following year, his heir, his brother Prof. A.W. Lawrence gave Clouds Hill to the National Trust. It is now a museum, dedicated to Lawrence.
The Greek phrase above the door is "Ou Phrontis":
Lawrence was nothing like the tall, handsome and debonair Peter O'Toole. Quite the opposite in fact. He was only five foot three, rather plain looking and awkward in his mannerisms...

The first thing is Clouds Hill itself. It is rather a rum kind of place. Not much in the way of windows as you can see from the picture and inside there is no kitchen nor lavatory nor any kind of hot or cold water. Certainly a place for the bohemian lifestyle. A man who had lived among the Bedu for almost two years had no need for modern conveniences...

One day his neighbour called round to find Lawrence up on a ladder with hammer and chisel in hand carving the words “ou phrontis” into the concrete lintel. Lawrence was a Greek scholar as you probably knew and when he was asked what the Greek words meant he told a story which he said he had read in Herodotus. The story goes that a king had a daughter that he wanted to marry off so he invited all of the best and most suitable young men to a feast. Well one young man got a bit drunk and danced on the table and did a few handstands – which is not the kind of thing you do at polite parties remembering that Greeks wore short military skirts and didn’t bother much with undergarments. Well the king was suitably repulsed by this young show-off and shouted out that he had just lost his chances of marrying the royal daughter. To which the young man shouted back “ou phrontis!” which roughly translated means “I don’t give a damn!”
Image via Uncertain Times.

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