Twenty-four hours earlier, Grazzi had hosted a gala reception for Metaxas and Greece’s figurehead king, George II, at the Italian consulate following a performance of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly. There, he had toasted Greek-Italian friendship with fine French champagne and a large cake bearing the words “Long Live Greece.” The new message he had been ordered to deliver to Metaxas at the behest of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was far less cordial. Although cloaked in the usual diplomatic pleasantries and written, as was still the custom of foreign ministries throughout the world, in formal French, the note’s underlying meaning was clear: Italy was invading Greece. The only question was how the vastly outnumbered Greeks would respond.
Grazzi waited silently for the answer as Metaxas, clad only in a nightshirt, a flowered dressing gown, and slippers, read over the message while sitting on the sofa in his trinket-laden study. The 69-year-old Metaxas, a former general, was not a well man. A lingering throat infection had sapped his strength, and the day before he had received word from his doctor that he would have to undergo a dangerous operation to determine the underlying cause of the infection. He had been sound asleep when Grazzi arrived. Now, however, he was wide awake. His hands trembled slightly as he read the document, and behind his reading glasses his dark eyes glistened with tears.