The Colossus of Maroussi

ISBN: 0811201090
ISBN 13: 9780811201094
By: Henry Miller

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About this book

The Colossus of Maroussi is an impressionist travelogue by Henry Miller, written in 1939 and first published in 1941 by Colt Press of San Francisco. As an impoverished writer in need of rejuvenation, Miller travelled to Greece at the invitation of his friend, the writer Lawrence Durrell. The text is inspired by the events that occurred. The text is ostensibly a portrait of the Greek writer George Katsimbalis, although some critics have opined that is more of a self-portrait of Miller himself.[1] Miller considered it to be his greatest work.

Reader's Thoughts


Hardly anyone I have ever met, unless they are a serious Henry Miller devotee or an avid reader of Greek travelogues, has heard of this book. It's a wild ride, demonstrating both the liveliness of the author, but also how alive the Greece and Greeks he knew were. My memory of it has faded over the something like 30 years (!) since I read it, but I still have a strong impression of light, of dancing, of the castigation of Germans, Americans, and Britons in favor of a more alive southern European type. (Ironically, or perhaps simply pointedly, Miller was 100% German-American.)


This beautiful and nearly flawless travel memoir is marred by this unfortunate sentence on page 121: "On the way to the library, I made kaka in my pants." Wha? Here's this fabulous surreal narrative about Greece, and suddenly the narrator doesn't just shit himself, he "makes kaka?" Skip page 121.

Rick Skwiot

Some critics call "The Colossus of Maroussi"--Henry Miller`s account of his trip to Greece on the eve of World War II--the greatest travel book ever. But, like all great travel books, it's much more than mere depiction of beautiful landscapes, missed connections, bad weather, and surly waiters--though Miller recounts those as well. Rather, the book stands as a compelling paean to the Greek spirit, to liberty, and to life--as well as a barbaric yawp prefiguring the coming cataclysm.The Canadian critic Northrop Frye once said that the "story of the loss and regaining of the framework of all literature." That certainly applies well to travel literature, where the journey often occurs within the narrator as well as over the Earth, and in particular to The Colossus of Maroussi. At its core lies Miller's spiritual transformation through welcomed encounters with warm-hearted, generous, high-spirited Greeks, particularly the "colossus" Katsimbalis."I love these men, each and every one," writes Miller, "for having revealed to me the true proportions of the human being...the goodness, the integrity, the charity which they emanated. They brought me face to face with myself, they cleansed me of hatred and jealousy and envy."Like most of Miller's writing, from the joyous novel "Tropic of Cancer" to his trenchant essays, this book succeeds thanks to his freewheeling iconoclasm, his divine madness, and his inimitable language:"...Out of the corner of my eye I caught the full devastating beauty of the great plain of Thebes which we were approaching and, unable to control myself, I burst into tears. Why had no one prepared me for this? I cried out...We were amidst the low mounds and hummocks which had been stunned motionless by the swift messengers of light. We were in the dead center of that soft silence which absorbs even the breathing of gods...Through the thick pores of the earth the dreams of men long dead still bubbled and burst, their diaphanous filament carried skyward by flocks of startled birds."Here, as always, we see Miller as primitive shaman, awed and humbled by nature and humanity, disdainful of modernity and materialism: "Mechanical devices have nothing to do with man's real nature--they are merely traps which Death has baited for him."He underscores this view of us, as animals caught in a steel maze of our own making, by his frequent metaphoric mixing of nature's fecundity and manmade tawdriness, as when he describes the approach to Delphi:"This is an invisible corridor of time, a vast, breathless parenthesis which swells like the uterus and having bowelled forth its anguish relapses like a run-down clock."No, this is not your grandmother's travel writing, with its propriety, politeness, and "realistic" depictions, but word-pictures of an emotional landscape. That's the essence Miller strives to show: his subjective, experiential, inner reality. The subject here is Henry Miller, and what matters most is how these objects--the world--affect him.As a result, this 1941 literary bombshell, ostensibly about Greece, documents Miller's memories of New York inspired by a view of Athens, provides a lengthy disquisition on jazz when he's confronted by a French woman who disdains the chaos of Greece, and paints a disquieting, mad, and ominous picture of Saturn when he climbs to an observatory and views it through a telescope. He tells us his dreams and daydreams and what he wished he would have said. Everything is fair game; the seeming digressions frequent and fabulous.This is still nonfiction, but Miller's imaginative life at the time of his travels is real, and thus an important part of his narrative. In the end it all hangs together like a sumptuous tapestry woven by an inspired madman--which perhaps it is. We come away understanding more about the taste of Greek water, the quality of Greek light, and the magnificence of the Greek spirit than from reading all the objective reporting on Greece in the Library of Congress. He captures it all as it arrests him.Traveling at times with Katsimbalis, the poet Seferiades, and/or Lawrence Durrell, Miller moves from Athens and Corfu to Knossus and Delphi as if in search of dead Greek gods--and finds them reincarnate.We are lucky enough to travel with him, enduring treacherous seas, precipitous mountain passes, and heroic debauches, as well as feasting on the simple food, viewing the sublime beauty, and feeling the brotherhood and humanity that come to Miller like beneficent Peloponnesian sun wherever he turns. It is a trip I will make over and over again.


Delicious if you like passionate men who are passionate about Greece and probably stoned when writing.

Janez Hočevar

Miller's journey to Greece before the outbreak of the Second World War is a rough, poetic, cultural, philosophic hommage to Greece. It took me quite some time to grasp and comprehend what Miller wanted to say. His descriptions of Greece, of its people, of its art and of its past really compell the individual to ask himself/herself some important questions, like who we are, where are we going, what is our purpose in life. I have never experienced that in such a strong way like in Miller's Colossus of Maroussi. But what touched me the most is the feeling of passing, as Miller talks about Greece as it is (at the time when he was writting the Colossus of Maroussi) and how it it is going to change forever because of the war!!

Wray Finks

Henry Miller did not come off well in this. He stereotypes constantly, insulting countries like the US and Britain and everything they represent in terms of materialism and their negative influence on the rest of the world. Fine. He worships everything about Greece. Everything! The people are the best, the landscape has metaphysical properties, they are the only culture that "gets it". Millers laziness and lack of education really stands out. He knows nothing about Greek history and didn't even try, so he just makes shit up, frequently making references to American Indian tribes or whatever else suits him. Hell, he admits he never even read any of the Odyssey. All this is fine...unless you're writing a book on Greece. Miller is like Bukowski. Frequently drunk, spewing odd nonsense poetics that drift off into the ether, and incapable of writing about anything besides himself. At least Miller leaves his apartment now and again. I appreciated the fact that WWII was just getting underway and Miller pretends it doesn't exist. Just goes on with his vacation.

Sabra Embury

Driving through Big Sur from San Francisco to LA, I stopped by the Henry Miller Memorial Library and bought The Colossus of Maroussi; it was recommended by the shop-keep as "Miller's favorite work written by himself." Tropic of Cancer was already in my pile of to-read, road-trip-reading material after recommendations for its "dense, sexual force." So I figured: Why not a phase? I need to know more about Miller, and the subversive style which has made him a legend. Colussus of Maroussi had me running a marathon after sitting still for a decade. A momentum had to be found to enjoy it, a runner's stride into the epic scenery of Greece, seen through the eyes of a confident observer, image by image, inscribed within pages of names, places and various hospitalities. Slowing down, or stopping was not an option; as Miller's heart raced--penning carbon copies of lists of paragraphs describing his days, my mind raced as well, to keep up with recollections of a time where he was obviously treated very well for just being himself. A great travel memoir for anyone interested in Greece, or a tedious a thicket of language for anyone interested more in the impetus of a good story, Colossus is an undeniable body of love, an Outsider exercise inputting positive images into the imagination; and it's a no-brainer why it's Miller's favorite work, showcasing a cavalcade of experiences, which are long-worth remembering.


Henry Miller's reputation as a writer needs little verification from the likes of me. Nevertheless, it is a pleasure to be able to confirm the abilities of a truly great author. This example of his work is in some ways a peculiar one since it was written during a turning point in modern history, namely the Second World War, and was inevitably a turning point in Miller's own life as well.Henry Miller has not always had kind things to say about his native U. S. A. Here, in "The Colossus of Maroussi," he uses the American state as a kind of false backdrop for his discoveries in Greece. For Greece is the central geographical landscape on which he builds. Far from being a travelogue, however, it is a story of that ancient land and some of its people; Miller uses the fabric of Greek life to weave a story of mankind.His writing is distinctly dated today, but delightfully so. It is full of a poetic imagery that is almost entirely absent from the main stream of post-modern literature. As such, it is very complex writing which occasionally seems to be almost self-serving, as if the author was writing for no one but himself. In the main, it is a very accessible book that tries to reach out in pure, non-political terms to touch the essential core of what is man. At the present time, we could do well to review our own situation in life, and one way of doing so is by simply reviewing the literature on the subject. I recommend "The Colossus of Maroussi" as a place to start. Besides being the work of a truly formidable writer, it will take you to places you probably never dreamed existed.

John Ross

This book, which is generally categorized as a "travel book", was recommended to me as a "must read" prior to a trip to Greece. Overall, the book was a very worthwhile read, but like most things had pluses and minuses. On the minus side there were two drawbacks for me: (1) the paragraphs were almost all long, block (taking up most of the page and scant dialogue) and cumbersome beasts written in a 1940's style, and (2) it was a slow slog to get through the book's first 80 pages (it's first section of three). However, on the plus side of the ledger, the last two-thirds of the book were very enjoyable and insightful about the Greek character generally (note: the author LOVED the Greeks and their culture overall). Also, Henry Miller is an excellent writer and, as stated on the books back cover, "was the voice of a generation that opened the way to the counterculture movement. And at the end of this book he gives some very revealing personal insight into how his experience in Greece helped fashion his point of view of life. Overall, this was a travel book but much more as well.

LeeAnn Heringer

I have to admit that previously I've tried to read one of Henry Miller's "Tropics of…" and failed because it felt so dated. Yes, I know he was doing language experimentation and word jazz before any of the beats. But this travelogue of Greece made his riffs more relevant to me. He's very anti-capitalism, particularly as embodied by the corporation -- you could probably take some of the passages from this book and read them at a rally for the Occupy Movement or Blockage the Google Buses and if you didn't attribute them to Henry Miller, no one would know the words were almost 70 years old. But in this book, he's talking about a topic he really loves, Greece and the Greek people, and that offsets some of his curmudgeon-ness.I surprised myself by really enjoying this book.


In his gem of an campus novel, 'changing places' (a genre that he and malcolm 'history man' bradbury all but invented in the early 1970s), david lodge introduces us to the hilarious game of 'humiliation'. one thinks of a work that YOU haven't read but you reckon everyone else has, and you win points for everyone who has indeed read it. in 'changing places', visiting Brit literatus Philip Swallow introduces the game at a dinner given by the dean of the literature faculty. At first, an ambitious thrusting don doesnt get it and pulls out all these obscure writers that no one else has read so of course he doesnt get any points. then the penny drops and he announces triumphantly ... Hamlet. he scoops the board of course but the confession is out and natch, how can the dean now even consider him for the next head of the engl lit dept.right. i have never read henry Miller. not one. nada. shock horror. Til i picked out colossus of M from the shelves here and i am captivated. the scales have dropped from my eyes in my adoration of larry durrell. (i can call him larry because he came to tea once and a swallow fell out of the nest and shortie L got a ladder and plonked it back in - and it lived and was not shoved out by its parents. also, mum has a postcard signed 'larry' trying to lure her to paris. mum said no, of course, but she kept the card.Miller on greece, and bags on corfu, is brilliant. He's invited out to corfu by Durrell whose "Letters were marvelous, and yet a bit unreal to me. Durrell is a poet and his letters were poetic: they caused certain confusion in me, owing to the fact that the dream and the reality, the historical and mythological, were so artfully blended. Later I was to discover for myself that this confusion is real and not due entirely to the poetic faculty."Miller makes friends with a lady and a splendid Greek 'character': "We immediately became firm friends. With Nicola I spoke a broken-down French; with Karamenaios a sort of cluck-cluck language made up largely of goodwill and a desire to understand one another."Has it ever been better put? I read it and re-read it and it made me weep that my Greek is not better and got me off my backside and place phrase books in every loo so as to force my education.Miller is that sort of muscular American writer that meets European culture and filters out the fey. Hemingway did that for Spain.What 'Colossus' has done is to shove into middle ground perspective the excessive spell i was under by the alexandria quartet, and for that alone Miller is to be saluted

Liza Bolitzer

I always think that i will like travel books when i return from traveling, but that has never been the case, especially when they are written by self centered wankers like Henry Miller.


Coming to this after reading Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West, what I notice most, oddly enough, is the lack of history. Whereas West built a big book out of her study of then-Yugoslavia, incorporating a lot of local and national history going back to the Byzantine era, Miller just goes to Greece, admitting that he knows very little about it and that he doesn't know much about Homer, either. What you get therefore are sun-drenched landscapes, noodling epiphanies about the need for individuals to resist what doesn't suit them, conversations with Greeks returned from the U.S. about where they lived and how they made their money, and doomsday references to the coming second world war. I can't deny that Miller has a way of sketching in the panoramic, but if you feel that facts count, as I tend to, then his impressionistic responses to modern towns and ancient ruins, along with a reflexive disgust for scholars and learning, will sometimes annoy. (For example, at one point, Miller just decides that a particular site reminds him of "the queens.") That said, Miller describes his visit to Greece at the start as being a dream, as changing him in a way he can't quite define, and if you pay attention to the elemental and astrological references, as well as the repetition of key words such as "light," you'll see that he's working through the interior landscape with Greece and his memories of France and the U.S. as reference points.This is not really a travel narrative. Miller does name his destinations and provide, on occasion, framing details, but the views are so partial that you will rarely learn much. The description of the Armenian refugee quarter (where Miller visits, and is impressed by, a soothsayer) is one of the few sections that seems to have much historical specificity. After this, I should probably read The Air-Conditioned Nightmare - it seems likely that it completes or elaborates some of the opinions sketched out here.

Matt Hobson

It is called the greatest travel novel simply because it captures the difference in philosophy between all places around the world and shows how the living of life itself is an entirely unique experience depending on where you live or have grown up. You can see clearly that Colossus of Maroussi was written by an ex-patriate wanting to be free of the American way. Miller writes in a whirlwind to the degree that I gave up attempting to keep characters clear and separate in my mind, especially given that most of them had Greek names that are wildly different from American simplicity. It's not the greatest travel novel ever, but it will pique your observational muscles for maximizing your travel experiences philosophically. This novel tries to do what Kerouac's On The Road finally did in keeping the reader with you through a dense and fast travel experience. It is not Miller's finest and I would recommend you go toward the Tropics unless you are keenly interested in the failing Greek economy and the magnificent outlook on life the Greeks still possess that Miller captures like Picasso captures all sides of a guitar.


I found much of this book unreadable. Occasional luminous passages and insights nestle between large swathes of nonsense in which Miller abuses the language. Self-centred, self-indulgent ramblings of a privileged white guy abroad. Gross.

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