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


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.


Miller finally departs from his shock-therapy style of incorporating the obscene in order to leap from the earth, but in no way does this diminish his poise, as he frolicks for a year in Greece with Lawrence Durrell. This work is as fanciful and full of poppycock as any other great piece by the man whose work I love so dearly I had some of it tatooed on my belly... but here the often under-praised sooth-sayer concerns himself essentially with human happiness and the folly of self-imposed suffering of the modern west. Miller, I think, must have sounded dated sometimes even to his contemporaries, but he is rarely guilty of looking shallow in hindsight. His proclaimations in Colossus-- that we must endeavor ever-more-so to rid ourselves of our learned tendencies to mistake progress for happiness-- are as true today in the face of terrorism as they were when the work was concieved, at the onslaught of WWII. Some people have called this Miller's best work, but I won't say so, even if it is deliciously rhapsodic and delivers his best soliloqouy on the value of mirth and light in life. It is probably his most accessible work, and would appeal to the broadest of audiences, but when has that ever constituted "best" in the mind possessed of its own unique songs?

Darran Mclaughlin

Superb book. Miller is such a life affirming writer. His philosophy is totally out of step with American culture and it seems he found his spiritual home in Greece. Having visited Greece for the first time myself last year I agree with his sentiments about the place. The Greeks have mastered the art of living, and refuse to enslave themselves to the tyranny of materialism. Miller is one of a kind. He is so open and forthright and seems to have few of the filters and restrictions the rest of have. No wonder he makes several remarks disparaging the English throughout this book as our national characteristics are precisely the opposite of what he finds admirable in people. There are few writers I enjoy who are this vital and optimistic. He has few antecedents in America, other than perhaps Walt Whitman, and it is impressive that he was recognised by writers of such different temperaments as Samuel Beckett, George Orwell and TS Eliot. His influence is easy to see in the likes of the Beats, Philip Roth and Joseph Heller.


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


thus far i am unsure how i feel about this book. i have never read anything by Miller before except for "The Crucible", but that was in high school so it almost doesn't count. It's nice to have the collective Greek ego stroked by non-greeks. after all, it's about time the rest of the world FINALLY realizes our greatness, understands our culture and matches beautiful words to the physical beauty of our landscape. some of the passages made me smile and made my heart fill with, um, pride? but,i must say at times it was almost to point of being absurd! Miller has a great gift to go off on a tangent, then stray from the original subject exponentially which each subsequent sentence. this can go on for pages! this is not only when he talks about Greece, but any subject. i just finished a chapter where he looks through a telescope and starts dissing Saturn. it's almost 2 full-pages of how repulsive the planet is and how it should be ashamed to call itself a planet. i will admit it's probably the funniest thing i've read in a while, but i'm not so sure Miller intended it to be so comedic. i have to hand it to him, for never having visiting saturn, he certainly has a lot to say about it! i am finding it difficult to get myself to read the book so i can finish it. i am not sure if it's because i am sort of bored with it or because i am wasting valuable time on facebook.june 4, 2009. i finally finished this damn book. i will say it was a struggle and didn't keep my attention as much as i wanted it to. Miller is master of metaphors. i realized this book is just a more boring early version of Zorba. i definitely liked Zorba better.

Anja Weber



Een vriend raadde me aan De kolossus van Maroussi te lezen en leende me zijn exemplaar. Toen ik aan dit boek begon wist ik niet zo goed wat ik ervan moest verwachten en het duurde een hele poos voordat ik echt door het verhaal gegrepen werd. Eigenlijk pas in deel drie, het laatste deel van het boek, kreeg ik de smaak te pakken. De schrijfstijl is erg mooi, maar eigenlijk gebeurt er het hele boek vrij weinig. Het is dan ook een non-fictie werk waarin Henry Miller zijn reis door Griekenland en de mensen die hij hier ontmoet beschrijft. Hij geeft een ontzettend mooie en gedetailleerde beschrijving van het land en haar inwoners, maar soms vond ik het stiekem wel een beetje saai.De verwijzingen naar bekende Grieken deed me beseffen dat ik nog best wat over de geschiedenis van dit land weet :p Ik ben zelf echter nog nooit in Griekenland geweest en hoop stiekem dat het aan mij lenen van dit boek een uitnodiging is om er naartoe te gaan;) Na het lezen van dit boek weet ik zeker dat ik een keer op vakantie naar Griekenland wil!


Here I offer some of my insights on Miller's narrative based on what it contributes to the study or religious travel (not necessarily pilgrimage). Anthropological research, when focused on studying other cultures, centered on the experiences of “fieldwork,” a task that led anthropologists to towns and villages in order to understand a “native” culture. (Clifford, 21-23) Despite these attempts, modern anthropologists have found flaws in this logic as a result of consistent interactions between groups of people. These interactions prevent a culture from being truly native as they are tainted by a culture with which they have had contact. Thus, anthropologist James Clifford argues that in order to study other cultures one must understand the “local/global historical encounters, co–productions, dominations, and resistances” through a lens focused “on hybrid, cosmopolitan experiences as much as on rooted, native ones.” (Clifford, 24) This approach permits the study of culture in its entirety, both as native and as interrupted by exterior cultures and can be found throughout travel writings such as Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi. The basis for Clifford’s argument is that all cultures have interacted in some capacity with others. Fieldwork is a prime example. An anthropologist researching a culture does so by attempting to “blend in” to the town. However, this task is impossible. Despite attempting to “blend in,” he stands out due to his cultural differences in clothing, body language, and other actions while bringing many of his personal traditions, biases, and practices to his research. This often results in the mingling of cultures a phenomenon that does not simply occur with anthropologists, but rather it occurs in all cultures as a result of interactions with others and the larger world; the villages are not static. They may receive world news from the radio or a newspaper; they may partake in the arts of other cultures; they might trade with other tribes, states, or countries; they may interact with travelers from abroad or even a travelling member of their own culture. In each of these different ways, it is possible to see how a single culture might be exposed to one or more different cultures. Consequently, Clifford argues that we are not simply studying their own traditional lifestyle, but a lifestyle that has been influenced by the larger world; it is an experience of mixed origin that borrows from the larger world, not simply the local community. In this way, a culture is truly dynamic. It is this dynamic understanding of culture that Clifford refers to as a “hotel,” since culture “comes to resemble as much a site of travel encounters as of residence.” (Clifford, 25) It is this exact world that Henry Miller enters into during his travels to Greece. Henry Miller’s travel narrative begins with an explanation of why he chose to travel to Greece and an account of his journey with a Turk, a Syrian, some Lebanese students, and an Argentine. (Miller, 3-7) These men coerce him into a conversation on America with which they were all enamored. “Progress was their obsession. More machines, more efficiency, more capital, more comforts-that was their whole talk.” (Miller, 6) Despite the far ranging cultures of origin, they were all fascinated with the American culture and lifestyle to which they had access. Even the Greek he meets on the ship has a desire to travel to America. (Miller, 7) From this early story, it is made known that Greece is influenced by many different cultures, evidence that the Greek culture, and maybe even the larger European culture, is not simply native. The American influence is further emphasized when Miller travels with Katsimbalis to Spetsai where they meet Mister John, the hotel proprietor, who describes the fruit stand he owned in New York City. Mr. John, a Greek by birth, left his home and travelled to America where he lived for many years before returning to Greece. (Miller, 64) It is clear from the conversation that his experience altered his understanding of his own culture which he then shared with others. The integration of culture did not solely manifest itself in one’s outlook on life, but also infiltrated their homes. While in Athens, at the residence of Seferiades, Miller is treated to an evening of Jazz from Seferiades collection of Jazz music which consisted of Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and many other Americans. (Miller, 107) Later, when he arrives at the home of Mr. Tsoutsou, he enters “the sort of den which St. Jerome might have created for himself” with a “cross-cut of everything which had gone to make the culture of Europe.” (Miller, 131) For Mr. Tsoutsou, like Seferiades, they are attracted to various aspects of other cultures which they crave to integrate into their daily lives. Miller, rather unimpressed by their grasps for ulterior cultures, remarks “Soon one would have to come to a place like Crete to recover the evidence of a civilization which had disappeared.” (Miller, 131) Miller offers a strong critique of the merging of cultures, suggesting that like America, one can no longer find the “true” culture of “Europe proper” as they have strayed from the “native experiences” in favor of incorporating facets of many cultures, thus creating a “hybrid, cosmopolitan experience.” Miller largely writes about these “hybrid, cosmopolitan experiences” which permeate his trip, but the paradox is that Miller does not want to find a “hybrid, cosmopolitan experience,” but rather the native Greek experience. While his “native experiences” are few, they always occur for him as moments of personal clarity. During a trip to Mycenae, Henry Miller has what amounts to a religious experience. In his mind, the experience is not rooted in other cultures, but simply that of the Ancient Greeks. Here he has found a connection to the past through “one of the navels of the human spirit.” (Miller, 86) Mycenae may be the birthplace of not only Greek culture, but all culture. This assessment is both emotional and fantasized. Miller is actually unsure about the experience, questioning “whether I was recalling things I had read as a child or whether I was taping the universal memory of the race.” (Miller, 86) For Miller, it was desirable to believe that he had taped a “universal memory” whereby he could experience the true Greek culture. Instead, it is more plausible that his life experiences led him to revere Mycenae for its holiness. Furthermore, Miller’s experience is not even shared by the Greeks around him as evidenced by the story about the little boy who was crying because his sister stole three drachmas. Miller is shocked that money even exists in such an awe-inspiring place as Mycenae. For Miller, this represents the world he left behind in New York City: “American culture.” Separation appears impossible in this place. (Miller, 87) Miller, desirous of holding onto his “native experience,” passes it off as “an hallucination” to which he responds “Let him stand there and weep…he didn’t belong, he was an anomaly.” (Miller, 87) While Miller wishes to look only at the “native experiences,” he finds it impossible to analyze Greece from this sole perspective. In reality, the study of another culture requires one to utilize an approach which allows for the study of the culture in its entirety, both as “native” and as “hybrid, cosmopolitan.” As Clifford maintains, this research must be more like a hotel than a field since one must “rethink cultures as sites of dwelling and travel.” (Clifford, 31) These hotel interactions then do not necessarily mean that everyone must travel. Rather, the interactions between people create a greater knowledge base which provides an alternative understanding of travel. Miller himself takes part in this form of travel during a revelation that his travel experience has been far broader than travelling back and forth between Athens and Corfu. Miller says, people came to me at the cafes and poured out their journeys to me; the captain was always returning from a new trajectory; Seferiades was always writing a new poem which went back deep into the past and forward as far as the seventh root race; Katsimbalis would take me on his monologues to Mt. Athos, to Pelion and Ossa, to Leonidion and Monemvasia; Durrel would set my mind whirling with Pythagorean adventures; a little Welshman, just back from Persia, would drag me over the high plateaus and deposit me in Samarkand. (Miller, 51-52)He further explores Greece through the paintings of Ghika as well as other artists and writers. This realization is important in the mind of Clifford, because it demonstrates that this form of travel and the traditional version of travel is equally important since it allows everyone an opportunity to gain both a local and global sense. These types of events, according to Clifford do not take place in the fields, but rather in a “hotel lobby, urban café, ship, or bus.” (Clifford, 25) And it is certainly not a coincident that these are the same places where Miller is able to travel through the experiences of others. The world Miller experiences is one where “people leave home and return, enacting differently centered worlds, interconnected cosmopolitanisms.” (Clifford, 27-28) For the duration of his travels, Greece was his hotel where he could experience Greek culture, not simply as a “native experience,” but in its entirety, his believed “native experiences” coupled with “hybrid, cosmopolitan experiences.”

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.

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.

Henry Martin

When he was not tackling sex and philosophy, Henry Miller traveled. The Colossus of Maroussi is a book of those later times, when he, an "American Savage", entered the world of peace, beauty, and most of all, simplicity he was longing for while living in America. Nothing could prepare him for what he encountered in Greece, not the streets of New York, nor the streets of Paris. Although enamored with France, Miller's passion for Europe goes way further in this book, which at times reads more like L. D. novel than Miller's own. Yet, at the same time he manages to wrap himself in the beauty he encounters, dive in it without holding a breath and resourface a new, more complete being, spellbound by his experience. If only there were more writers like him -- ahh, wishful thinking. Most of all, this book shows Miller in a different light, not limited by his fame for writing about sex (actually, most of his books are not) he explores a new land, unknown to him until then. His ability to take the reader's hand and walk throughout the countryside, observe the people, customs and scenery, is combined with philosophy and his personal views (What else would you expect from Miller?). I have shared this book with many people who did not like Miller and their minds were changed forever. What more can be said? Nothing -- read the book and find out for yourself.


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.

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.

Salomé Jashi

Recommend to everyone interested in Greece. However, I was never into it, but this book is driving me to explore this country. Whatever Henry Miller describes in any book he has written, stirs me, motivates me, inspires me and makes me happy out of just reading him. Here's a paragraph from the beginning of the book: '...'By God, yes, I like it,' I was saying to myself over and over as I stood at the rail taking in the movement and the hubbub. i leaned back and looked up at the sky. i had never seen a sky like this before. It was magnificent. I felt completely detached from Europe. i had entered a new realm as a free man - everything had conjoined to make the experience unique and fructifying. Christ, I was happy. But for the first time n my life I was happy with the full consciousness of being happy. It's good to be just plain happy; it's a little better to know that you're happy; but to understand that you're happy and to know why and how, in what way, because of what concatenation of events or circumstances, and still be happy, be happy in the being and the knowing, well. that is beyond happiness, that is bliss, and if you have any sense you ought to kill yourself on the spot and be done with it. And that's how I was - except that i didn't have the power or the courage to kill myself then and there. It was good, too, that I didn't do myself in because there were even greater moments to come, something beyond bliss even, something which if anyone had tried to describe to me I would probably not have believed. I didn't know then that i would one day stand and Mycenae, or at the Phaestos, or that i would wake up one morning and looking through a port hole see with my own eyes the place I had written about in a book, but which i never knew existed nor bore the same name as the one I had given it in my imagination. Marvellous things happen to one in Greece - marvellous good things which can happen to one nowhere else on earth. Somehow, almost as if He were nodding, Greece still remains under the protection of the Creator. Men may go about their puny, ineffectual bedevilment, even in Greece, but God's magic is still at work and, no matter what the race of man my do or try to do, Greece is still a sacred precinct - and my belief is it will remain so until the end of time.'

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.

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