Henry Miller and the “Light of Greece”


Henri miller
Henry Miller on the Greek island of Hydra. Credit: Monozigote / Wikimedia Commons Y-SA 4.0

Henry Miller, the author of “Tropic of Cancer,” one of America’s greatest writers, was in love with Greece and his favorite of all books he has ever written is a travelogue about the country he has ever written. he loved.

“The Colossus of Maroussi” is an impressionist travel book written in 1939 which reads like an ode to Greece and to the time that the author spent there.

Grecian Delight supports Greece

Miller, who lived from 1891 to 1980, was an unconventional writer in all respects. He traveled extensively abroad, trying to live outside the constraints of conservative American society in the 1920s and 1930s.

The work of the American writer is full of reflections on society, philosophical inquiries, embellished autobiographical facts, impressionistic meanders and graphic descriptions of sex, at the time a taboo subject in American literature.

In 1939 he was invited to Greece by his friend, Lawrence Durrell, the well-known British writer, so he traveled to the Mediterranean country to rejuvenate himself.

The nine months he spent in “the house of the gods” – as he describes Greece – were an inspiration and he considered the book he wrote there to be his greatest work.

Paris inspires Henry Miller …

A restless mind, Miller moved to Paris in the 1930s. The French capital was nothing like the conservative United States he left behind.

There he wrote his first two novels, Tropic of Cancer (1934) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939), both of which included sex scenes that led American publishers to refuse to publish them.

The books that turned out to be completely obscene in the 1930s were finally published in 1961. By then, Miller’s literary genius had received the recognition it deserved.

… But he finds his muse in Greece

Durrell was living with his family on the island of Corfu in Greece when he invited Miller to join him there. The American writer discovered what he called the “house of the gods” during his nine months there:

“Greece is the homeland of the gods; they may be dead but their presence is still felt. The gods were of human proportion: they were created from the human mind, ”he wrote.

Miller has traveled extensively in Greece, accompanied by his British friend. He visited Athens, Epidaurus, Mycenae, sailed to Crete and Hydra and traveled to other parts of the country, nourishing his soul.

If life in the cosmopolitan and carefree pre-war Paris was a source of inspiration for the American writer, rural Greece was his touchstone with nature, a world full of earthly wonders previously unknown to him.

“The light of Greece opened my eyes, penetrated my pores, spread to my whole being. I returned to the world after finding the true center and the true direction of the cosmic rotation, ”Miller wrote.

In The Colossus of Maroussi, Miller wrote about his Greek adventures with Durrell in an impressionist style.

He wrote that he was almost trampled by a flock of sheep as he lay naked on a beach, drinking cool water from sacred springs and sleeping in hotels full of past and mold.

During his visit to Epidaurus and the ancient theater, the American writer marvels:

“I never knew the meaning of peace, until I arrived in Epidaurus… I am speaking of course of the peace which surpasses all understanding. There’s no other. “

But among his epiphanies in Greece and his many adventures, his meeting with the real Colossus of Maroussi is the main theme of Miller’s book on Greece.

The Colossus of Maroussi

The man who inspired the title of Henry Miller’s book on Greece was none other than Giorgos (George) Katsimbalis (1899-1978).

A larger than life figure, Katsimbalis was an intellectual, writer and bibliography editor of modern Greek literature.

Being friends with Durrell, the British writer introduced Katsimbalis to Miller and the two instantly hit it off.

Katsimbalis “could galvanize the dead with his speech,” Miller said in awe of his new Greek friend.

Very quickly, a circle of artists, poets and writers formed around Miller, Katsimbalis and Durrell. The intellectual society was joined by the Nobel Prize winning poet Giorgos Seferis and the famous painter, sculptor and writer Nikos Hatzikyriakos Ghikas.

Still, the book’s protagonist is Colossus Katsimbalis, though some critics say the book is a self-portrait of Miller himself on a trip of a lifetime to an unforgettable place.

“Wonderful things happen to someone in Greece – wonderful good things that can happen to someone anywhere else on earth. Somehow, almost like nodding, Greece always remains under the protection of the Creator. Men can go about their little ineffective torments, even in Greece, but the magic of God is always at work and no matter what the human race may do or try to do, Greece is still a sacred precinct – and my belief is that it will remain so until the end of time.

The last lines of Colossus of Maroussi read both as a statement and as a warning:

“Greece itself may become involved as we ourselves are now, but I categorically refuse to become anything other than the citizen of the world that I declared to myself to be in silence when I stood in Agamemnon’s tomb. From that day on, my life has been devoted to recovering the divinity of man. Peace to all men, I say, and more abundant life!

Return to the United States

After the life-changing trip to Greece, Miller then returned to the United States. The Colossus of Maroussi was published in 1941. It was his third book, and his favorite.

Miller had left Greece, but he still carried it with him:

“Greece had done something for me that New York, and even America itself, could never destroy. Greece has made me free and whole … To those who think that today’s Greece is irrelevant, let me say that no more serious mistake could be made.

In 1954, the “Colossus” Giorgos Katsimbalis traveled to the United States under the Smith-Mundt Act and stayed at Miller’s house in Big Sur, California.

Katsimbalis loved the area, later writing “I stayed at his house for two days. It is a dream place. I will be eternally grateful to him for allowing me to see one of the best corners of the world.


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