Monday, March 13, 2017

Reading Greece through The Colossus of Maroussi

"It was more than a Greek atmosphere – it was poetic and of no time or place actually known to man." 

- The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, page 24

Some years ago I went through a Henry Miller phase. I just had to read the Tropic of Cancer and just about everything the library would lend me. 

The Colossus of Maroussi was the third book of Miller's that I read. Despite being commercially unpopular it was his (and my) favorite work. As typical of Miller, he wrote in a combination of memoir and fiction, blurring lines between reality and fantasy. Much of the book was inspired by Miller's 1939 trip to Athens and island of Corfu, where his friend and fellow writer Lawrence Durrell lived. 

The below excerpts are some of my favorite quotes from the book, phrases that evoke images of Greece to me, even though almost eighty years have passed since Miller's visit. 

"I am glad I arrived in Athens during that incredible heat wave, glad I saw it under the worst conditions. I felt the naked strength of the people, their purity, their nobility, the resignation." 
- The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, page 12

"Here and there, where the vaporish clouds have rolled a part to reveal a clump of trees or a bare, jagged fang-like snag of rocks, the reverberations of their haunting melody saying out like a choir of brass in an orchestra. Now and then a great blue area of sea rose out of the fog, not at the level of the earth but in some middle room between heaven and earth, as though after a typhoon." 
- The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, Page 20

"It is something of a phenomenon, the city of Athens. It is still in the throes of birth: it is awkward, confused, clumsy, unsure of itself; it has all the diseases of childhood and some of the melancholy and desolation of adolescence." 
- The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, Page 44

"We sat on deck watching the sinking sun. It was one of those biblical sunset in which man is completely absent. Nature simply opens her bloody, insatiable maw and swallows everything in sight. Law, order, morality, justice, wisdom, any abstraction seems like a cool joke perpetuated on a helpless world of idiots. Sunset at sea for me is a dread spectacle: it is hideous, murderous, soulless. The earth may be cool but the sea is heartless. There is absolutely no place of refuge; they're only the elements and the elements are treacherous." 
-The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, Page 69

"There is no trace of ugliness here, either in line, color, form, feature or sentiment. It is sheer perfection, as in Mozart's music." 
-The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, Page 76

"In Greece one has the conviction that genius is the norm, not mediocrity." 
- The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, Page 83

"In Greece the changes are sharp, almost painful. In some places you can pass through all the changes of 50 centuries in the space of five minutes."
- The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, Page 146

"I see the miniature islands floating above the surface of the sea, ringed with dazzling white vans; I see the Eagles swooping out from the dizzy crags of inaccessible mountain tops, there somber shadows slowly staining the bright carpet of earth below; I see the figures of solitary man trailing their flocks over the naked spine of the hills and the fleece of their beasts all golden fuzz as in the days of legend; I see the women gathered at the Wells amidst the olive groves, their address, their manners, they're talking no different now than in biblical times; I see the grand Patriarchal figure of the priest, the perfect blend of male and female, his countenance Serena, Frank, full of peace and dignity; I see the geometrical patterns of nature expanded by the earth itself in a silence which is deafening. The Greek earth opens before me like the book of Revelation." 
- The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller, Page 241

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