Greece is a number of different countries in one. It is a party destination, with unbelievable beaches. It is the land of ancient mythology. It is a hub of cultural history, the birthplace of democracy, and the destination of many of the most profound thinkers.
If you’re just looking to experience the unmatched nightlife, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, you are passing up the opportunity to go on a journey of self-discovery, during which you can explore the roots of modernity and get a depth of experience unavailable elsewhere.
Greece is probably high on your bucket list, with beautiful homes in Greece available to rent at good prices. But before you plan your itinerary, I recommend reading the following 4 books.
The Colossus of Maroussi
Henry Miller is one of the most famous 20th Century philosophers who made Greece his home for an extended period of time. Along with his friend, the author Lawrence Durrell, he explored the most interesting parts of the country. The sorts of places not known for their party life, but with history that brought him new insight.
His travelogue, The Colossus of Maroussi, portrays his feelings and thoughts upon exploring the land. Throughout, he connects with its culture and history in a way that only a great thinker can put into words.
You don’t have to follow his course, but with an understanding of the attitude with which he approached Greece, you’ll be able to glean so much more from the experience.
If you’ve never read anything Miller wrote, this is also a great start, as he considered it the best book he’d written.
Personally, whenever I’ve read one of his books, I’ve had the urge to emulate his unique approach to self-discovery. I’ve wanted to interact with the world in the way that he did. He was an amoral saint, although that may sound like an oxymoron to you.
The Colossus of Maroussi gives us the gift of a guide to getting the most out of travel, and particularly travel to the historically immense country that is Greece.
Zorba the Greek
Unlike Henry Miller’s account, Zorba the Greek is a fictional book set in Greece. Written by Nikos Kazantzakis, it portrays Greece not as a travel destination or philosopher’s experience, but as a setting for a story.
Zorba the Greek is a particularly vivid novel, and having been written by a native Cretan, it gives you unique insight into the way he sees the country.
The story is particularly big on living life to the fullest, an ideal way to approach a visit to Greece. It also has important themes of friendship and pleasure. The story itself is riveting, and is worth a read even for those with no interest in visiting Greece.
There are more “important” books in classic literature, but Zorba the Greek is perfect even for those who aren’t big readers and who don’t like reading ever feeling like work.
Homer’s classic poem is not about Greece or vacationing or anything to do with our modern sensibilities. However, it gives a lot of insight into the history of Greek thought and culture.
It is one of the first pieces of Western literature still read today, and is staple reading in many schools and college courses.
The story follows the king of Ithaca, Odysseus, traveling home after the fall of Troy, and is a sequel to The Iliad (although you do not have to have read one to read the other).
It will deepen your understanding of the early days of modern history, mythology, war, and many more themes. But more importantly, it will give you a great context of Greek culture that dates back to the 8th Century.
It will certainly deepen your experience in the country, and is a must-read before you go.
A Concise History of Greece
If you really want to be up on your historical knowledge before going to visit Greece, A Concise History of Greece by Richard Clogg is the perfect primer.
Not everyone necessarily wants a full history of a place before visiting it, and it certainly isn’t required reading, but for those who feel a particular connection to history – who see it as a living, breathing pursuit, and who know that context changes the way we see anything.
The point that I feel is most important is that Greece is not just another holiday destination.
Unlike the Big Buddha in Phuket and Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro (and many, many more examples around the world) its major landmarks are not recent additions that were created to boost the tourist industry.
While A Concise History originally focused on more distant events, the latest edition contains added content on recent history, with all its political significance, which most will recall has been particularly fraught with upheaval.
Of course, there are many more books that are recommended reading before traveling to Greece. Its context in the development of Western civilisation cannot be understated, and is impossible to sum up in just four readings.
But start, at the very least, with The Colossus of Maroussi – it will give you an idea of how to approach traveling to places of historical significance. It will guide you in living life according to a framework in which everything is poignant, meaningful, and philosophically satisfying.
Greece is like nowhere else – don’t squander the opportunity to partake in living history.