Nikos Kazantzakis (Νίκος Καζαντζάκης in Greek) (February 18, 1883, Heraklion, Crete, Greece – October 26, 1957, Freiburg, Germany), author of poems, novels, essays, plays, and travel books, was arguably the most important and most translated Greek writer and philosopher of the twentieth century. Yet he did not become truly well known until the 1964 release of the Michael Cacoyannis film Zorba the Greek, based on Kazantzakis's novel. He is also the author of the controversial novel about Jesus of Nazareth, The Last Temptation of Christ. Kazantzakis was a believer who lost his faith, then spent much of his life wrestling with his inability to believe. He was an atheist who wanted to believe but could not embrace the Christian Church's "Christ of faith."
The island of Crete on which Kazantzakis was born was still under Turkish rule, and had experienced repeated uprisings in attempting to achieve independence from the Ottoman empire and to unite with Greece.
In 1902, Katzantzakis began the study of law at the University of Athens, then went to Paris in 1907 to study philosophy, where he was influenced by the teachings of Henri Bergson.
Upon his return to Greece, he began translating works of philosophy. In 1914, he met Angelos Sikelianos. Together they traveled for two years in places where Greek Christian culture flourished, largely influenced by the enthusiastic nationalism of Sikelianos.
Tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis in Heraklion
In 1919, as Director General of the Ministry of Social Relief, he arranged the repatriation of the pontic Greek population of the Caucasus region back to Greece, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917. For Kazantzakis, this was the beginning of his personal odyssey across the world. From then until his death in 1957, he sojourned in Paris and Berlin (from 1922 to 1924), Italy, Russia (in 1925), Spain (in 1932), and then later in Cyprus, Aegina, Egypt (including Mount Sinai), Czechoslovakia, Nice (where he later bought a seaside villa, near Antibes), China, and Japan.
While in Berlin, where the political situation was explosive, Kazantzakis discovered communism and became an admirer of V. I. Lenin, but he never became a consistent communist. Around this time, his earlier nationalist beliefs were gradually replaced by a more universal ideology.
In 1945, he became the leader of a small party on the noncommunist left, and entered the Greek government as Minister without Portfolio. He resigned this post the following year.
In 1946, The Society of Greek Writers recommended that Katzantakis and Angelos Sikelianos be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1957, he lost the Prize to Albert Camus by one vote. Camus later said that Kazantzakis deserved the honor "a hundred times more" than himself.
Late in 1957, even though suffering from leukemia, he set out on one last trip to China and Japan. Falling ill on his return flight, he was transferred to Freiburg, Germany, where he died. He is buried on the wall surrounding the city of Heraklion, because the Orthodox Church ruled out his being buried in a cemetery. His epitaph reads: "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free." (Δεν ελπίζω τίποτε. Δεν φοβούμαι τίποτε. Είμαι λεύτερος.)
Katzankis married Galatea Alexiou in 1911; they divorced in 1926. He married Eleni Samiou in 1945.
His first work was the 1906 narrative Serpent and Lily (Όφις και Κρίνο), which he signed with the pen name Karma Nirvami. In 1909, Kazantzakis wrote a one-act play titled Comedy, which remarkably resonates existential themes that become prevalent much later in Post-World War II Europe in works by writers such as Sarte and Camus. In 1910, after his studies in Paris, he wrote a tragedy, "The Master Builder" (Ο Πρωτομάστορας), based on a popular Greek folkloric myth.
Kazantzakis considered his extended epic poem (33,333 verses long) The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel to be his most important work. Begun in 1924, he rewrote it seven times before publishing it in 1938. According to another Greek author, Pantelis Prevelakis, "[I]t has been a superhuman effort to record his immense spiritual experience." Following the structure of Homer's Odyssey, it is divided into 24 rhapsodies.
His most famous novels include Zorba the Greek (1946) (Βίος και Πολιτεία του Αλέξη Ζορμπά); The Greek Passion (1948) (UK title Christ Recrucified); Captain Michalis (1950) (UK title Freedom and Death); Last Temptation of Christ (1951); and Saint Francis (1956) (UK title God's Pauper: St. Francis of Assisi). Report to Greco (1961), containing both autobiographical and fictional elements, summed up his philosophy as the "Cretan Glance."
Since his youth, Kazantzakis was spiritually restless. Tortured by metaphysical and existential concerns, he sought relief in knowledge, in traveling, in contact with a diverse set of people, in every kind of experience. The influence of Friedrich Nietzsche on his work is evident, especially in his atheism and sympathy for the superman (Übermensch) concept. However, religious concerns also haunted him. To attain a union with God, Kazantzakis entered a monastery for a brief stay of six months.
The figure of Jesus was ever present in his thoughts, from his youth to his last years. The Christ of the The Last Temptation of Christ shares Katzantzakis's anguished metaphysical and existential concerns, seeking answers to haunting questions and often torn between his sense of duty and cause on one side and his own human needs to enjoy life, to love and to be loved, and to have a family. A tragic figure who in the end sacrifices his own human hopes for a wider cause, Kazantzakis's Christ is not an infallible, passionless deity but rather a passionate and emotional human being who has been assigned a mission, with a meaning that he is struggling to understand and that often requires him to face his conscience and his emotions and ultimately to sacrifice his own life for its fulfillment. He is subject to doubts, fears, and even guilt. In the end he is the Son of Man, a man whose internal struggle represents that of humanity.
Many Greek religious conservatives condemned his work. His reply was: "You gave me a curse, I give you a blessing: may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as I" (Greek: "Μου δώσατε μια κατάρα, Άγιοι πατέρες, σας δίνω κι εγώ μια ευχή: Σας εύχομαι να ‘ναι η συνείδηση σας τόσο καθαρή, όσο είναι η δική μου και να ‘στε τόσο ηθικοί και θρήσκοι όσο είμαι εγώ").
The Last Temptation was included in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books) by the Catholic Church. Kazantzakis's reaction was to send a telegram to the Vatican quoting the Christian writer Tertullian: "Ad tuum, Domine, tribunal appello" (English: "I lodge my appeal at your tribunal, Lord"; Greek: "Στο δικαστήριό σου ασκώ έφεση, ω Kύριε"). Many cinemas banned the Martin Scorsese film based on the novel, which was released in 1988.
In Kazantzakis's day, the market for material published in modern Greek was quite small. Kazantzakis also wrote in modern (demotic) Greek, which made his writings all the more controversial. Translations of his books into other European languages did not appear until his old age. Hence he found it difficult to earn a living by writing, which led him to write a great deal, including a large number of translations from French, German, and English, and curiosities such as French fiction and Greek primary school texts, mainly because he needed the money. Some of this "popular" writing was nevertheless distinguished, such as his books based on his extensive travels, which appeared in the series "Travelling" (Ταξιδεύοντας) which he founded. These books on Italy, Egypt, Sinai, Japan, China, and England became masterpieces of Greek travel literature.
Epitaph on the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis in Heraklion:
Δεν ελπίζω τίποτε. Δεν φοβούμαι τίποτε. Είμαι λεύτερος
- I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.
Bibliography in English
Translations of The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, in whole or in part.
- The Odyssey [Selections from], partial translation in prose by Kimon Friar, Wake 12 (1953), pp. 58–65.
- The Odyssey, excerpt translated by Kimon Friar, Chicago Review 8, No. 2 (Spring/Summer 1954), pp. 12–18.
- The Return of Odysseus, partial translation by Kimon Friar, The Atlantic Monthly 195, No. 6 (June 1955), pp. 110–112.
- The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, translation in verses by Kimon Friar. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1958; London: Secker and Warburg, 1958.
- Death, the Ant, from The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, Book XV, 829–63, translated by Kimon Friar, The Charioteer, No. 1 (Summer 1960), p. 39.
- From Odysseus, A Drama, partial translation by M. Byron Raizis, The Literary Review 16, No. 3 (Spring 1973), p. 352.
- Spain, translated by Amy Mims. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.
- Japan, China, translated by George C. Pappageotes. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963; published in the United Kingdom as Travels in China and Japan. Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1964; London: Faber and Faber, 1964.
- England, translated by Amy Mims. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965; Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1971.
- Journey to Morea, translated by F. A. Reed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965; published in the United Kingdom as Travels in Greece, Journey to Morea, Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1966.
- Journeying: Travels in Italy, Egypt, Sinai, Jerusalem and Cyprus, translated by Themi Vasils and Theodora Vasils. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1975; San Francisco: Creative Arts Books Co., 1984.
- Zorba the Greek, translated by Carl Wildman. London: John Lehmann, 1952; New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953; Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1959; London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1961; New York: Ballantine Books, 1964.
- The Greek Passion, translated by Jonathan Griffin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954; New York: Ballantine Books, 1965; published in the United Kingdom as Christ Recrucified, Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1954; London: Faber and Faber, 1954.
- Freedom or Death, translated by Jonathan Griffin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954; New York: Ballantine, 1965; published in the United Kingdom as Freedom and Death, Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1956; London: Faber and Faber, 1956.
- The Last Temptation, translated by Peter A. Bien. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960; New York: Bantam Books, 1961; Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1961; London: Faber and Faber, 1975.
- Saint Francis, translated by Peter A. Bien. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962; published in the United Kingdom as God's Pauper: Saint Francis of Assisi, Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1962, 1975; London: Faber and Faber, 1975.
- The Fratricides, translated by Athena Gianakas Dallas. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964
- Alexander the Great. A Novel, translated by Theodora Vasils: Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1982.
- At the Palaces of Knossos. A Novel, translated by Themi and Theodora Vasilis, edited by Theodora Vasilis. London: Owen, 1988. Adapted from the draft typewritten manuscript.
- Father Yanaros, from the novel The Fratricides, translated by Theodore Sampson, in Modern Greek Short Stories, Vol. 1, edited by Kyr. Delopoulos. Athens: Kathimerini Publications, 1980.
- Christopher Columbus, translated by Athena Gianakas-Dallas. Kentfield, CA: Allen Press, 1972. Edition limited to 140 copies.
- Sodom and Gomorrah, A Play, translated by Kimon Friar, The Literary Review 19, No. 2 (Winter 1976), pp. 122–256 (62).
- Buddha, translated by Kimon Friar and Athena Dallas-Damis. San Diego, CA: Avant Books, 1983.
- Three plays, translated by Athena Gianakas-Dallas. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969.
- Two plays: Sodom and Gomorrah and Comedy: A Tragedy in One Act, translated by Kimon Friar. Minneapolis, MN: North Central Publishing Co., 1982.
- Comedy: A Tragedy in One Act, translated by Kimon Friar, The Literary Review 18, No. 4 (Summer 1975), pp. 417–454 (61).
Memoirs, essays and letters
- Report to Greco, translated by Peter A. Bien. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965; Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1965; London: Faber and Faber, 1965; New York: Bantan Books, 1971.
- Symposium, translated by Theodora Vasils and Themi Vasils. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1974; New York: Minerva Press, 1974.
- The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises, translated by Kimon Friar. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960.
- The Rock Garden (excerpts from The Saviors of God), translated from the French version by Richard Howard. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.
- From The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises, translated by Kimon Friar, The Charioteer, No. 1 (Summer 1960), pp. 40–51; reprinted in The Charioteer 22 and 23 (1980/1981), pp. 116–129 (57).
- Serpent and Lily, translated by Theodora Vasils. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980 [original title Όφις και Κρίνο].
- Toda Raba, translated by Amy Mims. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964.
- The Suffering God: Selected Letters to Galatea and to Papastephanou, translated by Philip Ramp and Katerina Anghelaki Rooke. New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas Brothers, 1979.
- The Angels of Cyprus, translated by Amy Mims, in Cyprus '74: Aphrodite’s Other Face, edited by Emmanuel C. Casdaglis. Athens: National Bank of Greece, 1976.
- Burn Me to Ashes: An Excerpt, translated by Kimon Friar, Greek Heritage 1, No. 2 (Spring 1964), pp. 61–64.
- Christ (poetry), translated by Kimon Friar, Journal of Hellenic Diaspora (JHD) 10, No. 4 (Winter 1983), pp. 47–51 (60).
- Drama and Contemporary Man, An Essay, translated by Peter Bien, The Literary Review 19, No. 2 (Winter 1976), pp. 15–121 (62).
- He Wants to Be Free—Kill Him! A Story, translated by Athena G. Dallas, Greek Heritage 1, No. 1 (Winter 1963), pp. 78–82.
- The Homeric G.B.S., The Shaw Review 18, No. 3 (Sept. 1975), pp. 91–92. Greek original written for a 1946 Greek language radio broadcast by BBC Overseas Service, on the occasion of George Bernard Shaw's 90th birthday.
- Hymn (Allegorical), translated by M. Byron Raizis, Spirit 37, No. 3 (Fall 1970), pp. 16–17.
- Two Dreams, translated by Peter Mackridge, Omphalos 1, No. 2 (Summer 1972), p. 3.
- A Tiny Anthology of Kazantzakis. Remarks on the Drama, 1910–1957, compiled by Peter Bien, The Literary Review 18, No. 4 (Summer 1975), pp. 455–459 (61).
- Anapliotes, John (Giannes). 1978. The Real Zorbas and Nikos Kazantzakis, translated by Lewis A. Richards. Amsterdam: Hakkert. ISBN 9789025608033
- Bien, Peter.  1972. Nikos Kazantzakis. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231035323
- Bien, Peter. 1972. Nikos Kazantzakis and the Linguistic Revolution in Greek Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691062068
- Bien, Peter. 1984. Tempted by Happiness. Kazantzakis’ Post-Christian Christ. Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications. ISBN 9780875742533
- Bien, Peter. 1989. Kazantzakis. Politics of the Spirit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691128801
- Dombrowski, Daniel A. 1997. Kazantzakis and God. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 9780791434925
- Friar, Kimon. 1979. The Spiritual Odyssey of Nikos Kazantzakis. A Talk, edited and with an introduction by Theofanis G. Stavrou. St. Paul, MN: North Central Pub. Co. ISBN 9780935476002
- Kazantzakis, Helen. 1968. Nikos Kazantzakis. A Biography Based on His Letters, translated by Amy Mims. New York: Simon and Schuster; Berkeley: Creative Arts Book Co. for Donald S. Ellis, 1983. ISBN 9780916870621
- Lea, James F. 1979. Kazantzakis: The Politics of Salvation, foreward by Helen Kazantzakis. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 9780817370022
- Levitt, Morton P. 1980. The Cretan Glance: The World and Art of Nikos Kazantzakis. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press. ISBN 9780814203040
- Middleton, Darren J. N. and Bien, Peter, eds. 1996. God’s Struggler. Religion in the Writings of Nikos Kazantzakis. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. ISBN 9780865544994
- Middleton, Darren J. N. 2000. Novel Theology: Nikos Kazantzakis's Encounter with Whiteheadian Process Theism. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. ISBN 9780865546240
- Middleton, Darren J. N. 2005. Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis's 'Last Temptation of Christ' Fifty Years On. New York: Continuum. ISBN 9780826416070
- Middleton, Darren J. N. 2006. Broken Hallelujah: Nikos Kazantzakis and Christian Theology. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 9780739119273
- Owen, Lewis. 2003. Creative Destruction: Nikos Kazantzakis and the Literature of Responsibility. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. ISBN 978-0865548039
- Prevelakis, Pandelis. 1961. Nikos Kazantzakis and His Odyssey. A Study of the Poet and the Poem, translated from the Greek by Philip Sherrard, with a prefaction by Kimon Friar. New York: Simon and Schuster.
- Wilson, Colin and Dossor, Howard F. 1999. Nikos Kazantzakis. Nottingham: Paupers. ISBN 9780946650682
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