Athens

Famous Greeks [6]: Nikos Kazantzakis

19 Feb 2017

1883-1957

Nikos Kazantzakis is one of the greatest Greek writers of the 20th century, and author of the most widely translated Greek novel,‘Zorba the Greek’.

He was born in Ottoman-occupied Crete and studied law in Athens and philosophy in Paris.

Soon after, he started traveling extensively and while in Berlin from 1922 to 1924 he got acquainted and inspired by the new communist ideology.  His curiosity led him to the Soviet Union where he examined the political system without ever becoming a true communist.

He was one of the most free-spirited Greek writers and his work is deeply philosophical with metaphysical, religious and existential dimensions.

He studied and was influenced deeply by Nietzsche and his ideas and his approach to the faith of God and atheism was a complicated one throughout his life. Jesus is present in many of his works with most characteristic of all ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ were he is depicted as an emotional human being who is split between the sense of divine duty and the pleasures of life. The book was added to the list of prohibited books by the Vatican and the Greek Orthodox Church was outraged to the point of excommunicating him.

His other works include ‘Report to Greco’, ‘Freedom and Death - Captain Michalis’, ‘The Saviours of God’ and an epic translation of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ cosisting of 33,333 verses, while a wonderful series of travel masterpieces was the result of his extensive travels to Italy, England, Rusia, Spain, Egypt, China and Japan.

His works were met with scepticism by the conservative literary circles because of the language he used, a mixture of the simplified ‘demotic’ Greek with many elements of the Cretan dialect.
After WWII he was briefly involveld with politics taking up a ministerial position in the government of recently liberated Greece.

In 1957, after many years of trying without official Greek support, he was finally nominated for the Nobel Prize of Literature which he lost to Albert Camus. Later that year, invited by the Chinese government, he travelled to China where he fell ill and was finally transfered to Freiburg Germany where he died.

He was buried  in Crete, on the venetian wall surrounding Heraklion, as the Greek Orthodox church did not allow for a christian burrial in a cemetery.

According to his wish, the epitaph on his tomb reads:
“I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”

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