Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957)

Magdalene jumped up and paced back and forth between the fire and the door. Her mind had grown furious.

God is the great enemy, she was thinking; yes, God. He never fails to intrude; he is evil, jealous; he won't let a person be happy. She stopped behind the door and cocked her ear. The heavens were bellowing. A whirlwind had arisen and the pomegranates in the yard knocked against one another and were ready to break.

--from The Last Temptation of Christ

The Greek novelist, poet, and thinker Nikos Kazantzakis, b. Crete, 1883, d. Oct. 26, 1957, spent half his life living in Germany, the USSR, and France. He also traveled widely throughout Europe, Japan, and Communist China. Influenced early by Nietzsche and Bergson, he owed a debt to Marxism and Buddhism as well as to Christianity and attempted to synthesize these apparently disparate world views. His career started out more philosophical and pedagogical than literary. He came to the fore as a poet only in 1938 with his vast philosophical epic The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel (Eng. trans., 1958), which takes up the hero's story where Homer leaves off.

Even more successful were his novels, which he did not begin writing until after his 60th year. His first, Zorba the Greek (1946; Eng. trans., 1952; film, 1965), is the most popular. In it Kazantzakis embodies Bergsonian ideas of the elan vital in the exuberant figure of Zorba.

His other novels are perhaps deeper, if less exuberant. Freedom and Death (1953; Eng. trans., 1956) deals with the concept of liberty, told through the story of a dour resistance fighter in the Cretan struggle for independence from the Turks. The Greek Passion (1954; Eng. trans., 1954) is a reenactment of Christ's passion, set in a Greek village. Kazantzakis also wrote the novels The Last Temptation of Christ (1955; Eng. trans., 1960; film 1988) and God's Pauper: Saint Francis of Assisi (1956; Eng. trans., 1962); a large number of plays; and an autobiography, Report to Greco (1961; Eng. trans., 1965).

P. A. Mackridge

Bibliography: Bien, Peter, Nikos Kazantzakis (1962), Nikos Kazantzakis and the Linguistic Revolution in Modern Greek Literature (1972), and The Politics of Salvation (1990); Kazantzakis, Helen, Nikos Kazantzakis, trans. by Amy Mims (1968); Prevelakis, Pandelis, Nikos Kazantzakis and His Odyssey, trans. by Philip Sherrard (1961).

Text Copyright © 1993 Grolier Incorporated

Kazantzakis Links Press-Gopher Links