Writer, Poet, Philosopher, Statesman (1883 – 1957)
Nikos Kazantzakis is the most widely translated Greek writer in the world. His enormous bibliography, ranging from philosophy and poetry to plays and literature places him at the top of modern Greek literature. He is regarded as one of the giants of modern Greek literature whose reputation still holds ground all over the world.
He was born in Crete. He studied law in the University of Athens and in the University of Paris. From a young age he began studying Nietzsche and attending lectures of Henry Bergson, two philosophers that would have great influence on his career. His two greatest teachers would remain Dante and Homer. His debut in the Greek letters was in 1906 with his essay The Disease of the Century and his novel Snake and Lily.
He was a close friend of Angelos Sikelianos and the two traveled extensively throughout the world. It was a spiritual journey that introduced him to the ideas of Buddhism, communism and most importantly nationalism. Both Kazantzakis and Sikelianos had envisioned the revival of the ancient Greek spirit, something that brought him in conflict with the Orthodox Church.
Except novels and essays, Kazantzakis wrote plays, poems, travel books, philosophical books and memoirs. He gained worldwide attention with his book Zorba the Greek, the story of a young man who meets and befriends a strange man full of energy for life called Alexis Zorbas. The novel was adapted into a critically acclaimed film by Michael Kakoyiannis in 1964, which won 3 Academy Awards, as well as a musical.
Other works that made his name famous across the world are novels Captain Michalis, Christ Recrucified and The Last Temptation of Christ, all of which were negatively received by the Orthodox Church for their themes and Christ’s portrayal. The latter was included in the now abolished Index Librorum Prohibitorum of the Church. Kazantzakis replied to them by saying “You gave me a curse, Holy Fathers. I give you a blessing; may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as I”.
Ascesis: The Saviours of God, published in 1927, is considered to be Kazantzakis’ greatest work on philosophy influenced by Bergson, Nietzsche, Marx, Christianity and Buddhism, expressing the writer’s metaphysical faith. Other works include his spiritual autobiography Report To Greco, Toda Raba, The Fratricides and God’s Pauper: St. Francis of Assisi.
In 1938 he published his epic poem Odysseus, a part of his epic poem called The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel based on Homer’s Odyssey. It too was written in 24 rhapsodies and consisted of 33.333 lyrics, each with 17 syllables. What was to become Kazantzakis’ magnum opus was reworked 7 times and was published after his death. It picks up from where Homer’s Odyssey ends. Furthermore, he did renditions of Homer’s epics from ancient Greek to modern Greek.
Kazantzakis was involved with politics sporadically throughout his life. In 1919, he was appointed Minister of Public Welfare by Eleutherios Venizelos for 1 year, until he resigned. During this short time period, he was responsible for evacuating 150.000 Greeks from Asia Minor. He served as Minister of State from 1945 to 1946 and worked in UNESCO for promoting the translation of classic literature to foreign languages in order to bridge civilizations.
Kazantzakis was nominated a total of 9 times for the Nobel Prize of Literature. The first time was in 1946, when he lost the award to Albert Camus. Camus himself expressed his opinion that Kazantzakis deserved the award more than him. In 1956 he was bestowed the International Peace Award in Vienna. He died in 1957 in Freiburg from leukaemia. His funeral was held in Herakleion and was a major event in Greece. On his tombstone is inscribed: “I hope for nothing, I fear nothing. I am free”.
- Editors @ TheFamousPeople.com. Nikos Kazantzakis Biography. TheFamousPeople.com. Web. Retrieved on August 5, 2017.
- Νίκος Καζαντζἀκης. Σαν Σήμερα. Sansimera.gr. Web.