Nikos Kazantzakis (Heraklion, Crete, 18 February-3 March 1883 – Freiburg, Germany, 26 October 1957) was a Greek writer, journalist, politician, musician, poet and philosopher, with a rich literary, poetic and translation oeuvre. He is recognised as one of the most important contemporary Greek writers and the most translated in the world. He became even better known through the cinematic adaptation of his works Christ Recrucified, The Life and State of Alexis Zorbas and The Last Temptation. He was one of the most respected by the people and one of the most recognized writers abroad. From 1945 to 1948, he was president of the Society of Greek Writers.
Nikos Kazantzakis was born in what is now Heraklion, Crete (then Chandakas), on 18 February-3 March 1883, at a time when the island was still part of the Ottoman Empire. He was the son of Michalis Kazantzakis (1856-1932), a merchant of agricultural products and wine from the village of Varvari (now Myrtia, where the Kazantzakis Museum is located), and Maria Christodoulakis (1862-1932), originally from the village of Assyrotoi, now Kryoneri in the municipality of Mylopotamos in the prefecture of Rethymnon. He had two sisters, Anastasia (1884) and Eleni (1887), who died in infancy. In Heraklion he received his elementary education and then in 1897 he enrolled at the French Commercial School of the Holy Cross in Naxos, where he learned French and Italian and had his first contact with Western culture. In 1899 he returned to Heraklion and completed his high school studies.
In a school performance he played the role of Creon in Sophocles” tragedy, Oedipus Tyrannus.
In 1902 he moved to Athens for university studies. He studied at the Law School of the University of Athens and in 1906 he received his doctorate in law with honours. Nikos Kazantzakis” degree also shows the signature of Kostis Palamas, who was a secretary at the university, a unique position at the time.
In 1906 he first appeared in Greek letters with the novel Ophis and Lily (under the pseudonym Karma Nirvami), followed in the same year by the essay The Sickness of Aeon and then the play Ximeroi. The latter was submitted to the Pantelides Dramatic Competition and was praised, but neither it nor any other was awarded a prize that year. The following year Kazantzakis unsuccessfully submitted two more of his plays to the same competition, Until When?, which was praised, and Fasgha, and wrote a second novel, Broken Souls. Two more plays followed, the one-act tragedy Comedy and The Sacrifice, which was later published under the title The First Mason. The latter was submitted in 1910 to the Lassaneio Dramatic Competition and won first prize, and was also adapted into a libretto by Manolis Kalomiris, who set it to music in an opera.
At the same time he wrote articles in various newspapers and magazines under the pseudonyms Akritas, Karma Nirvami and Petros Psiloritis, while in 1907 he began postgraduate studies in Paris. An important influence on Kazantzakis was the lectures of Henri Bergson, whom he attended and whom he introduced in Athens with an essay in 1912, H. Bergson. In 1909 he returned to Greece and published in Heraklion his dissertation on the subject of Frederick Nietzsche in the Philosophy of Law and the State. In 1910 he settled permanently in Athens and in 1911 he married Galatea Alexiou, in the church of St. Constantine, in the Heraklion cemetery, because he was afraid of his father, who did not want Galatea to be his bride.
In the First Balkan War, in 1912, he volunteered, but was eventually appointed to the office of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos.
In 1910 he was one of the founders of the Educational Group, through which he became friends with the poet Angelos Sikelianos in 1914. Together they travelled to Mount Athos, where they stayed for about forty days, and toured many other parts of Greece in search of “the consciousness of their land and their race”. During this period he also came into contact with the work of Dante, whom he describes in his diaries as one of his teachers, along with Homer and Bergson, while Pantelis Prevelakis, his friend and biographer, believes that this is when the first spark was lit that would give rise to the Odyssey after 24 years.
In 1915 he and I. Skordilis planned to take down timber from Mount Athos. This failed experience, together with another similar one in 1917, when they and a worker, George Zorbas, tried to exploit a lignite mine in Prastova, Mani, were transformed much later into the novel Bios and Politia by Alexis Zorbas.
In 1919 Eleftherios Venizelos appointed Kazantzakis Director General of the Ministry of Repatriation with the mission of repatriating Greeks from the Caucasus region. The experiences he gained were later used in his novel Christ Recrucified. The following year, after the defeat of the Liberal Party, Kazantzakis left the Ministry of Reconstruction and made several trips to Europe.
In 1923 Kazantzakis and Sikelianos parted ways. They reunited after 19 years, in 1942.
Kazantzakis travelled a lot in his life: Naxos, Athens, Athens, Paris, Mount Athos, Caucasus, Vienna, Berlin, Italy, Cyprus, Palestine, Japan, Spain, Czechoslovakia, England, France, Holland, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia and elsewhere.
In 1922 he visited Vienna, where he came into contact with the work of Sigmund Freud and the Buddhist scriptures. He also visited Germany, and in 1924 he spent three months in Italy. In the period 1923-1926 he also made several journalistic trips to the Soviet Union, Palestine, Cyprus and Spain, where he was interviewed by the dictator Primo de Rivera. In October 1926 he went to Rome and interviewed Benito Mussolini. He also worked as a correspondent for the newspapers Acropolis, Eleftheros Logos, Eleftheros Typos, Kathimerini, etc. He had, of course, met Eleni Samiou in 1924 (his divorce with Galatea was published in 1926), with whom he lived 21 years without marriage. They married in 1945 and this was because he and his good friend, Angelos Sikelianos, and his second wife were going to the USA. In 1925 Kazantzakis was arrested in Heraklion, Crete, but was only detained for twenty-four hours because by 1924 he had taken over the spiritual leadership of a communist organization of disaffected refugees and old-timers from the Asia Minor campaign. This episode is referred to by Pantelis Prevelakis and Elli Alexiou.
In 1927 he began an anthology of his travel articles for the publication of the first volume of Traveling, while Dimitris Glinos” magazine Anagenion published his philosophical work, Askitiki. In October 1927, Kazantzakis, being a leftist, left for Moscow invited by the government of the Soviet Union to take part in the celebrations for the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. There he met the like-minded, left-wing, Greco-Roman writer, Panait Istrati, with whom he returned to Greece. In January 1928, in the Alhambra Theatre in Athens, Kazantzakis and Istrati spoke in praise of the Soviet Union. At the end of the speech there was a demonstration. Both Kazantzakis and the co-organiser of the event, Dimitris Glinos, were prosecuted. The trial was set for 3 April, postponed a few times and never took place.
In April, Kazantzakis was back in Russia, where he was writing a film script for the Russian cinema on a theme from the Greek Revolution of 1821, The Red Handkerchief. In May 1929, he isolated himself on a farm in Czechoslovakia, where he completed in French the novels Toda-Raba (Toda-Raba, a renaming of the original title Moscou a crié) and Kapétan Élia. These works were part of Kazantzakis”s attempt to establish himself internationally as a writer. The French edition of the novel Toda-Raba was published under the pseudonym Nikolaï Kazan. In 1930, Kazantzakis would again be tried for atheism for Asceticism. The trial was set for 10 June, but it too never took place.
In 1931 he returned to Greece and settled again in Aegina, where he undertook the writing of a French-Greek dictionary. He also translated Dante”s Divine Comedy. He also wrote a part of the odes he called the cantata. These were later incorporated into a volume entitled Tercines (1960). Later, he travelled to Spain while beginning to translate works by Spanish poets. In 1935 he made a trip to Japan and China enriching his travel writings. Shortly afterwards, a number of his writings were published in newspapers or magazines, while his novel The Rock Garden, written in French, was published in Holland and Chile. During the period of occupation, he collaborated with Ioannis Kakridis on the translation of the Iliad.
In 1943 he completed the writing of his novel The Life and State of Alexis Zorbas.
After the German withdrawal, he became very active in Greek political life, assuming the presidency of the Socialist Workers” Movement, while he also served as a minister without portfolio in the government of Themistocles Sophoulis from 26 November 1945 to 11 January 1946. He was a member of the Greek-Soviet League. He resigned from office after the unification of the Social Democratic parties. In March 1945 he tried to get a seat in the Athens Academy, but failed by two votes. In November of the same year he married Eleni Samiou, at Ai-Giorgis the Karitsis, with Angelos and Anna Sikelianou as his best men.
Kazantzakis was nominated 9 years (1947, 1950, 1951, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957) for the Nobel Prize, with a total of 14 different nominations:,
In 1947 he was appointed to UNESCO with the mission of promoting translations of classical literary works, with the ultimate aim of bridging different cultures. He finally resigned in 1948 in order to devote himself to his literary work. To this end, he settled in Antibes, France, where he spent the following years in a particularly productive period, during which he completed most of his prose work.
In 1953 he contracted an eye infection, which forced him to be hospitalized first in the Netherlands and later in Paris. He eventually lost his sight in his right eye.
The first ecclesiastical reaction to the work of Nikos Kazantzakis occurred in 1928, when Bishop Athanasios of Syros condemned the Ascetic in a memorandum to the Synod. The press of the time played an important role in the involvement of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece with the author”s work, especially the newspaper Estia, which, through the publication of its articles, brought the Church before the issue. Specifically, after the publication of the novel Captain Michalis by Mavridis Publications in 1953, comments were published in the newspaper aimed at discouraging the reading public from reading the work. On 22 January 1954, an article signed by Cretikos, entitled A book defames Crete and religion, called on the Holy Synod and the Archdiocese not to leave the faithful unguided against the red insulters of religion. On May 10, 1954 the same newspaper, in a reply from the USA, quoted a communiqué of the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America according to which the priestly superiors met on the occasion of an article published by Hestia and condemned the Last Temptation.
Church of Greece and the Kazantzakis issue
On 26 January 1954 the issue of the book Captain Michael came up for discussion at the meeting of the Holy Synod and its members referred to the publication of Creticus in the newspaper Estia. The Holy Synod commissioned Panteleimon of Chios to study the novel Captain Michael and submit a recommendation. He submitted it on 23 March and in which he stressed that it initially gave the impression of a patriotic work, but then proved to be a disrespectful work to God and the clergy. The Holy Synod considered that the relevant publication of Hestia and the recommendation of Panteleimon of Chios should be sent to the competent authorities in order to be classified as anti-religious and anti-national and its circulation should be prohibited.On 25 May 1954, in a letter of the Holy Synod to the Theological School of Athens, the professors of the School were asked to take a position on the matter. On 11 June 1954 the School met and sent a document on 16 June. Panagiotis Trebelas and jointly Panagiotis Braciotis and Nikolaos Louvaris submitted proposals. Trebelas, after underlining the author”s literary talent and his effort to exalt the Cretan soul and his love for freedom, did not fail to emphasise that the erotic scenes contained in the book stimulate with their stimulating images the youth that tends towards disorderly rushes while desecrating and mocking the sacred. Finally, he refers to Kazantzakis” contradictory, according to Trebelas, presentation of the role of the metropolitan to his flock in the play Captain Michael.Bratsiotis and Louvaris dealt with the Last Temptation which they considered to be inspired by Freudian theories and those of historical materialism. The divine figure of the Lord was abused in a blasphemous manner and was rightly condemned by the Vatican.On June 19, 1954, Callisthenes of Cassandria submitted a submission to the Holy Synod dealing with the Last Temptation, which had been published in German, and Cassandria, who was well versed in German, studied it. He felt that Kazantzakis approached the life and sufferings of Christ in a doctrinal manner beyond any historical and doctrinal basis, downplaying his theanthropic character. On June 24, 1954, Louvaris published an article in the newspaper National Herald in which he commented on The Last Temptation: was Kazantzakis religiously ignorant. Art for Kazantzakis, according to Luvaris, was a means of nihilistic propositions. Cassandrias Kallinikos, meanwhile, submitted a new submission dealing with The Christ is Re-Crucified, considering it a purely literary work rather than a doctrinal-religious one. He described him as a Christian co-nominator.Kazantzakis himself, responding to the church”s threats of excommunication, wrote in a letter: “You have given me a curse, Holy Fathers, I give you a wish: I wish that your conscience may be as clear as mine and that you may be as moral and religious as I am.”
In the end, the Church of Greece did not dare to proceed with the excommunication of Nikos Kazantzakis, as the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras was opposed to this. As the lecturer of the Theological School of Thessaloniki Antonia Kyriatzi points out, “The references in the newspapers to …excommunication of books… influenced public opinion and created in the reading public impressions of the author”s excommunication. Born in Crete and resident abroad, Kazantzakis was under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece did not have the spiritual jurisdiction to decide anything concerning the person of Nikos Kazantzakis. The Ecumenical Patriarchate was competent to make such decisions. On 22 June 1954 the Holy Synod met and dealt with Captain Michael and the Last Temptation. On 25 June they met again: there Florin Basil recommended the excommunication of the author if other books of anti-Christian content were circulating. Phocis Athanasios was opposed to his excommunication because it would contribute to his publicity, Druinoupolis Demetrios was also opposed to excommunication but the flock needed to be informed about Kazantzakis” profane book. The proposals of the members of the synod ranged between calling the author to sincere repentance, condemning his books and ideas, turning to the government asking for a ban on his books, and disavowing his ideas by synodical communiqué.Also, The Last Temptation was added on January 12, 1954 to the Roman Catholic Church”s List of Prohibited Books, the now defunct Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Kazantzakis then sent a telegram to the Index Committee with the Christian apologist Tertullian”s phrase “Ad tuum, Domine, tribunal appello”, i.e. “To your Tribunal, Lord, I appeal”.
Kazantzakis”s “Zorba” was published in Paris in 1947 and its republication in 1954 was awarded the best foreign book of the year. In 1955 the author and Kakridis financed the publication of their own translation of the Iliad, while in the same year the Last Temptation was finally published in Greece. The following year he was awarded the State Theatre Prize in Athens for the three volumes Theatre A, B, C and the World Peace Prize in Vienna, a prize which came from all the then Socialist countries. As one of them was China, he attempted a second trip there in June 1957, invited by the Chinese government. He returned in failing health, suffering from leukaemia. He was hospitalized in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, where he finally died on 26 October 1957 at the age of 74. However, according to other accounts, leukaemia appeared in Kazantzakis during the winter of 1938, 19 years before his death, which is attributed to a severe form of Asian flu.
His body was transferred to the military airport of Elefsina. The lawyer Agni Roussopoulou went to Freiburg. Eleni Kazantzakis asked the Church of Greece to place his body on a popular pilgrimage, a request which the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Theokletos II, rejected with the excuse that there were fears of incidents by para-church organizations. In fact, telegrams were sent to the Archbishop in this regard. Thus, the body of the author was transferred to Heraklion. He was accompanied by his wife, Georgios Papandreou and Kakridis. The aircraft for the transport was provided by Aristotle Onassis. After a long mass in the Church of St. Minas, which was celebrated at 11 am in the presence of Archbishop of Crete Eugenios and 17 other priests, the burial of Nikos Kazantzakis took place, but they did not participate after the Archbishop”s prohibition. The burial took place in Tapia Martinego, on the Venetian walls of Heraklion, because his burial in a cemetery was forbidden by the Orthodox Church of Greece. The body was accompanied by the then Minister of Education Achilleas K. Gerokostopoulos and the military priest Stavros Karpathiotakis, who was later punished with a 20-day prison sentence for being absent from duty without leave.
On the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis was engraved, as he wished, the inscription: ”I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am a leper.
There is no other New Greek writer who has been so much insulted, browbeaten, defamed, slandered, for various issues, as Nikos Kazantzakis. No one was harmed by this man. And yet, at times, everyone fell upon him. A monstrous mythology was woven around Kazantzakis, about what he did and what he didn”t do, about what he should have done and didn”t do, and so on. As if he had been put under a microscope. And they saw what they wanted to see and said what they wanted to say.
For his integral presence he was fought by both the State and the Church.
Nikos Kazantzakis was a prolific writer. He dealt with almost every kind of discourse: Poetry (dramatic, epic, lyrical), essays, novels (in Greek and French), travel impressions, correspondence, children”s novels, translation (from Ancient Greek, French, Italian, English, German and Spanish), film scripts, history, school books, children”s books (adaptation and translation), dictionaries (linguistic and encyclopaedic), journalism, criticism, and articles.
The main body of his work consists of the Ascetic, which is the seed from which all his work sprouted, the Odyssey, next to which all the rest are described as “parergae”, the “21 Musketeers of the Odyssey”, the Tercines, the 14 tragedies contained in the three volumes Theatre A, B, C, the two novels he wrote in French and the seven novels of his late age, the impressions of his travels in Italy, Egypt, Sinai, Russia, Spain, Japan, China, England, Jerusalem, Cyprus and the Peloponnese, the translations of Dante and Homer and finally his letters to Galatea Alexiou and Pantelis Prevelakis.
In late 1924 he began writing the epic of his life, the Odyssey. 33,333 17-syllable verses divided into 24 rhapsodies. And about 7,500 aphorisms, which do not exist in any Greek dictionary.
In early 1925 he wrote the rhapsodies A to G. And in 1927 he completed the first writing (rhapsodies H to Z). Six more writings followed: the second writing in 1929-1930, the third in 1931, the third in 1933, the fifth in 1935, the fifth in 1937 and the final g in 1938. Total working hours about 15,000. The first edition of the Odyssey was published in 1938 and was dedicated to the American Joe MacLeod, sponsor of the publication.
The printing of the second edition began in October 1955, with the literary and typographical supervision of Emmanuel H. It was completed in November 1957, after the death of Nikos Kazantzakis. Odyssey, with two sigma this time the title, and without the dedication of the first edition.
An epigraphic summary of the Odyssey by its author, sent to Pantelis Prevelakis at the end of December 1938.
In the author”s archives have been found scripts for the cinema, but they remain – so far – unpublished: “because they have many problems, and not only stylistic ones. They are also technical problems. Some of them are badly written. Don Quixote and The Eclipse of the Sun have been published. Our goal is to create a team of scientists at some point, to transcribe them, because all of them are kept in the Kazantzakis Museum, to transcribe them, to document them and to comment on them in order to give them to the reading public”, as Nikos Mathioudakis, scientific advisor of Kazantzakis Publications, explains. Indicatively, the following titles are mentioned:
In 2015, the NEON Culture and Development Organization, drawing inspiration from Nikos Kazantzakis” work, Asceticism, presented the contemporary art exhibition The Transgression of the Abyss at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Crete. The exhibition brought Kazantzakis” work into dialogue with the works of 34 Greek and foreign contemporary artists, illuminating the journey of human life, from the trauma of birth, the struggle for life and creativity, to death.
Later that year, the exhibition was presented at the Thessaloniki Contemporary Art Centre and in 2016, enriched with more works, it was presented at the Athens Conservatory in Athens, in the new cultural space that opened to the public for the first time in 40 years after a renovation funded by NEON.
The exhibition included works by: Marina Abramović, Alexis Akrithakis, Matthew Barney, Hans Bellmer, Lynda Benglis, John Bock, Louise Bourgeois, Heidi Bucher, Stavros Gasparatos, Helen Chadwick, Paul Chan, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Gilbert & George, Robert Gober, Asta Gröting, Jim Hodges, Jenny Holzer, Kostas Ioannidis, Vlassis Kaniaris, Mike Kelley, William Kentridge, Martin Kippenberger, George Koumentakis, Sofia Kosmaoglou, Gabriel Kuri, Sherrie Levine, Stathis Logothetis, Ana Mendieta, Maros Michalakakou, Bruce Nauman, Aliki Palaska, Ioanna Pantazopoulou, Doris Salcedo, Beverly Semmes, Kiki Smith, Paul Thek, Kostas Tsoklis, Adriana Varejão, Mark Wallinger, Gary Webb and Savvas Christodoulides.
The manuscript of the Ascetic was exhibited as part of the exhibition.
A museum for Kazantzakis is located in Myrtia, Heraklion. It has collected archival material on the life and work of the writer. The establishment of the museum was the fruit of the efforts of stage designer and costume designer George Anemogiannis, who was related to the Kazantzakis family. For several years, the only space dedicated to the author was the specially designed room at the Historical Museum of Crete, where, in accordance with the author”s own wish expressed in his will in 1956, his office has been reconstructed as it was in Antibes, where he lived during the last years of his life.
Today, the Museum has more than 50,000 objects, classified in 10 collections, according to their form and content. These are the author”s letter archives, manuscripts and typescripts, as well as an archive of the first editions of his works. The Museum has an archive of more than 45,000 articles from the systematic cataloguing of the daily and periodical press carried out by George Anemogiannis for the period from 1905 to 2005. Also included are a photographic archive, an audio and moving image archive, a theatrical archive and works of art. Finally, personal items of Nikos Kazantzakis are kept and exhibited.
The Museum was inaugurated in 1983 by the then Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri. In 2009, the two-storey building that houses the Permanent Exhibition was radically renovated, co-financed by the European Union, presenting a new proposal for the exhibition of the Museum”s collections. The exhibition was enriched with newer “Kazantzakian” acquisitions, made more easily accessible to people with disabilities, modernised and equipped with technological means, thus creating the image of a modern and dynamic museum. The new exhibition was inaugurated in 2010. In the following years the Museum acquired a multi-purpose space in a neighbouring building where the Shop, the Café and the Children”s Corner are housed.
Digital archive ERT