Nikos Kazantzakis

Nikos Kazantzakis: Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) was one of the most important and talented Greek writers and philosophers of the 20th century. His work includes essays, novels, poems, travelogues and translations of classic works, such as Dante's Divine Comedy and Goethe's Faust. Many of his novels deal with the history and culture of Greece and the mysterious relationship between man and God.


Nikos Kazantzakis was born on February 18th, 1883, in the town of Heraklion in Crete. His father was Michael Kazantzakis, a farmer and a dealer in animal feed and his mother was Maria Kazantzakis. Nikos left Crete at a young age to attend the Franciscan School of the Holy Cross in Naxos and in 1902 he went to study law at the University of Athens for four years. From 1907 to 1909, Nikos studied philosophy at the College de France in Paris and he was greatly influenced by the teachings of Henri Bergson.

On returning to Greece, he began translating works of philosophy. Besides writing, Nikos dedicated a lot of time to public service. In 1919, he was appointed Director General at the Greek Ministry of Public Welfare. He was responsible for feeding and eventually rescuing more than 150,000 Greek people who were trapped in the Caucasian region of the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Since then, Kazantzakis traveled widely around the world, visiting Berlin, Italy, Russia, Spain, Cyprus, Egypt, China, Japan and many other countries. While in Berlin, Kazantzakis discovered communism and became an admirer of Lenin. In 1945, he became the leader of a small party on the noncommunist left and entered the Greek government as Minister without Portfolio. He however resigned the post in the following year. In 1947-48, he worked for UNESCO. In 1957, he lost the Nobel Prize for Literature to Albert Camus by one vote.

He married twice, one to Galatea Alexiou and another to Eleni Samiou. Nikos Kazantzakis passed away in 1957 Freiburg, Germany, suffering from leukemia. He was buried on the wall surrounding the city of Heraklion, since the Orthodox Church had abolished him after his work The Last Temptation and ruled out his burial in a cemetery. However, Nikos Kazantzakis did not become truly well known until the 1964 release of the Michael Cacoyannis film Zorba the Greek based on a novel by him.

Literary Work

Kazantzakis's first published work was the 1906 narrative Serpent and the Lilly, which was signed with the penname, Karma Nirvami. In 1909, he wrote a one act play entitled Comedy. In 1910, after his studies in Paris, he wrote a tragedy The Master Builder based on a popular Greek folkloric story.

Kazantzakis began writing The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel in 1924 and didn't finish till 1938. He actually wrote it seven times before it was eventually published. He considered it to be his best and most important piece of work. His other important works include Zorba the Greek (1948), The Greek Passion (1948), Last Temptation of Christ (1951) and Saint Francis (1956).

Throughout his life, Kazantzakis was spiritually inclined, constantly looking for answers. His thirst for knowledge made him travel around the world meeting numerous people with different backgrounds and ideologies.

The influence of Friedrich Nietzsche on his work is very evident especially in his atheism and sympathy for the superman. At the same time however, he felt bound by religion to a certain degree and at a point stayed in a monastery for six months. Many Greek religious authorities condemned his work to which his only response 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 am.

According to his will, the following phrase has been writen on his tomb: I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.

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