Heraklion 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 Heraklion Town. His father was Michael Kazantzakis, a farmer and a dealer in agricultural products, 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, Kazantzakis 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 organizing the repatriation of more than 150,000 Greek people living in Caucasia who were uprooted as a result of the policy followed by the Young Turks movement and the participation of the Greek state in the Southern Russia intervention.

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 of the noncommunist left and entered the Greek government as Minister without Portfolio. However, he resigned the post in the following year. In 1947-48, he worked for UNESCO. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 9 times, and, in 1957, he lost to Albert Camus by only one vote.

He married twice, first to Galatea Alexiou and later to Eleni Samiou. Nikos Kazantzakis passed away in 1957 in Freiburg, Germany, suffering from leukemia. He was buried on the wall surrounding the city of Heraklion since the Orthodox Church ruled out his burial in a cemetery on account of his works, which were considered blasphemous. However, Nikos Kazantzakis did not become truly well-known until the 1964 release of the Michael Cacoyannis film Zorba the Greek, based on one of his novels.

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 it till 1938. He rewrote it seven times before it was eventually published, consisting of 24 rhapsodies with 33,333 lines and over 7,500 unrecorded words. He considered it to be his best and most important piece of work. His other important works include Zorba the Greek (1948), Christ Recrucified (1948), Captain Michalis (1950), The Last Temptation of Christ (1951) and God's Pauper: St Francis of Assisi (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 "superman". At the same time, however, he felt bound by religion to a certain degree and spent six months in a monastery at one point. 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 written on Nikos Kazantzakis' tomb: I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.