17 MAY 2016

Nikos Kazantzakis

“All my life, one of my greatest desires has been to travel-to see and touch unknown countries, to swim in unknown seas, to circle the globe, observing new lands, seas, people, and ideas with insatiable appetite, to see everything for the first time and for the last time, casting a slow, prolonged glance, then to close my eyes and feel the riches deposit themselves inside me calmly or stormily according to their pleasure, until time passes them at last through its fine sieve, straining the quintessence out of all the joys and sorrows.” 
Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco

Traveler, philosopher, translator, novelist, poet; it is hard to paint the verbal portrait of Nikos Kazantzakis, a writer that shook the very foundations of Greek thought and was persecuted like no other. Ever a radical and restless soul, Nikos was targeted by conservative literary and religious circles who failed miserably to restrain the critical acclaim and popularity of his works.

When reading his novels, books and poems, it is virtually impossible to examine solely the text, disregarding the author. With every line, hidden under each word is the spirit of Nikos Kazantzakis who has indeed poured his heart and soul into his writing. This is namely what makes his way of writing so unique; his voice is pure and undistorted, the voice of a child asking the most important questions about life, love and spirit, that remain unanswered still.

Nikos loved to travel. He considered traveling to be as important as teaching and always underlined the importance of having your eyes and mind open to new ideas and knowledge. Throughout his travels the writer collected not only ideas for writing but was also exposed to an abundance of different views on life and the world. In France, he was introduced to the ideas of Bergson and later his restless spiritual skepticism found solace in the word of Nietzsche; in Russia, he came across the ideals of communism and atheism. Yet when back in Greece, he traveled for a month to Mount Athos, an asylum of monastic life and experience, in search of peace and inspiration. This conflict of ideals, these never-ending existential and religious anxieties tormented him to the end of his days and these themes constantly reappear in his works.

No matter how much he traveled though his heart always longed for home. The writer and philosopher was born and raised in the proud island of Crete. His childhood memories of Cretan country life, the characteristic Cretan dialect and the simple, stubborn yet benevolent nature of the locals forever shaped his life's views and way of writing, and, inevitably, found their way into his manuscripts. In his most famous work Zorba the Greek Kazantzakis often describes scenes from everyday Cretan life, such as wine-making, in the liveliest colors. Crete is, for him, a reference point for the rest of the world; he praises its beauties without ever falling to the sin of elitist arrogance.

Kazantzakis considered his Odyssey his magnus opus. The Odyssey of Kazantzakis is an epic poem of 33,333 lyrics and 24 rhapsodies that follows the pattern of Homer’s epic. The Cretan writer’s wish was to write an epic about the Modern Man in the face of Odysseus. The unfulfilled hero, who having returned to Ithaka, set a new goal, to achieve and conquer utter Freedom.

This Freedom was what Kazantzakis himself fought for in his whole life. Despite the uproar his works caused, he never stopped writing nor changed his ideas to conform with literary and societal norms; he remained to the end true to his beliefs and free, like the proud hawks soaring in the sky above the mountain, Psiloritis, in Crete. On his tombstone are written these revealing words, a living testament to the essence of the man and his eternal belief in the ideal of Freedom:

“I hope nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”


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