• LETTERS TO HIS FATHER AND SISTERS

    Plans for his academic career. Buying time overseas

    • Rome, 24th March 1909
      Dearest Father,

      I have just recieved your letter and read what you wrote to me. The idea and aim I was talking to you about is to take exams for a lectureship at the university, and later, when Kazazis leaves, to become a university professor - this aim will be realised. I will sit these exams in early May or perhaps late April. But I completed the book I wanted to write for that purpose - to present to the professors later on - in late February in Paris, because I worked night and day to finish it. And I did.

      So I have between one and a half and two months until exam time. That because I will be in Athens on April 15th. So I reckoned that if I went to Athens straight away, I would spend the same amount of money, whereas there was no need for me to stay in Paris, since I had finished my work. Going home and then leaving again only to return would have cost me the same amount. I had to see how I could do myself the greatest benefit at the same expense. And I decided it was for the best to spend half the month in Florence and the rest in Rome. I can assure you, dearest father, that I am not wandering around in foreign parts and that I am not suffering this and that far away from you just for the fun of it, like a traveller. If only you were to write to the homes in which I lived, they could tell you how much I worked, how much I burnt the midnight oil these past two years. While all the young people, all my friends, were enjoying life, I was alone with my books in my room, or at the universities, trying to earn what you were spending on me. I know that no other father has done as much for his child as you - but I can assure you, father, that that money did not go to waste. My education and development, what I saw and learnt are without precedent in Heraklion, or one might say for any young man on Crete. And I hope one day to honour the name you gave me.

      I did not leave Florence at my pleasure, but I had to see Rome and study it. I have need of all these things, I suffer in studying them, and suffer twice as much when I think of the effort involved in making the money you send me.

      You know that I am not one of those young men who do not think of or know of their debts. I am even spending less on food so as to make the money you sent me on 15th February last for two months. I want to make all my travel expenses from saving on food - I do not spend so much as a farthing without thinking about it. But I do not know if I will manage to hold out until 10th April. But since that is when I will leave here for home, the last 10 twenty drachma notes for my ticket and travel expenses to Athens will have to reach me here by early April. Because I do not know anyone here and if at some stage I run out of money here, I do not know what I will do.

      Dear father, forgive me for this long letter I am sending you. But I do not know how to tell you that I know very well everything you do for me, things that no other father has ever done - and that I am suffering and studying a great deal in foreign lands, that I am not wandering around to kill time, because one day I want to make a name for us.
      Nίκος

1883. Kazantzakis is born on 18/30** February in Iraklion, Crete, then still part of the Ottoman Empire.

His father Mihalis, a dealer in agricultural products and wine, is from Varvari, now the site of the Kazantzakis Museum. Much later, Mihalis is to become one of the models for Kapetan Mihalis in the novel Freedom or Death.

Kazantzakis' father, on whom Kapetan Michalis,
protagonist of Freedom or Death was modelled

1912. He introduces Bergson's philosophy to Greek intellectuals by means of a long lecture delivered to members of the Educational Association and later published in the association's Bulletin.

When the first Balkan War breaks out, he volunteers for the army and is assigned to Prime Minister Venizelos' private office.

1915. Again with Sikelianos, he tours Greece. In his diary he writes, "My three great teachers: Homer, Dante, Bergson. "In retreat at a monastery, he completes a book (now lost), probably on the Holy Mountain. He notes in his diary that his motto is "come l' uom s' eterna" (how man saves himself ' from Dante's "Inferno" 15.85).

He most likely writes the plays " Christ", "Odisseas" and " Nikiforos Fokas " in first draft. In order to sign a contract for harvesting wood from Mount Athos, he travels to Thessaloniki in October. There he witnesses the British and French forces as they disembark to fight on the Salonica Front in World War I.

In the same month, reading Tolstoy, he decides that religion is more important than literature and vows to begin where Tolstoy left off.".

In Athens with Galatea, his first wife

Yiorgis Zorbas, on whom "Zorba the Greek" was modelled

Kazantzakis with the poet Angelos Sikelianos

We became abrupt, immediate friends. So greatly did we differ, we divined at once that each needed the other and that the two of us together would constitute the whole man.
We became abrupt, immediate friends. So greatly did we differ, we divined at once that each needed the other and that the two of us together would constitute the whole man. I was coarse and taciturn, with the tough hide of a peasant. Full of questions and metaphysical struggles, I remained undeceived by striking exteriors, for I divined the skull beneath the beautiful face. I was devoid of naïveté, sure of nothing. I had not been born a prince; I was struggling to become one.
He was jolly, with a stately grandiloquence, sure of himself, the possessor of noble flesh and the unsophisticated, strength-engendering faith that he was immortal.
Certain he had been born a prince, he had no need to suffer or struggle to become one.
Nor to yearn for the summit, since -of this he was certain also- he had already attained the summit.
He was convinced that he was unique and irreplaceable.
He would not condescend to compare himself with any other great artist, dead or alive, and this naïveté gave him vast self-confidence and strength

[...]

Later, when I knew him better, I said to him one day,

- "The great difference between us, Angelos, is this: you believe you have found salvation, and believing this, you are saved;
I believe that salvation does not exist, and believing this I am saved."

[...]

Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco.
Translation by Peter A. Bien,
New York : 1965, Bantam Books Inc., pp. 181-182.

1922.An advance contract with an Athenian publisher for a series of school textbooks enables him to leave Greece again. He remains in Vienna from 19 May until the end of August. There he contracts a facial eczema that the dissident Freudian therapist Wilhelm Stekel calls "the saints' disease." In the midst of Vienna's postwar decadence, he studies Buddhistic scriptures and begins a play on Buddha's life. He also studies Freud and sketches out "Askitiki".

September finds him in Berlin, where he learns about Greece's utter defeat by the Turks, the so called "Asia Minor disaster". Abandoning his previous nationalism, he aligns himself with communist revolutionaries. He is influenced in particular by Rahel Lipstein and her cell group of radical young women. Tearing up his uncompleted play "Buddha", he begins it again in a new form. He also begins Askitiki , his attempt to reconcile communist activism with Buddhist resignation. His dream being to settle in the Soviet Union, he takes Russian lessons.

1922. Rahel Lipstein-Minc

A handwritten dedication to Rahel Minc

Cover of Rahel Lipstein-Minc's Psaumes, Paris' 1949



A handwritten dedication to N. Kazantzakis

1928.On January 11, Kazantzakis and Istrati address a throng in the Alhambra Theater, praising the Soviet experiment. This leads to a demostration in the streets. Kazantzakis and Dimitrios Glinos, who organized the event, are threatened with legal action, Istrati with deportation.

April finds both Istrati and Kazantzakis back in Russia , in Kiev, where Kazantzakis writes a film scenario on the Russian Revolution. In Moscow in June, Kazantzakis and Istrati meet Gorki. Kazantzakis changes the ending of "Askitiki", adding the " Silence". He writes articles for Pravda about social conditions in Greece, then undertakes another scenario, this time on the life of Lenin. Traveling with Istrati to Murmansk, he passes through Leningrad and meets Victor Serge. In July, Barbusse's periodical "Monde" publishes a profile of Kazantzakis by Istrati; this is Kazantzakis's first introduction to the European reading public.

At the end of August, Kazantzakis and Istrati joined by Eleni Samiou and Istrati's companion Bilili Baud-Bovy, undertake a long journey in southern Russia with the object of co-authoring a series of articles entitled "Following the Red Star". But the two friends become increasingly estranged. Their differences are brought to a boil in December by the "Roussakov affair," that is, the persecution of Victor Serge and his father-in-law, Roussakov, as Trotskyists. In Athens, a publisher brings out Kazantzakis' Russian travel articles in two volumes.

1931. Back in Greece, he settles again on Aegina , working on a French-Greek dictionary (demotic as well as katharevusa).

In June, in Paris, he visits the Colonial Exhibition; this gives him fresh ideas for the African scenes in the Odyssey , whose third draft he completes in his hideaway in Czechoslovakia.

1937. In Aegina, he completes the sixth draft of the Odyssey . His travel book on Spain is published. In September he tours the Peloponnesus. His impressions are published in article form; later they will become "Journey to the Morea". He writes the tragedy "Melissa " for the Royal Theate.

1943. Working energetically despite the privations of the German occupation, Kazantzakis completes the second drafts of "Buddha", "Alexis Zorbasά" and the "Iliad" translation.

Then he writes a new version of Aeschylus's "Prometheus" trilogy.

In the spring and summer he writes the plays "Capodistria " and "Constantine Palaiologos". Together with the "Prometheus" trilogy, these cover ancient, Byzantine, and modern Greece.

After the German withdrawal, Kazantzakis moves immediately to Athens, where he is offered hospitality by Tea Anemoyanni. He witnesses the phase of the civil war called the "Dekemvriana" (the December events).

Fulfilling his vow to re-enter politics, he becomes the leader of a small socialist party whose aim is to unite all the splinter groups of the noncommunist left. He is denied admission to the Academy of Athens by two votes.

The government sends him on a fact-finding mission to Crete to verify the German atrocities there. In November he marries his longtime companion Eleni Samiou and is sworn in as Minister without Portfolio in the Sofoulis coalition government.

Borje Knos, the Swedish intellectual and government official, translates "Alexis Zorbas'" Kazantzakis, after pulling many strings, is appointed to a post at UNESCO, his job being to facilitate translations of the world's classics in order to build bridges between cultures, especially between East and West

He himself translates his play "Julian the Apostate". Alexis Zorbas is published in Paris.

1953. He is hospitalized in Paris, still suffering from the eye infection (he eventually loses his right eye). Examinations reveal a lymphatic disorder that has presumably caused his facial symptoms throughout the years. Back in Antibes , he spends a month with Professor Kakridis perfecting their translation of the "Iliad" .

He writes the novel "Saint Francis" . In Greece, the Orthodox Church seeks to prosecute Kazantzakis for sacrilege owing to several pages of Kapetan Mihalis and the whole of "The Last Temptation ", even though the latter still has not been published in Greek. "Zorba the Greek "is published in New York

1954.The Pope places "The Last Temptation " on the Roman Catholic Index of Forbidden Books. Kazantzakis telegraphs the Vatican a phrase from the Christian apologist Tertullian: "Ad tuum, Domine, tribunal appello" (I lodge my appeal at your tribunal, Lord). He says the same to the Orthodox hierarchy in Athens, adding: "You gave me your 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 am."

In the summer Kazantzakis begins a daily collaboration with Kimon Friar, who is translating the "Odyssey" into English. In December he attends the premiere of "Sodom and Gomorrah" in Mannheim, Germany, after which he enters hospital at Freiburg im Breisgau for treatment. His disease is diagnosed as being lymphatic leukemia.

The young publisher Yannis Goudelis undertakes to bring out Kazantzakis' collected works in Athens .

Kazantzakis and Eleni spend a month in a rest home in Lugano, Switzerland. There, Kazantzakis begins his spiritual autobiography, "Report to Greco". In August they visit Albert Schweitzer in Gunsbach.

Back in Antibes, Kazantzakis is consulted by Jules Dassin regarding the scenario for a movie of "Christ Recrucified". The Kazantzakis-Kakridis translation of the "Iliad" comes out in Greece, paid for by the translators because no publisher will accept it.

A second, revised edition of the "Odyssey" is prepared in Athens under the supervision of Emmanuel Kasdaglis, who also edits the first volume of Kazantzakis' collected plays. The " Last Temptation "finally appears in Greece, after a "royal personage" intervenes with the government on Kazantzakis' behalf.

With Albert Schweitzer and Eleni in Germany

1956. In June, Kazantzakis receives the Peace Prize n Vienna. He continues to collaborate with Kimon Friar. He loses the Nobel Prize at the last moment to Juan Ramon Jimenez.

Dassin completes the film of "Christ Recrucified", calling it "Celui qui doit mourir (He Who Must Die)".

The Collected Works procceed; they now include two more volumes of plays, several volumes of travel articles, "Toda-Raba" translated from French into Greek, and Saint Francis.

Another view of his study

At the Peace Prize award ceremony in Vienna

NEA (11/7/56): Ουδείς Έλλην επίσημος παρέστη...

Kazantzakis continues to work with Kimon Friar . A long interview with Pierre Sipriot is broadcast in six installments over Paris radio.

Kazantzakis attends the showing of "Celui qui doit mourir" at the Cannes film festival. The Parisian publisher Plon agrees to bring out his "Collected Works" in French translation.

Kazantzakis and Eleni depart for China as the guests of the Chinese government . Because his return flight is via Japan, he is forced to be vaccinated in Canton. Over the North Pole the vaccination swells and his arm begins to turn gangrenous. He is taken for treatment at the hospital in Freiburg im Breisgau where his leukemia was originally diagnosed. The crisis passes.

Albert Schweitzer comes to congratulate him, but then an epidemic of Asiatic flu quickly overcomes him in his weakened condition.

He dies on 26 October, aged 74 years. His body arrives in Athens. The Greek Orthodox Church refuses to allow it to lie in state. The body is transferred to Crete, where it is viewed in the cathedral church of Iraklion. A huge procession follows it to interment on the Venetian ramparts .

Later, Kazantzakis' chosen epitaph is inscribed on the tomb :

"Den elpizo tipota. Den fovumai tipota. Eimai eleftheros." (I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.)

In Cannes for the premiere of the film based on "Christ Recrucified" ("Celui qui doit mourir")
with Jules Dassin and Melina Mercouri

With Kimon Friar in Antibes

In Cannes for the premiere of the film based on "Christ Recrucified" ("Celui qui doit mourir") with Jules Dassin and Melina Mercouri

Signing the French edition of "God's Pauper"

5th November. Nikos Kazantzakis' funeral ceremony at the Cathedral of Saint Minas in Heraklion

The funeral procession in Heraklion

Where does the Antichrist lie?

ESTIA (22/1/54): Book reviles Crete and Religion

KATHIMERINI (26/1/54): Emilios Hourmouzios: Intellectual McCarthyism

TO VIMA (16/5/54): G. Phteris: The Church and Literature

KATHIMERINI (18/11/54): Emilios Hourmouzios: A work of true faith

KATHIMERINI (2/12/54): Emilios Hourmouzios: Two elements of the myth

SPITHA (November 1957)

KATHIMERINI (18/11/54): Emilios Hourmouzios on Christ Recrucified (1)

KATHIMERINI (18/11/54): Emilios Hourmouzios on Christ Recrucified (2)

TA NEA (11/7/56): Not one Greek VIP attended...

TA NEA (16/5/55): This is Paris calling! You are listening to Kazantzakis (1)

PANTHRAKIKI (18/8/56): The fortunes and honour of an empire

TACHYDHROMOS (2/3/57): "Give me a little of the time you waste"

ETHNIKOS KIRYX (19/10/56): "He who must die"

AVGE (4/12/57): "Christ Recrucified"

MESOGEIOS : N. Kazantzakis' corpse flown in...

DRASI : Pangs of sadness...

"Zorba the Greek", Greek
Difros, 1955

"Christ Recrucified", Greek
Difros, 1955

Freedom or Death, Difros (2nd edition)
Athens, 1955

The "Odyssey", English, Simon and Schuster
New York, 1958

"Zorba the Greek", French
Editions du Chene, 1947