• LETTERS TO GALATEA

    On the path towards communism (Ι)

    1st May

    Cherie, I have just got back from a big communist rally in a large square in Berlin. It was in front of the palace and thousands of people had gathered there, the square was filled with red flags, the statues of the old Hohenzollern were draped with red flags, hammers and sickles. Mothers were carrying their young children on their shoulders so that they could see the spectacle and imprint it on their minds. There were many speakers, well-worn phrases - the crowd listened to the age-old rhetoric for a couple of hours and then broke up.

    There was a German communist intellectual with me, sporting the outfit usually worn by communist intellectuals - students, teachers, scholars etc.: a buttoned peau de diable jacket, an open, usually coloured collar, no hat, culottes and knee-length stockings with heavy shoes or sandals. I was telling him that this format for rallies seemed old and lifeless to me. A new format must be found for these gatherings, and for communist organisations. These rallies are today what religious litanies were in other times. How did the Church organise the litanies? Some unified, dramatic action would unfold on the streets: there were the choruses - one person would speak, another answer, the bishop was the visible unifying force, they would stop at crossroads, call upon God, the crowd would fall silent and then suddenly break out into invocations, threats, hopes.

    We won't do the same, but these litanies can act as a starting point. The enthusiasm, hatred and power of the proletariat must be organised to take modern forms, when they surge onto the streets and hold rallies and protests.

    The format will be different for each nation. What did the Germans do in the Middle Ages, whenever they set out on crusades or while they were struggling for generations to overthrow the feudal system? That's how we will be guided to a modern, entirely German format for mass gatherings.

    My friend agreed with me, but he said that either the great individuals who are able to understand the subconscious will of the masses have yet to appear, or that the subconscious is not yet strong enough to force itself on particular individuals and express itself in concrete forms.

    Together with this friend of mine and some others we are now working systematically to found an international League for the enlightenment of the people, with books, speeches, propaganda etc.. They insist mainly on moulding chosen intellectuals who can deal with matters philosophical, scientific, artistic etc. from a communist, marxist point of view. I insist on the need to leave all such intellectual luxuries aside for the moment and see how we can address a) the people in general b) the workers in particular c) children.

    I will write you more some other time.

    [...]

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