• LAWRENCE DURRELL

    REVIEW OF FREEDOM AND DEATH BY NIKOS KAZANTZAKIS

    Kazantzakis has emerged rather late from the comparative obscurity of demotic Greek to take his proper place as an artist of European magnitude. His latest novel will confirm his position as the greatest living Mediterranean novelist. It is set in his native island, Crete, during the Turkish occupation, and its central character Captain Michaelis, is the embodiment of the heroic island chieftain of the Greek War of Independence. The story unfolds against a great sprawling canvas crowded with actors and full of brilliantly observed detail. It moves in the stately old-fashioned manner of the epic novelists like Tolstoy or Victor Hugo; it takes its time, and its values are never explicit. The action itself states them.

    As for Freedom and Death these two absolutes are canvassed through the central character, Captain Michaelis, who illustrates in thought and action the rather elusive quality which the Greeks call "philotimo", and which translates rather wanly as "patriotic self-respect" or "amour-propre"; it is rather more radical than either. It is like a sort of trembler-fuse built into the psyche of the Greek which can make him die for glory as easily as for shame. It is responsible for the whole range of quixotries and absurdities which make the Greeks seem sometimes larger than life to us and often a good deal more tiresome. I suppose it belongs to the now dead age of chivalry and it reminds one of the terrible remark of Stendhal: "The genius of poetry is dead, and the genius of suspicion has entered the world."

    Captain Michaelis is burning with zeal to free his native island; yet his "philotimo" will permit him to swear blood-brothership with a Turkish Bey whom he loves; they mix their blood in a cup and swear upon Mohammed and Christ respectively as they stir it with their daggers ...

    These romantic resistance heroes lived before the Age of Doubt. I suppose one has to go back to Malory to find fitting comparisons. Byron was captivated by their wild chivalry, their absolute self-assurance, free from any vestige of self-regard. They were liberated men because their code of values contained not a single grain of doubt. They lived by uncontrollable impulses by a passion which rationalised itself around the ethos of country and of creed. "There are people" write Kazantzakis, "who call to God with tears or a disciplined, reasonable self-control. But the Cretans call to Him with guns. They stand before God's door and let off rifles to make Him hear, "Insurrection" bellows the Sultan and in raving fury sends Pashas, soldiers and gangs. "Insolence" cry the Francs and let loose their warships. "Be patient, be reasonable, don't drag me into blood shed", wails Hellas, the beggar-mother, shuddern. But the Cretans answer "Freedom or Death" and make a din before God's door."

    I have been told that the central portraits in this novel have been drawn from life, from Kazantzakis' own ancestors and childhood memories; certainly they are all magnetically alive. Not less alive is the luminous and magnificent landscape of Crete as brilliant as a peacocks tail. And yet there is nothing artificially poetic about the writing. It is simply based on perfectly straightforward observation and plain statement.

    All this might give one the impression that Kazantzakis was a writer lacking in sophistication a sort of inspired village blacksmith. But this isn't so. He belongs to the small leisured class of Athens, speaks at least two European languages well, and is a much travelled man; his travel diaries of Europe reveal the structure of a temperament which is both inquisitive and contemplative. His Spanish diary reminds one a bit of Kayserling in its appreciation of moral and aesthetic values. This makes his triumph all the greater in FREEDOM AND DEATH, for he has successfully presented us with a picture of Crete in the 1860's written, not as philosopher wishing to point a moral, but as one Cretan talking to another. In this I imagine he has been helped by two factors; the first is that the values of the Cretan today are almost exactly as they were in the time of Captain Michaelis. Little has changed in Crete. The second, perhaps more important, is that the Greek language is still in a formative stage and each writer has to use it selectively and turn it to his own purposes. The Cretan dialect is a peculiarly rich and rugged one and its skilful and selective use gives the novel a rough surface and an authenticity of line without in any way making it a costume-piece, a Walter Scott essay in chivalry. An interested reader might do well to compare this book to the first-person singular acounts written by the resistance men of the period; he will find that it has the same sort of impact as, say, the diary of Kolokotronis the Klepht, the chronicle of Makriyannis, or to choose a very recent example, the diary of Psychoundakis which Patrick Leigh Fermor translated early this year. Captain Michaelis fits snugly among these books which were all written by shepherds or sheep-stealers. Yet unlike the others it is a conscious work of art by a contemporary master, and moreover a poet. This makes Kazantzakis' triumph a greater one, for Captain Michaelis, so simple in construction, might in lesser hands have been a heavilly padded costume drama jingling with Drury Lane armour. As it is, its very lack of sophistication in the European sense, give it a tonic and bracing quality. It has the abrupt economy, the brutal charm of an ancient chronicle; and its rhythms remind one of the stately old-fashioned dances of Crete which endure to this day.



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