• Angela Kastrinaki, University of Crete

    NIKOS KAZANTZAKIS AND THE TOPOI OF DECLINE

    Murders of women appear so obsessively often in Kazantzakis' work that they constitute one of its basic characteristics. If this is not telling of his relationships with women, we shall demonstrate that it definitely does reveal the relationship between the author and art.

    As early as his first work, Serpent and Lily (1906), the hero-narrator, a certain artist, experiences crazed carnal passion before killing the object of his desires - and himself - in a room full of flowers. Floral death is no invention of Kazantzakis: Heliogavalos, who was given to killing his guests with rose petals, was one of the favorite heroes of decline literature, brought to Greece in Gryparis' sonnet The Roses of Heliogavalos (1895).

    In Serpent and Lily the man is known (to himself) as "Chosen"; a divine flame burns within him and he dreams of returning to a superior native land, which he recalls and yearns for. On the other hand, the woman is weak and her soul originates in "other smaller worlds". Thus the superior male, whose artistic activity has been held in limbo on account of the women, plans and carries out their mutual execution, while she tries in vain to resist.

    This is the first case of women murdering in Kazantzakis' work, though it is accompanied by suicide. Yet soon we shall find the author killing his heroines alone, freed of the obligation to kill the man. (Here we should note that in his early pre-Nietzsche period Kazanzakis was a feminist). Thus in the 1910 play The Master Builder - a theatrical version of the folk song "The Bridge of Arta", the man urges the woman he loves to sacrifice herself - by allowing herself to be built into the bridge - because he realizes that he will not be able to create the great oeuvre with her at his side.

    Both with regard to their themes and modes of expression, the above two works are true examples of aestheticism. This artistic movement does indeed justify the sacrifice of a human being to the good of the oeuvre. There is Poe's Oval Portrait, in which the artist creates the perfect female portrait, while his model wastes away and dies. Then there is the atrocious killing of a slave in Pierre Louys' L'Homme de pourpre, carried out so as to provide a realistic depiction of human pain; aestheticism promotes the idea that human life is of little significance when compared to the grandeur of art.

    So in Kazantzakis' early, plainly aestheticist texts, the killing of women is subject to the following reasoning: the man, who is made so as to create, murders the obstruction to his higher destiny or lets her be murdered. Yet murders of women are far from absent in the author's later work. The killing of the widow in Zorba is a typical case, and yet more typical is the killing of Emine Hanoum in Freedom or Death.

    As we know, Kapetan Michalis stabs Emine, the woman he lusted after, so as to free himself of base carnal thoughts and devote himself to the liberation of Crete. But the liberation of Crete is nothing other than a new interpretation of the sublime oeuvre. In this case the oeuvre dies not lie in artistic creation, as in genuine aestheticist texts, but in a sublime idea alien to women. Yet the motive does of course remain the same: man sacrifices woman in an act which liberates him from his baser inclinations and renders him fit to carry out the oeuvre.

    Kazantzakis shares this obsession with Gabriele D'Annunzio, the Italian celebrated at the turn of the century as a representative of the Decline. The violent killing of women is a standard and recurrent motive in the work of the Italian author. In Il Trifono della Morte (1894), the intellectual hero kills the femme fatale because she is an obstruction to his intellectual welfare. Embracing her tightly, he drags her off a high cliff into the sea. In this case the death is at least a shared one, although the woman does struggle against it, as in Serpent and Lily. But in other works D'Annunzio depicts murders of women which act simply to free the male heroes from violent desires.

    The Italian aestheticist's work also abounds in killings of women not by the men who desire them, but at the hands of a mob - killings which the author appears to indulge in with especial pleasure. In the bucolic tragedy La Figlia di Iorio (1904), one of his heroines named Mila is burnt alive as a witch by a mob invoking the divine - she is an innocent girl, an outsider rather than a local, who suffers from the misfortune of attracting men in the extreme, and thus becomes the focus of other women's hatred. All of this is reminiscent of the execution of the widow in Zorba the Greek: there we have the same type of attractive and persecuted woman, the same village scenario, the frenzied mob of men who lust after her and women whose hatred arises from jealousy and superstition, the same ritual death.

    Thus from his early works to his later ones, Kazantzakis murders women, while essentially sacrificing them on the altar of aestheticism. What is of interest is that in his last works, which are said not to belong to aestheticism, the author goes further than in the early texts. In Serpent and Lily the murder of the women brings on the death of the man; in The Master Builder the woman sacrifices herself of her own free will, so that male society is not blemished with her murder. But in his late works Kazantzakis causes women to be murdered with ever decreasing inhibition: in Freedom and Death the woman is killed in her sleep by the very man who lusts after her, this time without any guilt.

    Apart from the murder of women, in Kazantzakis' later works sex with them also bears all the hallmarks of aestheticism. The supposedly autobiographical episode with the Irish girl in Report to Greco is a typical example of aestheticism under a veneer of realism. This is the chapter in which Kazantzakis recounts the relationship he had as an eighteen-year-old with an English teacher, an Irish girl mature as a "honeyed fig". He says he set out with this girl to climb Mount Ida; in a church on the summit the young couple entwine themselves in full view of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

    As Kazantzakis relates, the experience with the Irish girl haunts him as a young man and spurs him to write Serpent and Lily. Yet the "sex in the church" scene is not an altogether original concept; it may not have occurred frequently at the time Report to Greco was being written, but it does correspond with at least two texts by authors moulded in the same movement as Kazantzakis, in turn of the century aestheticism. In his 1909 work The Purple Rose, Platon Rodokanakis depicts a couple making love in a ruined monastery chapel, as does Kosmas Politis twenty-one years later in The Lemon Forest.

    But such scenes are not as common in Greece as they are in Europe, where the combination of the sensual with the divine and the desecration of a holy place constitute a topos in art, above all in Romanticism. Moreover, Catholic tradition boasts a plethora of descriptions in which the divine is united with the sensual. In the 16th century, Bernini's Saint Theresa is struck by the arrow of divine love while in an ecstasy all of this earth, while Maurice Barres - one of Kazantzakis' mentors - defined "neo-Catholicism" in 1893 as "a way of mingling sensuality with religion".

    In Serpent and Lily - the work supposedly inspired by the Irish girl - Kazantzakis himself links the divine with the sensual, in a somewhat sacrilegious combination.

    "I want the communion of Your body tonight. I yearn for the Holy of Holies and the Sanctuary of your flesh. As a minister of the True God I will offer a sacrifice tonight and your body will be the temple, our delirium will be hymns and after sensual pleasure will be religious and celestial ecstasy, etc, "

    The greatest sensual pleasure derives from offending God. One of the first teachers of this appears to have been the Marquis de Sade, who issues the following exhortation while Philosophising in the Boudoire: "Deliver all your senses freely to sensual pleasure, Eugenia, it is the only god of your existence; it is to this that a young woman must sacrifice, nothing must be as holy in her eyes as sensual pleasure." But another of the Marquis' teachings comes even closer to Kazantzakis' turn of phrase, according to which there are various parts of the female body - in addition to the usual one - which can provide the male member with "yet other altars on which to burn its incense"

    Thus even if the story of the Irish girl is fictional - at the time Kazantzakis was involved in his passionate yet non-sexual relationship with Galatea Alexiou - it does reveal the author's deeper tendencies, those which possess him from the first work to the last, rendering him a true scion of the Decline.

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