Kazantzakis 1883 - 1957 (74)
From “The Saviors of God” (1923)
We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval life. As soon as we are born the return begins, at once the setting forth and the coming back; we die in every moment. Because of this many have cried out: The goal of life is death! But as soon as we are born we begin the struggle to create, to compose, to turn matter into life; we are born in every moment. Because of this many have cried out: The goal of ephemeral life is immortality! In the temporary living organism these two streams collide ... both opposing forces are holy. It is our duty, therefore, to grasp that vision which can embrace and harmonize these two enormous, timeless, and indestructible forces, and with this vision to modulate our thinking and our action.
Nikos Kazantzakis was one of the most important Greek writers of modern era. He wrote philosophic essays, travel books, tragedies, poetry, translated into Greek classics books as Dante’s Divine Comedy and Goethe’s Faust,but he is best known for his novels as: “Zorba the Greek” (1946, about a passionate lover of life), “Freedom or Death” (Kapetan Michalis, 1950, a depiction of Cretan Greeks’ struggle against Ottoman in the 19th century); The Greek Passion (1954, Christ Recrucified); The Last Temptation of Christ (1955); Report to Greco (published after his death, in 1961). He was three times nominated for the Nobel Prize, from the Society of Greek Writers and the Norwegian Society of Writers but never from Athens Academy. The Orthodox Church accused him as sacrilegious, based on excerpts from “Freedom or Death” and the entire contents of The Last Temptation of Christ, he was saved from excommunication because of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras’s strong opposition. The answer to the threats of the church for his excommunication was: "You gave me your curse, holy Fathers. I give you a blessing: May you be as moral and religious as I am and your conscience as clean as mine.”
Nikos was born in Heraklion, Crete on March 3, 1883, at a time the island was still part of the Ottoman Empire. His father was a merchant of agricultural products and wine. In 1889, during the Cretan Revolution, his father sent him for six months to Athens, to be sheltered during the war. In the next revolution, he sent him to Naxos, where he studied in the French commercial school. After this school he finished the law school in Athens and had post-graduate studies in philosophy in Paris. At that time he had started writing, at first with nicknames. In 1911 he married, despite the objections of his father, Galatea Alexiou. In the First Balkan War in 1912, he enlisted as a volunteer and was attached to the office of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos.
In 1919, Eleftherios Venizelos appointed him Director of the Ministry of Welfare with the task to repatriate the Greeks from the Caucasus region. Experiences from this task were exploited later in his novel "The Greek passion." After the defeat of the Liberal Party, he was removed from the Ministry of Welfare in 1920 and until 1926 he held several journalists jobs, traveling in Austria, Germany, Soviet Union, Palestine, Cyprus and Spain, where he interviewed the dictator Primo de Rivera. He worked as a correspondent of several newspapers and in October 1926 he went to Rome and interviewed Benito Mussolini. In 1926 he got divorced from Galatea. In October 1927 he went to Moscow on an invitation from the government of the Soviet Union, to take part in the celebrations for the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. He met there the Greek-Romanian writer Panait Istrati, with whom they returned to Greece and in 1928, in the theater "Alhambra" in Athens, they talk extolling the Soviet Union. Outside a lot of people were protesting against them, Kazantzakis and the co-organizer of the event Dimitris Glinos were prosecuted. In 1930, on June 10 was on trial for atheism, because of his book "Ascetic", the trial in the end never took place. In 1935 he traveled to Japan and China enriching his travel documents.
In 1938 he completed the Odyssey, consisting of a total of 33,333 verses and 24 rhapsodies, sequel to the Homeric epic where he reveals all his philosophy. For this project Kazantzakis worked for thirteen years before its final revised form. In 1953 he contracted an eye infection which forced him to be hospitalized initially in Holland and later in Paris. Eventually he lost the sight of his right eye. In 1954 “Zorba the Greek” was awarded in France as the best foreign book of the year. It was the same year that the Holy Synod asked the government to ban all his books. In 1957 he had a second trip to China after the invitation of the Chinese government. He returned with broken health from leukemia. He was hospitalized in Copenhagen, Denmark and Freiburg, Germany, where he finally died, on October 26, 1957.