The Greek novelist, poet, and thinker Nikos Kazantzakis, (Crete, 1883 – 1957), lived half of his life in Germany, the USSR, and France, traveling widely throughout Europe, Japan, and Communist China.
First he gained notoriety as a poet only in 1938 with his vast philosophical epic The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel (1958); a poem that takes up Ulysses’ story where Homer leaves off. Initially he was influenced by the works of Nietzsche and Bergson, but later he immersed himself in Marxism, Buddhism, and Christianity. In 1945 he was appointed Greece’s Minister of Education
Only after he was sixty years old, did he set off to write fiction. His first novel was Zorba the Greek (1946), became a popular bestseller. In this novel Kazantzakis puts into play his assimilation of the Bergsonian idea of the elan vital, revealing such abstract force in the antics and exuberance of the character Zorba. Told in the first-person by a sensitive businessman who comes to Crete to run a mine, the narrator is mesmerized by the inventiveness, fortitude, and attitude towards life of a noble savage that was Zorba.
In addition, the narrator waxes lyrical about the goodness of communism:
And I made romantic plans—if the extraction of ignite was successful—to organize a sort of community in which everything should be shares, where we should eat the same food together and wear the same clothes, like brothers. I created in my mind a new religious order, the leaven of a new life …Second in popularity is Kazantzakis’ novel The Last Temptation of Christ (1955)—a controversial work. The Catholic Church was horrified by him, and the Orthodox Church expelled him.
What helped maintain Kazantzakis fame as a novelist were the films produced in Hollywood of the two novels mentioned.
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