Nikos Kazantzakis

Nikos Kazantzakis is a controversial figure from the twentieth century. He is known for his inventiveness, political inclinations, and convictions, all of which contribute to his greatness as a philosopher and thinker. As a result, his reputation as a Greek philosopher has been compared to that of other great Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato. In a similar vein, many regard him as a philosopher who was greatly influenced by Christian theological concepts of divinity, Marxist theories of dialectics touching on aspects of humanism, and Buddhist teachings on negating self- and fleshly desires. His works are a cocktail of these worldviews and makes attempts at synthesizing them.

His life and collection of writings demonstrate the puzzling nature of the concepts of dualism with regards to the spirit and the flesh. In his book ‘Zorba the Greek,’ Kazantzakis aims to explore and understand the conflicting nature of man’s physical, spiritual and intellectual states. His novels were also a depiction of his life with the ‘Greek Passion serving as a good example of the experience he went through when he was around refugees suffering. In the Cretan coast, he involved himself in mining activities which resulted in him meeting a person called George Zorba. The novel entitled ‘Zorba the Greek’ is a testament to the immortalization of this person.

Critics of his work argue that his writings are often a depiction of a single body that aims to explain the spiritual and philosophical undertones of the author. In this sense, his works are not merely fictional but also autobiographical. Important to note is that fact that his work of art strives at reconciling the dualities experienced by human beings, this being aspects such as the mind and body, confirmation and desolation or even the daily life and death. As such, the author’s primary objective in a majority of his works involves the quest to solve the human conflicts that exist within human beings.

In the process of his literary pursuits, Kazantzakis was on a quest to try and create a connection between God and man. It begs the question as not lost onto the fact as to whether he was awed and bewildered by the greatness and omnipotent nature of God, for he was not. The assertion he points out is that there is the synthesis that ultimately supplements the other and that he has a firm belief in the notion that man is in a state of being built by God. A running concept of interdependent dualism is central to his works and is an inherited concept, not acquired from any outside sources.

It cannot be overlooked that the politics of Crete had an impact on the literary life of Kazantzakis. The evidence points out to the fact that his major work, ‘The Greek Passion,’ borrowed a lot from his experiences in this place. The running narrative in this novel is the struggle between Crete and Turkey. Some writings such as ‘The Greek Passion’ highlight the importance of Kazantzakis’ ancestors (Gutierrez, 25). They are given character roles in this novel and made examinations of these ancestors’ personalities. Another influence on Kazantzakis literary works apart from the political and geographical aspects is the religious characters from the East and the West. One of these figures that had a significant impact on Kazantzakis life is Buddha.

The religious figure of Buddha was a huge passion for the author ever since he was a youth. In the year 1922 in Vienna, Kazantzakis first came into contact with the Buddhist religion and from then on created a lasting imprint on his spiritual and intellectual arena. In turn, he embraced Buddhism by renouncing the desires of the flesh. For him, Buddha could have a likening to the person of Christ who similarly, had conquered both the mind and the body. His experience with Buddha a mystical struggle which was intense in itself.

One of the musings of Kazantzakis promoted the narrative that for a person to have a sense of meaning and purpose in life, it is paramount for one to be able to appreciate and have a knowledge of creation in its entirety. To achieve this, it would entail creating a conception which had to be intuitive and mystic at the same time. As such, it is through such experiences that man can chart their freedom and the full extent of their destiny ultimately referred to as a form of evolution. As such, the concepts of liberty and the meaning of life as well remain expressed in ‘Zorba the Greek.’

There exists a basic motif in the novel ‘Zorbia the Greek.’ In this novel, there are two forces in the form of eternal struggle that are contradictory. He notes that all the heroes are Cretans, in spite of their nationalities, and as such, a Turk or a Dominican is just but a representation of forces that have been in opposition of the Crete throughout history. In the same way, such forces opposed and challenged man and God into the abyss. The depiction here clearly states the struggle between the intellect and the spirit and is well described in character called Boss in the book entitled ‘Zorbia the Greek. The implication here is that a kind of spiritual conflict demonstrated in this fictional novel, lays all set against a backdrop of symbolism that is naturalistic. As such, these traits bring out the uniqueness of Kazantzakis’ art to the reader.

In the novel, ‘The Greek Passion,’ the concepts of spirituality and politics are intertwined. There exists a tragic irony amongst the Cretan people in that they are not experiencing their first battle, but instead, they have fought for close to a thousand years with them taking defeat a thousand times but yet coming back and rising again. It is a demonstration of the continued struggle for the people living in Crete. As such, the political battle the Cretans are experiencing and the sacrifice they are giving apparently free them to an original spiritual level form the apparent political perspective. As such, despite the failures the Cretans have experienced on the battlefield, they are still steadfast in their commitment to a cause that is greater than them.

The character in his novel ‘The Greek Passion’ displays a character called Savakis, who is also old, as looking around his grandsons gathered around him as he smiles. It is supposed to be a representation of a generation of the Cretans that feels renewed. Savakis goes on to muse that everything is in order and with the confidence he has, is that what is old will eventually go down to the earth and come back up fresh and renewed. The meaning derived here is that this kind of regeneration is political and reflects a Marxist’s view which advocates for a renewal thought some revolution. Since Kazantzakis is a Marxist supporter, this kind of thinking tends to be his belief judging from the fact that he received his education from Germany and made visits passing through Russia.

However, the Metropolitan demonstrates a continued faith in the Orthodoxy of the Russian church and its members. For Kazantzakis, Marxism is not the cause for the formation of the Cretan revolution but rather one form of its manifestation. A such, this seemingly alien theology is no longer a form of excuse to dream about freedom but rather to intellectualize it this Western version of the Cretan yearning.

In his novel, ‘Zorba the Greek,’ Kazantzakis is portrayed by Peter Bien as a person who is preoccupied with the religion of Buddhism. He goes on to state that this preoccupation occurs in four stages from the year 1922 to 1941. The book is a portrayal of Kazantzakis’s supposed frustration with the manner of politics in this country, and for him, Buddhism is a form of escape to which he withdraws during this period.

The book is a depiction of the conflict and differences between the Apollonian and Dionysian view of the concept of life. The Apollonian aspect is meant to serve as a form of symbolism signifying the Westerner (Hnaraki, 8). The metaphor remains clothed in the notions of pragmatism, the realness of life, its actuality and its worthiness. On the other hand, the Dionysian view held by the Easterner is that the concept of being is just but an illusion and that life is nothing more than a dream. And as such, the main character in the novel, Boss, is caught between these two phenomena in a tantalizing struggle.

The experience the Kazantzakis has with the Buddhist religion impacts on him severely to the point he views the world and life as an illusion. The implication here is that life for him is a deceptive dream and this Eastern religion has taught him to look behind the sweet mask of reality. But on the other hand, the process of completely emptying himself of this fleshly deserves is not possible in instances where he wants to solve his life problems. As brought out in the novel, the character of Zorba is that of a Dionysian who has the folly that keeps him from reason but at the same time he has an understanding of the contractions of the struggle of life. Due to his difficulty in separating the human from that which considered divine, referred to as both a brute and also a god. Eventually, the author tries to help the reader understand that intangible such as Buddha and God are all about negating the self.

Accordingly, Kazantzakis held the view of the dual nature of Jesus Christ, which he was both man and God. Although he was indifferent to the concept of the infinite life of God, he concretizes a model that is meant to pursue the importance of incarnation. He goes on to say that God cannot be a complete divine being apart from man. On the other hand, man is also just a base animal without God and is a product of his anthropoid descent and is still in the struggle to unshackle himself from the chains of evolution.

As such, the dual nature of both man and God is a derivative of the dual life of God and also the same dual nature of man. The idea is that for a man to have that dual character, he is breathed into by God to have life and is aided by evolution to get him to stand on his two legs. However, Kazantzakis held the view that the dual nature of Christ was very distinct (Holderness, 35).

Works Cited

Gutierrez, Gustavo, et al. A theology of liberation: History, politics, and salvation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988.

Holderness, Graham. ““Half God, half man”: Kazantzakis, Scorsese, and The Last Temptation.” Harvard Theological Review 100.1 (2007): 65-96.

Hnaraki, Maria. “Speaking without words: Zorba’s dance.” Glasnik Etnografskog instituta SANU 57.2 (2009): 25-35.

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