Tuesday, 7 July 2009

ΟΦΙΣ ΚΑΙ ΚΡΙΝΟ (Snake and lily)

From time to time I tent to return to habits that have shaped me but the everyday turbulence of life, has led me to forget.

For the last year I have almost stopped reading, as I am rarely in a mood to do so. An other thing I realised recently is that I haven't read any greek literature since I was a kid. Why so? I think this wasn't a conscious decision. It probably just happened. It came a time that my interests and concerns didn't come along with most of the greek writers' ones. Talk about arrogance...

Things weren't always like that. I was lucky to grow up reading the works of Nikos Kazantzakis, whom I consider the greatest novelist I have ever read and also one of the greatest thinkers. I read most of his works at a really young age and consider them guilty for shaping a big part of my personality and the way I think and behave.

Here are some details about his life and work that I consider interesting, taken from various sources. Some of the titles' english translation is mine so excuse the roughness.

Nikos Kazantzakis was born in Crete in 1883. He was raised among peasants and although Kazantzakis left Crete as a young man, he returned to his homeland constantly in his art. He studied four years at the University of Athens, becoming Doctor of Laws in 1906. From 1907 to 1909 he studied philosophy in Paris at the College de France. His first book, "Οφις και κρίνο" (Snake and lily), was published in 1906. In the same year appeared his play "Ξημερώνει" (Dawning). During the Balkan Wars he fought as a volunteer in the Greek Army. Kazantzakis spent many years in public service and in 1919 he was appointed director general at the Greek Ministry of Public Welfare. After the Wars he travelled to many European and Asian countries in 1918 - 1919 to Switzerland and Russia as a senior civil servant, assisting in the repatriation of Greeks from the Caucasus. 1922 - 1924 he lived in Vienna and Berlin. In 1924 returned to Greece and to Crete. 1925 - 1929 made three journeys to Russia. publishing travelogues from his trips (Spain, Egypt-Sina, China-Japan, What I saw in Russia, England etc.). In 1927 he published the book "Ασκητική" (Ascetism), the main work of his philosophy.1932 - 1933 Travelled to Spain for several months and in 1935 to China and Japan. In 1936 he reported on the Spanish Civil War as a foreign correspondent for the "Kathimerini" newspaper. Between the 1910s and 1930s Kazantzákis also wrote dramas, verse and travel books, Kazantzakis's major work was the enormous poetic work "Οδύσσεια" (Odyssey: A Modern Sequel), 33 333 lines long, which he wrote seven times and published in 1938. Although Kazantzakis wrote a number of his novels in French, his most celebrated works were composed in the colloquial language of the Cretan working classes. His best-known novel is "Βίος και πολιτεία του Αλέξη Ζορμπά (Zorba the Greek)". He became famous, however, during the last years of his life, when he turn to pezography. During that time he published, among others, Zorba the Greek, The Last Temptation of Christ (Ο τελευταίος πειρασμός), Freedom and Death (Καπετάν Μιχάλης), The Greek Passion or Christ recrucified (Ο Χριστός ξανασταυρώνεται), and his autobiography Report to Greco (Αναφορά στο Γκρέκο). His book, The Last Temptation of Christ, was considered quite controversial when first published in 1955, and prompted angry reactions from both the Roman Catholic Church which banned it, and from the Greek Orthodox Church which excommunicated him!

MAJOR WORKS: 1927- Askitiki (or Salvatores Dei) A concise philosophical text, in which Kazantzakis expresses his metaphysical beliefs.
1927 - 1941 - Travels Several volumes of the author's reflections on travels in Spain, Italy, Sinai, Japan, England, Russia, Jerusalem and Cyprus.
1929 - 1938 - Odyssey An ambitious work divided into twenty-four "Rhapsodies" comprising a total of 33 333 lines of iambic decapentasyllable verse.

1938 - 1948 - A series of plays on themes from ancient and modern history: Prometheus, Capodistrias, Kouros (or Theseus), Nicephorus Phocas, Constantine Palaeologos, Christopher Columbus, Sodom and Gomorrah, Buddha, Melissa.
1946 - Zorba the Greek

1948 - Christ Recrucified
1950 - Freedom and Death

1951 - The Last Temptation
1953 - God's Pauper
1961 - Report to Greco (published posthumously)

Nikos Kazantzakis died in 1957 in Freiburg, Germany. His body was buried on one of the bastions of the Venetian fort surrounding Iraklion, Martinego.

Nikos Kazantzakis' grave 50 years ago.

Today on his tomb there is engraved one of his most defining quotes (pictured above) which roughly translates into:
I hope for nothing
I fear nothing
I am free