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Nikos Kazantzakis (in Greek, Νίκος Καζαντζάκης; Heraklion, Ottoman Empire, February 18, 1883-Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, October 26, 1957) was a Greek writer, author of poems , novels, essays, plays and travel books. Possibly, it is the most important Greek writer and philosopher of the 20th century and the one that has been translated into more languages. However, it was not well known until the premiere of the film Zorba, the Greek (1964), by Michael Cacoyannis, based on the homonymous novel and most recognized work of Kazantzakis along with The Last Temptation of Christ.
Kazantzakis was born in Megalokastro (today Heraklion, Crete) in 1883. When Kazantzakis was born, Crete was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. His surname, Kazantzakis, derives from the Turkish word Kazanci, which means ‘he who makes, repairs and / or sells kettles’.
In 1902, Kazantzakis moved to Athens (Greece), where he studied law at the University of Athens and then, in 1907, he emigrated to Paris to study philosophy. As explained in his autobiographical Letter to the Greco, there he attended the lectures and teachings of Henri Bergson, but above all he discovered Nietzsche, in whom he thought he found the architect of the return to the pre-Socratic Greek Dionysian conception of man as the center of the universe . He moves to Sils-Maria in the Swiss Engandina to see first-hand the environment in which the philosopher had written his writings. From the books of Nietzsche is reaffirmed in his vitalist conception of existence.
After returning to Greece, he began to translate works of philosophy and in 1914 he came into contact with Angelos Sikelianós. Together they traveled for two years through the places where the Greco-Christian culture flourished, especially the monasteries of Mount Athos where both stayed for forty days, visiting the local monasteries and living the life of the ascetics. From this experience he was greatly influenced by the enthusiastic nationalism of Sikelianos.
In 1917, he met Georges Zorbas, future icon of the novel Alexis Zorba, and exploited with him a lignite mine in the Greek region of Mani that Nikos had bought with the inheritance of a paternal uncle. The experience ended in economic failure and they had to close the exploitation, but the incorruptible vitalism of Zorbas ended up reaffirming his vocation as a writer. They remained in epistolary contact until the death of Zorbas in Serbia, where a quarry exploded during the Second World War.
Kazantzakis married Galatea Alexiou in 1911 and they divorced in 1926. He married again, with Elena Samiou, in 1945.
In 1918 he travels and resides in Switzerland. In 1919, as General Director of the Ministry of Social Welfare, he organized the transfer of the Pontic Greek populations displaced by the Russian Revolution of 1917, from the Caucasus region to Greece. For Kazantzakis, this was the beginning of an odyssey throughout the world. Until his death in 1957, he temporarily resided in Paris and Berlin (from 1922 to 1924), Italy, Russia (in 1925), Spain (in 1932) and then in Cyprus, Aegina, Egypt, Mount Sinai, Czechoslovakia, Nice (more Later I would buy a villa in the surroundings of Antibes, in the section of the Old City, next to the famous breakwater), China and Japan.
While in Berlin, where the political situation was explosive, Kazantzakis discovered communism and became an admirer of Lenin. He was never a consistent Communist, but he visited the Soviet Union and was with Left Opposition member and writer Victor Serge. He witnessed Stalin’s rise, and was disappointed with Soviet-style communism. Around this time, their earliest nationalist beliefs were gradually replaced by a more universal ideology.
In 1945, he became the leader of a small non-communist left party, and entered the Greek government as a minister without a portfolio. He resigned from his post the following year.
In 1946, the Society of Greek Writers recommended Kazantzakis and Angelos Sikelianos to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1956, he lost the Nobel against Juan Ramón Jiménez by a single vote, and in 1957 he began a new trip to China and Japan. This was his last trip. Kazantzakis, who was suffering from leukemia, became ill and was transferred to Freiburg (Germany), where he died. He was buried on one of the walls surrounding Heraklion, since the Orthodox Church did not allow him to be buried in a cemetery. His epitaph reads: “I expect nothing, I fear nothing, I am free” (Greek: Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα, δε φοβούμαι τίποτα, είμαι λέφτερος).
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