A prolific Greek author, poet and philosopher whose works have been translated into almost all languages, all over the world. A profound religious thinker who sought answers to questions of perennial significance. What is “the Anthropos”? What is God?
He was born in Heraklion in Crete in 1883 (February 18th) and died in 1957 (October 26th).
“They think of me as a scholar, an intellectual, a pen pusher. When I write my fingers get covered , not in ink, but in blood. I think I am nothing more, than this: an undaunted soul”. ( This is how he used to describe himself in 1950.)
“Ancient Greeks used to say that psyche is a feeling of all senses. I myself, am such psyche. A beast with five tentacles feeling the world. I perform my duty as best as I can; thus I fear neither irony nor disappointment”. ( The Rock Garden)
Kazantzakis’ distinctive language , writing style and power of speech raise awe . The keys to this complex frame of mind are “REPORT TO GRECO” – “SAVIORS OF GOD” ( his ideology – his cosmic theory) and “ THE ROCK GARDEN” He claimed that what was written in his books was not autobiographic but allow me to disagree. Report to Greco contains a retrospection of his travels around the globe. He was unsatisfied and unyielding by nature, seeking God – his own God. In his travels he studied various religions and philosophies, believing he could get closer to his god. A god of earthly hypostasis.A God who was continually evolving – never static. In his search he delved deeper and deeper in his psyche, analyzing the various religions and philosophies . His god was equal to the self, of human nature. A fighter God. A God ready to accept a helping hand by Man. To Nikos Kazantzakis, Man was God’s Savior. A Nihilist.
As a result he was stigmatized as an atheist. The Church of Greece condemned Kazantzakis’ work. His reply was: “You gave me a curse, Holy fathers, I give you a blessing: may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as I” before the Greek Orthodox Church anathematized him in 1955. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikos_Kazantzakis)
Although many scholars claim that Kazantzakis was an atheist, it is possible to interpret his creative writing as the anguish of an “antitheist” in search of a credible ontology of God. Throughout his life, N.K. tilted at his heart. His nous told him that there was no hope in life – only setting course for abyss. Nothing exists. Man is soil and as such, he returns to earth. His heart is roused and defies nihilism.
Intellect and Heart – Flesh and Spirit joust. The Dreamer versus The Realist. A titanomachy manifested in his works.
The two sides of the same coin: Hope – Nihilism / Love – Hatred / Faith – Misgiving.
Report to Greco, Saviors of God and Rock Garden are interrelated parts of Kazantzakis’ soul. A soul which follows a bloody trail to find redemption.
“A tongue of fire is my psyche. Licking and fighting to burn down the dark bulk of the world”.
His work was left unfinished. The ten-year-period he had asked from God had run out. He didn’t wish to descend to Hades, lame.
“Don’t be afraid Lenotschka”, he used to tell his wife, “ I have wings”.
He had faith in himself. He knew perfectly well how to make use of the precious gift of Life. Time running out, was his fear.
“Do not die, so that we do not either”, the dead screamed inside him. Voices he heard. “Finish our work for us”, the voices screamed.
Each Man carries his cross like Christ. What’s our duty?
“To ascend this bloody line with the invisible. What rushes upwards and helps God in this ascent is good.”
Kazantzakis’ whole life was a conflict. He wanted to level all men. He wished a God incising a red line to elevate the matter in order to transform it into spirit. Man’s duty is to follow this line at all costs, sweeping aside all obstacles, to reach the Light.
As he says in one of his letters:
“These are the three divinity stages I went through in my quest”. 1. My God You will redeem me. 2. My God I will rescue You. 3. We will work together my Lord, to be saved.
Two conflicting forces co-existed in him: Faith in God – Atheism and Hope –Nihilism.
Unyielding as he is, he transposes his objects.
“Which way of the two perpetual ones am I to take? I suddenly realize that my whole life depends on this decision. This decision determines the life of the universe.”
This is his duty. A stream of fire full to the brim with grief and anguish striving to transubstantiate matter into spirit. But matter stands out blocking his way. He feels distressed. He is anxious about putting his belief across to awaken souls. This is not an easy task to perform when he has been oscillating between the eastern and western philosophy. Kazantzakis was deeply influenced by the writings of Nietzsche and Bergson, and the philosophies of Christianity, Marxism and Buddhism.
“When will I ever see the smoke coming out from my Ithaca?”
Influences from the East , the West and from the intellectual circles, nourish his mind and heart. He absorbs all notions and produces more spiritual food.
Why did Kazantzakis write? To get redemption? Redemption of fear? Redemption of his own self… the person he fought hard to change?
His quest for a God who could free him, triggered his inspiration. In my humble opinion, what is written in his books is his own course, his own struggle of existence, his own anguish.
Psyche and the body. Two warring forces.
Escapism from the dark side ( war and death ) of his life in the seclusion of creativity.
“But what influenced my life incalculably – far more than schools and teachers, far deeper than the first pleasures and fears I received from viewing the world – was something which moved me in a truly unique way: the struggle between Crete and Turkey”.
Nikos Kazantzakis was born in Megalo Kastro (Heraklion), the capital of Ottoman-occupied Crete, on 18th February 1883. At the age of six he was forced to live the life of a refugee on account of the 1889 rebellion, when his family sheltered in Piraeus for six months.
On returning to Heraklion Nikos attended primary school, but the regularities of his childhood were once again interrupted in 1897. On the outbreak of the final Cretan rebellion, the Kazantzakis family settled on Naxos, where they remained for approximately two years. Nikos began his secondary education at the French Mercantile School of the Holy Cross, which was run by Franciscan friars.
There he learnt French and Italian and began to acquaint himself with European literature, and above all came into contact with Western culture. Following the restoration of peace in 1899 the family returned permanently to Heraklion, where Nikos completed secondary school in 1902. (http://www.kazantzakis-museum.gr/index.php?level=2&lang=en)
Fleeing fear which grew tremendously when he was close to his austere and unsmiling father. Fear that his mother might leave him.
“Indeed , even as a child I managed to conquer fear out of self-respect: the idea that I was a Cretan”.
Insecurity and instability shadowed him to his death. All this endeavour gave life to powerful and very inspirational creativity, shown in his books, leading us through the rough track of Kazantzakis’ soul.
Life and Death! The Alpha and the Omega!
“These two, birth and death, were the very first mysteries to throw my childish soul in a ferment; I kept beating my tender fist against this pair of closed doors to make them open”.
‘My life’s greatest benefactors have been journeys and dreams. Very few people, living or dead, have aided my struggle. Zorba taught me to love life and have no fear of death. Even if it is death we shall transform it into a dance”.
His dreams , his beliefs, his anguish and his feelings are hidden in the lines of his books waiting for the reader to discover them and interpret them accordingly. He calls himself a pen pusher.
“A pen pusher. A life of paper and ink. A pained soul”.
“I collect my tools: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing, intellect. Night has fallen, the day’s work is done. I return like a mole to my home, the ground. Not because I am tired and cannot work. I am not tired. But the sun has set”. ( Report to Greco )
© Ann Marie Zagorianos.