Born in 1883 on the Greek island of Crete, then a possession of Turkey, Nikos Kazantzakis was sent to a monastery on nearby Naxos at the age of four when his home island was torn by armed rebellion against the Turks. Franciscan monks introduced him to Western thought and to the spiritual heroism personified by Christ. Kazantzakis began a quest for spiritual perfection that led him to reject Christianity for a series of saviors. He became a follower first of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), then of the Indian philosopher and founder of Buddhism, Siddhrtha Gautama (c. 566-c. 486 b.c.e.), then of the Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Ilich Lenin (1870-1924), and, finally, of the ancient Greek hero Odysseus, before returning to Catholicism in late middle age. The dominant theme of his major works—all published after Kazantzakis’s fifty-eighth birthday—is the necessity of struggling against the temptations of the flesh in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment. From his personal struggles sprang his questions about Christ; these questions are explored in The Last Temptation of Christ.
From its first publication, The Last Temptation of Christ has been a highly controversial novel; the German edition was placed on the Vatican’s list of forbidden books, the Index librorum prohibitorum, in 1954, and an English-language film version, released in 1988, scandalized Christians around the world. Kazantzakis saw Christ, like the other heroes in his life, as engaged in the struggle for freedom—freedom from limitations imposed by family, freedom from the pleasures of the flesh, freedom from political entities, and freedom from the fear of death. He came to believe that Christ, given human flesh and human experiences, removed from his heavenly home by three decades of life on earth, must have felt the same doubts and desires that other people feel, and he must have struggled to overcome these doubts and desires. In orthodox Christian terms, this position is heretical, but like the Puritan poet John Milton,...
(The entire section is 860 words.)
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