Freedom or Death

by Nikos Kazantzakis

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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 689

Captain Michales

Captain Michales (meh-KAH-lehs), a Cretan patriot who dies fighting the Turks. Nothing matters to him except liberation of the island. When everyone else abandons the battlefield, he alone fights on, not listening to his wife, daughter, or elders. He is subject to drinking fits during which he commits atrocities against Turkish civilians. In the last moments of his life, raising aloft the severed head of his nephew Kosmas, he roars, “Freedom or—,” but a bullet pierces his brain before he can finish the slogan.

Nuri Bey

Nuri Bey (BAY), the childhood friend and “blood brother” of Michales. He is married to a beautiful and voluptuous woman lusted after by many men, including Michales and Polyxigis. Nuri tries to win back his wife’s affection in various ways. In a show of strength, he kills Michales’ brother Manusakas but receives a knife wound that leaves him sexually impotent for the rest of his life. Demoralized, he wants to die in a fight or in war. When Michales comes to avenge his brother, he finds Nuri in such pathetic condition that he refuses to kill him. Losing this opportunity to die with some semblance of honor, Nuri commits suicide.


Eminé (eh-mee-NAY), the lusty Circassian wife of Nuri. She sings enchanting songs that leave men in rapture. Michales and Captain Polyxigis vie for her affection. She chooses Polyxigis and, after Nuri’s suicide, marries him. She converts to Christianity from her original religion of Islam. Turks, enraged by her objectionable behavior, including marrying a Greek infidel, capture her and plan to make an example of her. Michales punishes himself for leaving his vitally important battle post to rescue her by going back and fighting to the death. Eminé is an important influence throughout the novel.

Captain Polyxigis

Captain Polyxigis (pah-LIHKS-ih-jihs), a courageous and important officer in the fight against the Turks. He is present when Eminé serenades her guests with rapturous love songs. Although Michales is in many ways more attractive, Polyxigis wins Eminé’s love. She gives herself to him while married to Nuri. Nuri’s suicide opens the way for Polyxigis and Eminé to marry.


Kosmas (KAHZ-mahs), a Europeanized nephew of Michales, an intellectual and a socialist who returns to his homeland with a Russian-Jewish bride. He has idealistic visions of revolution and freedom but is open-minded and kindhearted. The fact that he has taken a Jewish wife is an indication of his liberalism. Under the influence of Michales, Kosmas is transformed into a revolutionary and fights alongside his uncle. Inexperienced in warfare, he is wounded, captured by the Turks, and beheaded. His youthful sacrifice inflames Michales’ already burning desire for martyrdom.


Noemi (noh-EE-mee), the kindly and gentle wife of Kosmas, European in a cosmopolitan tradition. She endures the abuse of Kosmas’ mother and sister. She becomes pregnant but has a miscarriage after Kosmas has left to try to bring Michales back. Kosmas’ family makes a variety of unfavorable interpretations of this miscarriage.


Tityros (Tih-TEE-rohs), Michales’ brother, an ineffectual schoolteacher who tries to become a more powerful member of his family. He is a weakling and feels this keenly. To acquire some semblance of power and control in his household, he poisons his young brother-in-law and in so doing drives his own wife, Vangelio, to commit suicide. These deaths affect him profoundly, and he experiences a sort of epiphany. He finds salvation in becoming a Pollikaria, fighting the Turks and preaching the revolution.


Sefakas (SEH-fah-kahs), Michales’ father and Kosmas’ grandfather, a patriarchal figure who can leap unaided onto his horse even after his hundredth birthday. He is a wise and respected member of Michales’ household. Although proud of Michales and a patriotic Cretan, he is weary of his son’s zealotry and continually questions the wisdom of war and killing. His questions are deep and thought-provoking. He dies right before his son is killed. His body is carried through town with the utmost reverence. The members of his family sense that a new beginning should come because of his death and erroneously believe his death might somehow bring about Michales’ return from war.

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