Nikos Kazantzakis was born in 1883, in a land that had for centuries been the site of bitter struggles for independence from the Turks. One of his first memories was of a night when, at the age of six, while with his family hiding from the Turks, his father made him swear to help kill the women of their family rather than let the marauders have their way with them. Fortunately, Kazantzakis did not have to carry out the promise.
In 1902, Kazantzakis left Crete to study at the University of Athens. Upon graduation in 1906, he departed for Paris, where he was introduced to the works of Nietzsche and Bergson. Kazantzakis returned to Athens, where he presented his dissertation on Nietzsche to the faculty of the university to gain a teaching position there. A proponent of “positive nihilism,” Kazantzakis saw himself as a prophet who would use his art to “save” the world. Until 1921, he remained in Greece, writing (primarily plays) and taking an active part in business and government. For a brief period, he was a member of the Greek government under prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos, but when Venizelos fell from power, Kazantzakis, disillusioned, left for Paris.
Kazantzakis spent much of the remainder of his life in restless travel. Even during the periods when he was relatively settled on the island of Aegina, he was often away, either to the mainland of Greece or to other parts of Europe. His 1907 marriage to Galatea Alexiou lasted only briefly, and he enjoyed a succession of female companions in the various places he visited. His relationship with Helen Samiou, which began in 1924, finally culminated in marriage in 1945.
In the mid-1920’s, Kazantzakis traveled in France, Germany, Austria, and Italy, and later to the Middle East and Egypt, living on the scant revenues from works submitted to Greek magazines. His professed Communism caused him some trouble at home but secured for him an invitaton to the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution in Moscow in 1927. His experiences there provided the material for a book in which he explained his theory of “metacommunism.”
During the 1920’s, Kazantzakis decided to...
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