Nikos Kazantzakis’s prolific career included the publication of several novels, for which he is best known; close to two dozen dramas, most of them in poetic form; and three philosophical studies, one on Friedrich Nietzsche, one on Henri Bergson, and one on his own vision of life. In addition to these, Kazantzakis published travel books on Spain, Greece, England, China, Japan, Israel, and Russia, hundreds of articles for newspapers and encyclopedias, dozens of books for the public schools of Greece, and several translations, including Homer’s Iliad (c. 800 b.c.e.) and Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.e.), Dante’s La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802), Nietzsche’s Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (1872; The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, 1909), Bergson’s Le Rire: Essai sur la signification du comique (1900; Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, 1911), and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859). Kazantzakis also published two books of poetry. It was The Odyssey that Kazantzakis considered his masterpiece, or, in Morton P. Levitt’s phrase, “the central document of his life.”
The Odyssey is, according to Levitt, “one of the great encyclopedic works of our time,” embracing the major themes of Western civilization. It consists of twenty-four books or cantos (one for every letter of the Greek alphabet), comprising 33,333 lines—almost three times the length of the original Odyssey. These are in an extremely unusual seventeen-syllable unrhymed iambic measure of eight beats. The poem employs a form of simplified spelling and syntax, eschews the accentual marks that have been part of the Greek language since Byzantine times, and relies upon an idiomatic diction that, at the time of its publication in December, 1938, was more familiar to the shepherds and fishermen throughout the islands and villages of Greece than to Greek scholars. Greatly influenced by the author’s work on language reform as it is, The Odyssey is by no means an academic work. Pandelis Prevelakis, Kazantzakis’s first biographer, said that if the book is “read with the attention it deserves, it is capable of changing the reader’s soul.”
As much as it is a journey through exotic lands and moments of intense experience,...
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