Zorba the Greek is based on Nikos Kazantzakis’s own experiences while trying to mine low-grade coal during World War I. He engaged a workman named George Zorba to supervise his operation in Peloponnesus. This experience, as well as an earlier scheme to harvest wood from forests, gave Kazantzakis most of the material for his essentially autobiographical novel, which he wrote between 1941 and 1943. The work, which was dedicated to the memory of George Zorba, established Kazantzakis’s reputation in the English-speaking world.
Zorba the Greek is not an action-packed story, though some episodes have great passion and dramatic intensity. The novel is essentially a long debate between two men of opposite dispositions. One is a scholar-ascetic who prefers to read about life rather than to experience it; the other is a naïve, trusting, and biologically sophisticated man who represents paganism. The two men represent the undying conflict between the two philosophical poles, Dionysian and Apollonian.
To some extent, the novel concerns the transformation of the narrator. Although Zorba is the main character, Kazantzakis focuses attention on Zorba’s effect on the narrator. Nothing changes in Zorba, but he changes everything he touches.
Kazantzakis assigned great importance to Zorba’s character and to his philosophy, which was Kazantzakis’s synthesis of his favorite ancient and modern philosophies, from Plato to Carl Jung. He would have placed Zorba alongside such luminaries as Homer and Plato. Zorba is not a simple phenomenon. He has a...
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