Nikos Kazantzakis

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Nikos Kazantzakis (Greek: Νίκος Καζαντζάκης) (February 18, 1883, Heraklion, Crete, Ottoman Empire - October 26, 1957, Freiburg, Germany) was arguably the most important and most translated Greek writer and philosopher of the 20th century. Yet he did not become well known globally until the 1964 release of the Michael Cacoyannis film Zorba the Greek, based on Kazantzakis' novel whose English translation has the same title.



When Kazantzakis was born, Crete was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. His surname, Kazantzakis, derives from a Turkish word Kazancı as in Kazantzidis. Kazan means a cauldron in Turkish and -cı is an agent suffix similar to "-er" in English. Thus, Kazancı means someone who produces, repairs, and/or sells cauldrons. The last part of Kazantzakis' name i.e. "-akis" means the "son of" similar to a name ending in "-son" in English e.g. Johnson. Thus "kazantzakis" literally means the son of someone who produces, repairs, and/or sells cauldrons.

From 1902 Kazantzakis studied law at the University of Athens, then went to Paris in 1907 to study philosophy. Here he fell under the influence of Henri Bergson. Upon his return to Greece, he began translating works of philosophy. In 1914 he met Angelos Sikelianos. Together they travelled for two years in places where Greek Orthodox Christian culture flourished, largely influenced by the enthusiastic nationalism of Sikelianos.

Kazantzakis married Galatea Alexiou in 1911; they divorced in 1926. He married Eleni Samiou in 1945. Between 1922 and his death in 1957, he sojourned in Paris and Berlin (from 1922 to 1924), Italy, Russia (in 1925), Spain (in 1932), and then later in Cyprus, Aegina, Egypt, Mount Sinai, Czechoslovakia, Nice (he later bought a villa in nearby Antibes, in the Old Town section near the famed seawall), China, and Japan. While in Berlin, where the political situation was explosive, Kazantzakis discovered communism and became an admirer of Lenin. He never became a consistent communist, but visited the Soviet Union and stayed with the Left Opposition politician and writer Victor Serge. He witnessed the rise of Joseph Stalin, and became disillusioned with Soviet-style communism. Around this time, his earlier nationalist beliefs were gradually replaced by a more universal ideology.

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