Nikos Kazantzakis was born in 1883 in Kandiye, Crete. Kandiye was
the old name for Heraklion – Crete was still under the rule of the
Ottoman Empire and had not yet become part of the modern Greek
state. He was a prolific Greek writer and was nominated for the
Nobel Prize in Literature no less than nine times. In 1957, the year
of his death, he lost the Prize to Albert Camus by one vote. Camus
later said that Kazantzakis deserved the honour "a hundred times
more" than himself.
His novels include:
Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas, 1946
Christ Recrucified, 1948
Captain Michalis, 1950
The Last Temptation of Christ, 1955
Report to Greco, 1961
He also wrote plays, travel books, autobiographies and
philosophical essays. He became known in the English speaking
world because of film adaptations of his work, such as Zorba the
Greek (1964) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). A film
‘Kazantzakis ‘ was released in 2017. He also took on the
monumental task of translating into Modern Greek, The Divine
Comedy, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, On the Origin of the Species, the
Iliad and the Odyssey. His first publication was in 1906, Lily and the
Serpent, which he signed with the pen name Karma Nirvami. This
was followed by a one act play, Comedy, in 1909. In 1907, he began
university studies in Paris and at the end of his time there he wrote
The Master Builder, based on Greek folklore.
Kazantzakis was married twice. His first wife was Galatea Alexiou in
1911; the marriage lasted 14 years and ended in divorce. In 1924
he became romantically involved with Eleni Samiou but they did not
marry until 1945. She typed drafts of his work, accompanied him
on his travels and was responsible for his business affairs. She died
in 2004, surviving him by 47 years.
From 1910 until his death in 1957, Kazantzakis spent time in Paris,
Berlin, Italy, Spain, Russia, Egypt, Nice, Czechoslovakia, Mount Sinai,
Aegina, Cyprus, China and Japan. He also travelled around Greece,
Romania and The Netherlands. Through his travels he came into
contact with different ideologies, people, customs, philosophies
and lifestyle, which were all a great influence on his writing.
Buddhist theology, the writings of Nietzsche and Freud and
communist ideology were all major influences on his work.
Although he flirted with communism he was at heart all of his life a
socialist. He recognised the need for socialist parties worldwide to
unite to ensure that ‘socialist democracy’ would spread throughout
the world. He is quoted as describing socialism as a system which
“does not permit the exploitation of one person by another” and
that “must guarantee every freedom.”
In 1957, suffering from leukaemia, he embarked on what would be
his final journey to China and Japan. On the return flight, he
became ill and was transferred to Freiburg, Germany, where he
died. He is buried at the highest point of the Walls of Heraklion,
the Martinengo Bastion, looking out over the mountains and the
Sea of Crete. His epitaph reads "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I
In 2007, the 50th anniversary of his death a commemorative €10
coin was minted with Nikos Kazantzakis’ image on the front and the
National Emblem of Greece with his signature on the back.
The Historical Museum of Crete is home to a reconstruction and
exhibition of Nikos Kazantzakis' study, exactly as it was in Antibes,
France, where the author spent the last years of his life (1948-
The exhibition includes manuscripts, photographs and drawings,
hundreds of editions of his works translated into over thirty
languages - and personal possessions.
The photographs below were taken when we went to the
Historical Museum in Heraklio….