Born in Heráklion in 1883, Níkos Kazantzákis was the son of Captain Michélis, a storekeeper and revolutionary from Myrtiá, and grandson of a Saracen pirate (the old name of Myrtiá was Varvari, ‘barbarians’, because of the many Saracens who settled there). One of Kazantzákis’ first memories was of his father lifting him up to a gallows to kiss the feet of Cretan rebels hanged by the Turks.
Although Níkos paid tribute to his father in one of his best novels, Freedom or Death (Kapetanos Michelis in Greek), his Cretan fighting spirit expressed itself in a lifelong battle of ideas, leaving him ultimately unclassifiable; like Epimenides the Cretan Sage he relished paradox, and the Minoan double axe was the symbol on his letterhead.
He seemed to fit several lifetimes into his 74 years, intellectually flirting with Nietzsche, Lenin, Bergson, Christ, St Francis, Buddha and Homer while his travels took him around the world: he served in the Greek Ministry of Education, in the Balkan Wars, and helped resettle Greek refugees from the Caucasus in 1919; in the 20s he was involved in Communism. He translated everything from the Iliad to the Petit Larousse into modern Greek, wrote travel critiques on Spain, Russia, China and England, and began the work he considered his masterpiece, the Odyssey, 33,333 verses long.
Images by Oğuzhan Ali, PD Art