Writer, philosopher, traveller of the world, banned by the Vatican and condemned by the Greek Orthodox church, Nikolaos Kazantzakis is one of the most important and spiritually restless Greek writers of all times. Very influenced by Homer, Dante, Henri Bergson, Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche, he has written more than 50 books while his work has been translated in more than 40 languages. He travelled around the world, countries including France, Russia, England, Japan, China, Spain, Germany, Italy and spent prolonged periods in some of them, has even written numerous books about his travels.
He has encountered and interviewed many important personalities of his time (like Primo de Rivera, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, Miguel de Unamuno), has written a dissertation on "Friedrich Nietzsche's Philosophy of Law and the State, translated Dante's Divine Comedy and Homer's Iliad along with other works of William James, Jules Verne, Charles Dickens, Charles-Ange Laisant, Nicolò Machiavelli, Bergson, Jørgensen, Nietzsche and Goethe. He was was Nobel nominated thrice and won the Peace Prize while he has worked for UNESCO.
Most people know him from the film adaptions of his books:
- Celui qui doit mourir directed by Jules Dassin, starring Melina Mercouri and Pierre Vaneck
- Zorba the Greek starring Anthony Quinn and
- The Last Temptation of the Christ directed by Martin Scorsese starring Willem Dafoe
I can go on and on writing about him and it will never be enough. Maybe the few words he used to describe himself are more appropriate:
They think of me as a scholar, an intellectual, a pen-pusher.
And I am none of them.
When I write, my fingers
get covered not in ink, but in blood.
I think I am nothing more than this:
an undaunted soul.
Excuse the prolonged intro but I felt it was necessary. And now to the book... actually there are not much to said about it. It is one of these books you have to read to get an idea what it is about. No review and no summary will help, it is more like an experience. Well, here is the Amazon description of the book:
"The Saviors of God is the spiritual testament of Nikos Kazantzakis, author of The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, Zorba the Greek, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Report to Greco. Containing the core of his philosophy, it is, in the legacy of his work, the equivalent of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra. The Saviors of God provides a key to all of Kazantzakis' work even as it stands on its own as a passionate and systematic view of the relationship between Man and God."
I have read this book over and over and over again and I keep going back to it; to be honest I think I always will return to these pages. I will never forget the first time I read it: I took it with me in bed to read a few pages before I go to sleep. I was so moved I could not put it down, I was reading it and felt a wave of energy running through my body. It is very small but so dense and meaningful you have to stop and think every single phrase you read, feel it, search inside you and connect to it. And the magic of the book is that each time you read it something new arises, I highly recommend reading it. You can find the full text here.
I could quote the whole book really. But just to give you an idea here are some of my favorite passages of the book:
A command rings out within me:
"Dig! What do you see?"
"Men and birds, water and stones."
"Dig deeper! What do you see?"
"Ideas and dreams, fantasies and lightening flashes!"
"Dig deeper! What do you see?"
"I see nothing! A mute Night, as thick as death. It must be death."
"Ah! I cannot penetrate the dark partition! I hear voices and weeping. I hear the flutter of wings on the other shore."
"Don't weep! Don't weep! They are not on the other shore. The voices, the weeping, and the wings are your own heart."
What is my duty? To shatter the body, to rush and merge with the Invisible. To let the mind fall silent that I may hear the Invisible calling.
I walk on the rim of the abyss, and I tremble. Two voices contend within me.
The mind: "Why waste ourselves by pursuing the impossible? Within the holy enclosure of our five senses it is our duty to acknowledge the limitations of man."
But another voice within me - call it the Sixth Power, call it the heart - resists and shouts:
"No! No! Never acknowledge the limitations of man. Smash all boundaries! Deny whatever your eyes see. Die every moment, but say: Death does not exist.'"
But within me a deathless Cry, superior to me, continues to shout. For whether I want to or not, I am also, without doubt, a part of the visible and the invisible Universe. We are one. The powers which labor within me, the powers which goad me on to live, the powers which goad me on to die are, without doubt, its own powers also.
I am not a suspended, rootless thing in the world. I am earth of its earth and breath of its breath.
I am not alone in my fear, nor alone in my hope, nor alone in my shouting. A tremendous host, an onrush of the Universe fears, hopes, and shouts with me.
WE MUST UNDERSTAND well that we do not proceed from a unity of God to the same unity of God again. We do not proceed from one chaos to another chaos, neither from one light to another light, nor from one darkness to another darkness. What would be the value of our life then? What would be the value of all life?
But we set out from an almighty chaos, from a thick abyss of light and darkness tangled. And we struggle - plants, animals, men, ideas - in this momentary passage of individual life, to put in order the Chaos within us, to cleanse the abyss, to work upon as much darkness as we can within our bodies and to transmute it into light.
Download the book here.
Read more about Nikos Kazantzakis here.