February 22, 2018
Kazantzakis and ZorbaOn this day in 1883, Nikos Kazantzakis was born, in Heraklion, Crete. Kazantzakis was a philosopher, a doctor of laws, a politician, and a prolific writer in almost all genres. He studied under Henri Bergson, won the Lenin Peace Prize, missed the 1957 Nobel by one vote, translated Goethe and Dante, wrote a 33,333 line sequel to the Odyssey, and traveled the world for much of his expatriate life. Notwithstanding, his most famous novel, Zorba the Greek is a rejection of intellectualism and a return to his birthplace -- though Zorba may be a Cretan like no other. By precept and example Zorba educates a British academic to folly, passion, and the Arcadian basics: "How simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea."
The lesson-giving goes both ways. When pressed to reveal what he has learned in all his books, the "Boss" says that "We are little grubs, Zorba, minute grubs on the small leaf of a tremendous tree":
These are pretty much Zorba's last words too. Zorba the movie ends with the famous beach-dance, but in the book Zorba moves on to further adventures. He has heard the Boss say that he has learned to be "a man with warm blood and solid bones, who lets tears run down his cheeks when he is suffering, and . . . does not spoil the freshness of his joy by running it through the fine sieve of metaphysics," but Zorba is not quite convinced. One of his last communications is "a card from Rumania showing a very buxom woman wearing a low-necked dress":
Alexis Zorbescu, sewer rat
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