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Birthday of Nikos KazantzakisFebruary 18
By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) was born on this day in Crete. After earning a law degree from the University of Athens, he studied philosophy in Paris and literature and art in Germany and Italy. He used this broad education to become an internationally acclaimed novelist, translator, poet, and travel writer.
Perhaps his most controversial work was The Last Temptation of Christ. In the prologue to the 1955 book, he wrote: "Christ passed through all the stages which the man who struggles passes through. That is why his suffering is so familiar to us; that is why we share it."
Kazantzakis was a tireless pilgrim intent upon understanding the mystery of religious experience. He described his life as "the incessant, merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh." He identified personally with what he saw as the universal predicament of humankind of which Christ's life was the model.
Our favorite work by Kazantzakis is Zorba the Greek, which captures this passionate writer and seeker's ebullient view of life. In the 1964 screen version, Anthony Quinn gives the most natural and astonishing performance of his long and illustrious career as Zorba, a resilient, lusty, jack-of-all trades, who befriends Basil (Alan Bates) a reclusive English writer who owns an abandoned mine on Crete. The Greek becomes the Englishman's spiritual teacher by showing him how to live in the present moment savoring wine, women, and work in equal measure. Best of all, Basil learns how to rise up and dance — even in the face of disaster, defeat and loss.
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