Nikos Kazantzakis

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I am a mariner of Odysseus with heart of fire but with mind ruthless and clear.
My entire soul is a cry, and all my work the commentary on that cry.

Nikos Kazantzakis (18 February 188326 October 1957) was a Greek novelist, poet, playwright and philosopher.

Quotes[edit]

Paradise is here, my good man. God, give me no other paradise!
I said to the almond tree: "Speak to me of God"
and the almond tree blossomed.
All the political, social, and economic improvements, all the technical progress cannot have any regenerating significance, so long as our inner life remains as it is at present...
  • I am a mariner of Odysseus with heart of fire but with mind ruthless and clear.
    • Toda Raba (1934)
  • We are not simple people who believe in happiness; nor weaklings who crumple to the ground in distress at the first reverse; nor skeptics observing the bloody effort of marching humanity from the lofty heights of a mocking, sterile wit. Believing in the fight, though we entertain no illusions about it, we are armed against every disappointment.
    • Toda Raba (1934)
  • God, what is all this talk put out by the popes? Paradise is here, my good man. God, give me no other paradise!
    • Freedom and Death (1956)
  • We, who are dying, are doing better, than they, who will live. For Crete doesn't need householders, she needs madmen like us. These madmen make Crete immortal.
    • Freedom and Death (1956)
  • All my life I struggled to stretch my mind to the breaking point, until it began to creak, in order to create a great thought which might be able to give a new meaning to life, a new meaning to death, and to console mankind.
  • I said to the almond tree: "Speak to me of God."
    and the almond tree blossomed.
    • The Fratricides (1964)
  • Every perfect traveller always creates the country where he travels.
    • As quoted in Reporter in Red China (1966) by Charles Taylor
  • The major and almost only theme of all my work is the struggle of man with "God": the unyielding, inextinguishable struggle of the naked worm called "man" against the terrifying power and darkness of the forces within him and around him.
    • As quoted in Nikos Kazantzakis (1968) by Helen Kazantzakis, p. 507
  • Having seen that I was not capable of using all my resources in political action, I returned to my literary activity. There lay the the battlefield suited to my temperament. I wanted to make my novels the extension of my own father's struggle for liberty. But gradually, as I kept deepening my responsibility as a writer, the human problem came to overshadow political and social questions. All the political, social, and economic improvements, all the technical progress cannot have any regenerating significance, so long as our inner life remains as it is at present. The more the intelligence unveils and violates the secrets of Nature, the more the danger increases and the heart shrinks.
    • As quoted in Nikos Kazantzakis (1968) by Helen Kazantzakis, p. 529
  • You gave me your curse, holy Fathers. I give you a blessing: May you be as moral and religious as I am.
    • In response to attempts by leaders of the Greek Orthodox church to anathematize him, as quoted in God's Struggler : Religion in the Writings of Nikos Kazantzakis (1996) by Darren J. N. Middleton and Peter Bien, p. 12
  • A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free.
    • As quoted in Wisdom for the Soul : Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing (2006) by Larry Chang, p. 412

The Saviors of God (1923)[edit]

We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval life.
Ασκητική. Salvatores dei [Ascesis : The Saviors of God] (1923). written in 1923; Published in English as The Saviors of God : Spiritual Exercises (1960) as translated by Kimon Friar; Excerpts later published in The Rock Garden : A Novel (1963)
With clarity and quiet, I look upon the world and say: All that I see, hear, taste, smell, and touch are the creations of my mind.

Prologue

  • We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval life. As soon as we are born the return begins, at once the setting forth and the coming back; we die in every moment. Because of this many have cried out: The goal of life is death! But as soon as we are born we begin the struggle to create, to compose, to turn matter into life; we are born in every moment. Because of this many have cried out: The goal of ephemeral life is immortality! In the temporary living organism these two streams collide ... both opposing forces are holy. It is our duty, therefore, to grasp that vision which can embrace and harmonize these two enormous, timeless, and indestructible forces, and with this vision to modulate our thinking and our action.

The Preparation : First Duty

Do not say, "Draw the curtain that I may see the painting." The curtain is the painting.
  • With clarity and quiet, I look upon the world and say: All that I see, hear, taste, smell, and touch are the creations of my mind.
    The sun comes up and the sun goes down in my skull. Out of one of my temples the sun rises, and into the other the sun sets.
    The stars shine in my brain; ideas, men, animals browse in my temporal head; songs and weeping fill the twisted shells of my ears and storm the air for a moment.
  • "I do not know whether behind appearances there lives and moves a secret essence superior to me. Nor do I ask; I do not care. I create phenomena in swarms, and paint with a full palette a gigantic and gaudy curtain before the abyss. Do not say, "Draw the curtain that I may see the painting." The curtain is the painting.
  • To SEE and accept the boundaries of the human mind without vain rebellion, and in these severe limitations to work ceaselessly without protest — this is where man's first duty lies.
  • I subdue matter and force it to become my mind's good medium. I rejoice in plants, in animals, in man and in gods, as though they were my children. I feel all the universe nestling about me and following me as though it were my own body.

The Preparation : Second Duty

I am a weak, ephemeral creature made of mud and dream. But I feel all the powers of the universe whirling within me.
  • I will not accept boundaries; appearances cannot contain me; I choke! To bleed in this agony, and to live it profoundly, is the second duty.
    The mind is patient and adjusts itself, it likes to play; but the heart grows savage and will not condescend to play; it stifles and rushes to tear apart the nets of necessity.
  • Behind all appearances, I divine a struggling essence. I want to merge with it.
    I feel that behind appearances this struggling essence is also striving to merge with my heart. But the body stands between us and separates us. The mind stands between us and separates us.
  • Never acknowledge the limitations of man. Smash all boundaries! Deny whatever your eyes see. Die every moment, but say: "Death does not exist."
  • I am a weak, ephemeral creature made of mud and dream. But I feel all the powers of the universe whirling within me.
  • I strive to discover how to signal my companions before I die, how to give them a hand, how to spell out for them in time one complete word at least, to tell them what I think this procession is, and toward what we go. And how necessary it is for all of us together to put our steps and hearts in harmony.
    To say in time a simple word to my companions, a password, like conspirators.
    Yes, the purpose of Earth is not life, it is not man. Earth has existed without these, and it will live on without them. They are but the ephemeral sparks of its violent whirling.
    Let us unite, let us hold each other tightly, let us merge our hearts, let us create — so long as the warmth of this earth endures, so long as no earthquakes, cataclysms, icebergs or comets come to destroy us — let us create for Earth a brain and a heart, let us give a human meaning to the superhuman struggle.
    This anguish is our second duty.

The Preparation : Third Duty

Free yourself from the terror of the heart that seeks and hopes to find the essence of things.
Where are we going? Do not ask! Ascend, descend. There is no beginning and no end.
I love, I feel pain, I struggle. The world seems to me wider than the mind, my heart a dark and almighty mystery.
  • The moment is ripe: leave the heart and the mind behind you, go forward, take the third step.
    Free yourself from the simple complacency of the mind that thinks to put all things in order and hopes to subdue phenomena. Free yourself from the terror of the heart that seeks and hopes to find the essence of things.
    Conquer the last, the greatest temptation of all: Hope. This is the third duty.
  • I hold the brimming wineglass and relive the toils of my grandfathers and great-grandfathers. The sweat of my labor runs down like a fountain from my tall, intoxicated brow.
    I am a sack filled with meat and bones, blood, sweat, and tears, desires and visions.
  • Where are we going? Do not ask! Ascend, descend. There is no beginning and no end. Only this present moment exists, full of bitterness, full of sweetness, and I rejoice in it all.
  • I surrender myself to everything. I love, I feel pain, I struggle. The world seems to me wider than the mind, my heart a dark and almighty mystery.
  • Nothing exists! Neither life nor death. I watch mind and matter hunting each other like two nonexistent erotic phantasms — merging, begetting, disappearing — and I say: "This is what I want!"
    I know now: I do not hope for anything. I do not fear anything, I have freed myself from both the mind and the heart, I have mounted much higher, I am free. [Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα, δεν φοβούμαι τίποτα, λυτρώθηκα από το νου κι από την καρδιά, ανέβηκα πιο πάνω, είμαι λεύτερος.] This is what I want. I want nothing more. I have been seeking freedom.
    • This passage was used for Kazantzakis' epitaph: "Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα, δε φοβούμαι τίποτα, είμαι λέφτερος."
    • I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.
    • Variant translation: I expect nothing. I fear no one. I am free.

The March

This is the moment of greatest crisis. This is the signal for the March to begin. If you do not hear this Cry tearing at your entrails, do not set out.
  • Gather your strength and listen; the whole heart of man is a single outcry. Lean against your breast to hear it; someone is struggling and shouting within you.
    It is your duty every moment, day and night, in joy or in sorrow, amid all daily necessities, to discern this Cry with vehemence or restraint, according to your nature, with laughter or with weeping, in action or in thought, striving to find out who is imperiled and cries out.
    And how we may all be mobilized together to free him.
  • Amidst our greatest happiness someone within us cries out: "I am in pain! I want to escape your happiness! I am stifling!"
    Amidst our deepest despair someone within us cries out: "I do not despair! I fight on! I grasp at your head, I unsheathe myself from your body, I detach myself from the earth, I cannot be contained in brains, in names, in deeds!"
  • This is the moment of greatest crisis. This is the signal for the March to begin. If you do not hear this Cry tearing at your entrails, do not set out.
  • Which of the two eternal roads shall I choose? Suddenly I know that my whole life hangs on this decision — the life of the entire Universe.
    Of the two, I choose the ascending path. Why? For no intelligible reason, without any certainty; I know how ineffectual the mind and all the small certainties of man can be in this moment of crisis.
    I choose the ascending path because my heart drives me toward it. "Upward! Upward! Upward!" my heart shouts, and I follow it trustingly.
  • Someone within me is struggling to lift a great weight, to cast off the mind and flesh by overcoming habit, laziness, necessity.
    I do not know from where he comes or where he goes. I clutch at his onward march in my ephemeral breast, I listen to his panting struggle, I shudder when I touch him.

First Step : The Ego

I put my body through its paces like a war horse; I keep it lean, sturdy, prepared.
It is my duty, and mine alone, to save the earth. If it is not saved, then I alone am to blame.
Your passions and your thoughts are older than your heart or brain.
  • I am not the light, I am the night; but a flame stabs through my entrails and consumes me. I am the night devoured by light.
  • I put my body through its paces like a war horse; I keep it lean, sturdy, prepared. I harden it and I pity it. I have no other steed.
    I keep my brain wide awake, lucid, unmerciful. I unleash it to battle relentlessly so that, all light, it may devour the darkness of the flesh. I have no other workshop where I may transform darkness into light.
    I keep my heart flaming, courageous, restless. I feel in my heart all commotions and all contradictions, the joys and sorrows of life. But I struggle to subdue them to a rhythm superior to that of the mind, harsher than that of my heart — to the ascending rhythm of the Universe.
  • The Cry within me is a call to arms. It shouts: "I, the Cry, am the Lord your God! I am not an asylum. I am not hope and a home. I am not the Father nor the Son nor the Holy Ghost. I am your General!
    "You are not my slave, nor a plaything in my hands. You are not my friend, you are not my child. You are my comrade-in-arms!
    "Hold courageously the passes which I entrusted to you; do not betray them. You are in duty bound, and you may act heroically by remaining at your own battle station.
    "Love danger. What is most difficult? That is what I want! Which road should you take? The most craggy ascent! It is the one I also take: follow me!
  • "Love responsibility. Say: "It is my duty, and mine alone, to save the earth. If it is not saved, then I alone am to blame."
    "Love each man according to his contribution in the struggle. Do not seek friends; seek comrades-in-arms.
  • I am NOT nothing! A vaporous phosphorescence on a damp meadow, a miserable worm that crawls and loves, that shouts and talks about wings for an hour or two until his mouth is blocked with earth. The dark powers give no other answer.
    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.
  • 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.
    I am an improvised bridge, and when Someone passes over me, I crumble away behind Him.

Second Step: The Race

Everything you do reverberates throughout a thousand destinies. As you walk, you cut open and create that river bed into which the stream of your descendants shall enter and flow.
  • It is not you talking, but innumerable ancestors talking with your mouth. It is not you who desire, but innumerable generations of descendants longing with your heart.
    Your dead do not lie in the ground. They have become birds, trees, air. You sit under their shade, you are nourished by their flesh, you inhale their breathing. They have become ideas and passions, they determine your will and your actions.
    Future generations do not move far from you in an uncertain time. They live, desire, and act in your loins and your heart.
    In this lightning moment when you walk the earth, your first duty, by enlarging your ego, is to live through the endless march, both visible and invisible, of your own being.
  • You are not free. Myriad invisible hands hold your hands and direct them. When you rise in anger, a great-grandfather froths at your mouth; when you make love, an ancestral caveman growls with lust; when you sleep, tombs open in your memory till your skull brims with ghosts.
  • "Do not die that we may not die," the dead cry out within you. "We had no time to enjoy the women we desired; be in time, sleep with them! We had no time to turn our thoughts into deeds; turn them into deeds! We had no time to grasp and to crystallize the face of our hope; make it firm!" ...
    But you must choose with care whom to hurl down again into the chasms of your blood, and whom you shall permit to mount once more into the light and the earth.
  • Enlighten the dark blood of your ancestors, shape their cries into speech, purify their will, widen their narrow, unmerciful brows. This is your second duty.
    For you are not only a slave. As soon as you were born, a new possibility was born with you, a free heartbeat stormed through the great sunless heart of your race.
  • Everything you do reverberates throughout a thousand destinies. As you walk, you cut open and create that river bed into which the stream of your descendants shall enter and flow.
  • You are not a miserable and momentary body; behind your fleeting mask of clay, a thousand-year-old face lies in ambush. Your passions and your thoughts are older than your heart or brain.
  • Your first duty, in completing your service to your race, is to feel within you all your ancestors. Your second duty is to throw light on their onrush and to continue their work. Your third duty is to pass on to your son the great mandate to surpass you.

Third Step : Mankind

The heart unites whatever the mind separates, pushes on beyond the arena of necessity and transmutes the struggle into love.
  • It is not you talking. Nor is it your race only which shouts within you, for all the innumerable races of mankind shout and rush within you: white, yellow, black.
    Free yourself from race also; fight to live through the whole struggle of man.
  • Look upon men and pity them. Look at yourself amid all men and pity yourself. In the obscure dusk of life we touch and fumble at each other, we ask questions, we listen, we shout for help.
  • The centuries are thick, dark waves that rise and fall, steeped in blood. Every moment is a gaping abyss.
    Gaze on the dark sea without staggering, confront the abyss every moment without illusion or impudence or fear. ... But this is not enough; take a further step: battle to give meaning to the confused struggles of man.
  • The heart unites whatever the mind separates, pushes on beyond the arena of necessity and transmutes the struggle into love.
  • Gather together in your heart all terrors, recompose all details. Salvation is a circle; close it!

Fourth Step : The Earth

Earth rises up in your brains and sees her entire body for the first time.
  • The entire Earth, with her trees and her waters, with her animals, with her men and her gods, calls from within your breast.
    Earth rises up in your brains and sees her entire body for the first time.
  • I recall an endless desert of infinite and flaming matter. I am burning! I pass through immeasurable, unorganized time, completely done, despairing, crying in the wilderness.
    And slowly the flame subsides, the womb of matter grows cool, the stone comes alive, breaks open, and a small green leaf uncurls into the air, trembling. It clutches the soil, steadies itself, raises its head and hands, grasps the air, the water, the light, and sucks at the Universe.
  • Only now, as we feel the onslaught behind us, do we begin dimly to apprehend why the animals fought, begot, and died; and behind them the plants; and behind these the huge reserve of inorganic forces.
    We are moved by pity, gratitude, and esteem for our old comrades-in-arms. They toiled, loved, and died to open a road for our coming.
    We also toil with the same delight, agony, and exaltation for the sake of Someone Else who with every courageous deed of ours proceeds one step farther.
    All our struggle once more will have a purpose much greater than we, wherein our toils, our miseries, and our crimes will have become useful and holy.

The Vision

Every word, every deed, every thought is the heavy gravestone he is forever trying to lift.
All hopes and despairs vanish in the voracious, funneling whirlwind of God.
Like every other living thing, I also am in the center of the Cosmic whirlpool.
Let us transfix this momentary eternity which encloses everything, past and future, but without losing in the immobility of language any of its gigantic erotic whirling.
  • The bodies breathe, feed, store up strength, and then in an erotic moment are shattered, are spent and drained utterly, that they may bequeath their spirit to their sons. What spirit? The drive upward!
  • Behind the stream of my mind and body, behind the stream of my race and all mankind, behind the stream of plants and animals, I watch with trembling the Invisible, treading on all visible things and ascending.
    Behind his heavy and blood-splattered feet I hear all living things being trampled on and crushed.
    His face is without laughter, dark and silent, beyond joy and sorrow, beyond hope.
  • It is as though we had buried Someone we thought dead, and now hear him calling in the night: Help me! Heaving and panting, he raises the gravestone of our soul and body higher and still higher, breathing more freely at every moment.
    Every word, every deed, every thought is the heavy gravestone he is forever trying to lift. And my own body and all the visible world, all heaven and earth, are the gravestone which God is struggling to heave upward.
  • God huddles in a knot in every cell of flesh.
    When I break a fruit open, this is how every seed is revealed to me. When I speak to men, this what I discern in their thick and muddy brains.
    God struggles in every thing, his hands flung upward toward the light. What light? Beyond and above every thing!
  • Pain is not the only essence of our God, nor is hope in a future life or a life on this earth, neither joy nor victory. Every religion that holds up to worship one of these primordial aspects of God narrows our hearts and our minds.
    The essence of our God is STRUGGLE. Pain, joy, and hope unfold and labor within this struggle, world without end.
  • From every joy and pain a hope leaps out eternally to escape this pain and to widen joy.
    And again the ascent begins — which is pain — and joy is reborn and new hope springs up once more. The circle never closes. It is not a circle, but a spiral which ascends eternally, ever widening, enfolding and unfolding the triune struggle.
  • What is the purpose of this struggle? This is what the wretched self-seeking mind of man is always asking, forgetting that the Great Spirit does not toil within the bounds of human time, place, or casualty.
    The Great Spirit is superior to these human questionings.
    It teems with many rich and wandering drives which to our shallow minds seem contradictory; but in the essence of divinity they fraternize and struggle together, faithful comrades-in-arms.
    The primordial Spirit branches out, overflows, struggles, fails, succeeds, trains itself. It is the Rose of the Winds.
  • All hopes and despairs vanish in the voracious, funneling whirlwind of God. God laughs, wails, kills, sets us on fire, and then leaves us in the middle of the way, charred embers.
    And I rejoice to feel between my temples, in the flicker of an eyelid, the beginning and the end of the world.
    I condense into a lightning moment the seeding, sprouting, blossoming, fructifying, and the disappearance of every tree, animal, man, star, and god.
    All Earth is a seed planted in the coils of my mind. Whatever struggles for numberless years to unfold and fructify in the dark womb of matter bursts in my head like a small and silent lightning flash.
    Ah! let us gaze intently on this lightning flash, let us hold it for a moment, let us arrange it into human speech.
    Let us transfix this momentary eternity which encloses everything, past and future, but without losing in the immobility of language any of its gigantic erotic whirling.
  • Every word is an Ark of the Covenant around which we dance and shudder, divining God to be its dreadful inhabitant.
    You shall never be able to establish in words that you live in ecstasy. But struggle unceasingly to establish it in words. Battle with myths, with comparisons, with allegories, with rare and common words, with exclamations and rhymes, to embody it in flesh, to transfix it!
    God, the Great Ecstatic, works in the same way. He speaks and struggles to speak in every way He can, with seas and with fires, with colors, with wings, with horns, with claws, with constellations and butterflies, that he may establish His ecstasy.
    Like every other living thing, I also am in the center of the Cosmic whirlpool.
  • God confronts me with terror and love — for I am His only hope — and says: "This Ecstatic, who gives birth to all things, who rejoices in them all and yet destroys them, this Ecstatic is my Son!"

The Action : The Relationship Between God and Man

We have seen the highest circle of spiraling powers. We have named this circle God...
Our God is not an abstract thought, a logical necessity, a high and harmonious structure made of deductions and speculations.
Every body, every soul is a Holy Sepulcher. Every seed of grain is a Holy Sepulchre; let us free it!
It is not God who will save us — it is we who will save God, by battling, by creating, and by transmuting matter into spirit.
My prayer is the report of a soldier to his general: This is what I did today, this is how I fought to save the entire battle in my own sector, these are the obstacles I encountered, this is how I plan to fight tomorrow.
  • The ultimate most holy form of theory is action.
    Not to look on passively while the spark leaps from generation to generation, but to leap and to burn with it!
  • Our profound human duty is not to interpret or to cast light on the rhythm of God's arch, but to adjust, as much as we can, the rhythm of our small and fleeting life to his.
    Only thus may we mortals succeed in achieving something immortal, because then we collaborate with One who is Deathless.
    Only thus may we conquer mortal sin, the concentration on details, the narrowness of our brains; only thus may we transubstantiate into freedom the slavery of earthen matter given us to mold.
  • Amid all these things, beyond all these things every man and nation, every plant and animal, every god and demon, charges upward like an army inflamed by an incomprehensible, unconquerable Spirit.
    We struggle to make this Spirit visible, to give it a face, to encase it in words, in allegories and thoughts and incantations, that it may not escape us.
    But it cannot be contained in the twentysix letters of an alphabet which we string out in rows; we know that all these words, these allegories, these thoughts, and these incantations are, once more, but a new mask with which to conceal the Abyss.
  • We have seen the highest circle of spiraling powers. We have named this circle God. We might have given it any other name we wished: Abyss, Mystery, Absolute Darkness, Absolute Light, Matter, Spirit, Ultimate Hope, Ultimate Despair, Silence.
    But we have named it God because only this name, for primordial reasons, can stir our hearts profoundly.
    And this deeply felt emotion is indispensable if we are to touch, body with body, the dread essence beyond logic.
    Within this gigantic circle of divinity we are in duty bound to separate and perceive clearly the small, burning arc of our epoch.
    • Unsourced variant or paraphrase: ... We might have given it any name we wished: Abyss, Absolute Darkness, Absolute Light, Matter, Spirit, Ultimate Hope, Ultimate Despair, Silence. But never forget, it is we who give it a name.
  • I do not care what face other ages and other people have given to the enormous, faceless essence. They have crammed it with human virtues, with rewards and punishments, with certain ties. They have given a face to their hopes and fears, they have submitted their anarchy to a rhythm, they have found a higher justification by which to live and labor. They have fulfilled their duty.
    But today we have gone beyond these needs; we have shattered this particular mask of the Abyss; our God no longer fits under the old features.

    Our hearts have overbrimmed with new agonies, with new luster and silence. The mystery has grown savage, and God has grown greater. The dark powers ascend, for they have also grown greater, and the entire human island quakes.
    Let us stoop down to our hearts and confront the Abyss valiantly. Let us try to mold once more, with our flesh and blood, the new, contemporary face of God.
    For our God is not an abstract thought, a logical necessity, a high and harmonious structure made of deductions and speculations.
    He is not an immaculate, neutral, odorless, distilled product of our brains, neither male nor female.
    He is both man and woman, mortal and immortal, dung and spirit. He gives birth, fecundates, slaughters — death and eros in one — and then he begets and slays once more, dancing spaciously beyond the boundaries of a logic which cannot contain the antinomies.
  • God is imperiled. He is not almighty, that we may cross our hands, waiting for certain victory. He is not all-holy, that we may wait trustingly for him to pity and to save us.
    Within the province of our ephemeral flesh all of God is imperiled. He cannot be saved unless we save him with our own struggles; nor can we be saved unless he is saved.
    We are one.
    From the blind worm in the depths of the ocean to the endless arena of the Galaxy, only one person struggles and is imperiled: You. And within your small and earthen breast only one thing struggles and is imperiled: the Universe.
  • 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.
  • We do not struggle for ourselves, nor for our race, not even for humanity.
    We do not struggle for Earth, nor for ideas.
    All these are the precious yet provisional stairs of our ascending God, and they crumble away as soon as he steps upon them in his ascent.
    In the smallest lightning flash of our lives, we feel all of God treading upon us, and suddenly we understand: if we all desire it intensely, if we organize all the visible and invisible powers of earth and fling them upward, if we all battle together like fellow combatants eternally vigilant — then the Universe might possibly be saved.
    It is not God who will save us — it is we who will save God, by battling, by creating, and by transmuting matter into spirit.
  • Life is a crusade in the service of God. Whether we wished to or not, we set out as crusaders to free — not the Holy Sepulchre — but that God buried in matter and in our souls.
    Every body, every soul is a Holy Sepulcher. Every seed of grain is a Holy Sepulchre; let us free it! The brain is a Holy Sepulchre, God sprawls within it and battles with death; let us run to his assistance!
  • My prayer is not the whimpering of a beggar nor a confession of love. Nor is it the petty reckoning of a small tradesman: Give me and I shall give you.
    My prayer is the report of a soldier to his general: This is what I did today, this is how I fought to save the entire battle in my own sector, these are the obstacles I encountered, this is how I plan to fight tomorrow.
  • My God and I are horsemen galloping in the burning sun or under drizzling rain. Pale, starving, but unsubdued, we ride and converse.
    "Leader!" I cry. He turns his face toward me, and I shudder to confront his anguish.
    Our love for each other is rough and ready, we sit at the same table, we drink the same wine in this low tavern of life.

The Action : The Relationship Between Man and Man

What is our duty? To struggle so that a small flower may blossom from the dunghill of our flesh and mind.
The star dies, but the light never dies; such also is the cry of freedom.
Eros? What other name may we give that impetus which becomes enchanted as soon as it casts its glance on matter and then longs to impress its features upon it?
At every moment of crisis an array of men risk their lives in the front ranks as standard-bearers of God to fight and take upon themselves the whole responsibility of the battle.
This is our epoch, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, rich or poor — we did not choose it.
Die every day. Be born every day. Deny everything you have every day. The superior virtue is not to be free but to fight for freedom.
Do not condescend to ask: "Shall we conquer? Shall we be conquered?" Fight on!
  • What is the essence of our God? The struggle for freedom. In the indestructible darkness a flaming line ascends and emblazons the march of the Invisible. What is our duty? To ascend with this blood-drenched line.
    Whatever rushes upward and helps God to ascend is good. Whatever drags downward and impedes God from ascending is evil.
    All virtues and all evils take on a new value. They are freed from the moment and from earth, they exist completely within man, before and after man, eternally.
    For the essence of our ethic is not the salvation of man, who varies within time and space, but the salvation of God, who within a wide variety of flowing human forms and adventures is always the same, the indestructible rhythm which battles for freedom.
    We, as human beings, are all miserable persons, heartless, small, insignificant. But within us a superior essence drives us ruthlessly upward.
    From within this human mire divine songs have welled up, great ideas, violent loves, an unsleeping assault full of mystery, without beginning or end, without purpose, beyond every purpose.
  • Humanity is such a lump of mud, each one of us is such a lump of mud. What is our duty? To struggle so that a small flower may blossom from the dunghill of our flesh and mind.
    Out of things and flesh, out of hunger, out of fear, out of virtue and sin, struggle continually to create God.
  • How does the light of a star set out and plunge into black eternity in its immortal course? The star dies, but the light never dies; such also is the cry of freedom.
    Out of the transient encounter of contrary forces which constitute your existence, strive to create whatever immortal thing a mortal may create in this world — a Cry.
    And this Cry, abandoning to the earth the body which gave it birth, proceeds and labors eternally.
  • A vehement eros runs through the Universe. It is like the ether: harder than steel, softer than air.
    It cuts through and passes beyond all things, it flees and escapes.
  • Eros? What other name may we give that impetus which becomes enchanted as soon as it casts its glance on matter and then longs to impress its features upon it? It confronts the body and longs to pass beyond it, to merge with the other erotic cry hidden in that body, to become one till both may vanish and become deathless by begetting sons.
    It approaches the soul and wishes to merge with it inseparably so that "you" and "I" may no longer exist; it blows on the mass of man — kind and wishes, by smashing the resistances of mind and body, to merge all breaths into one violent gale that may lift the earth!
    In moments of crisis this Erotic Love swoops down on men and joins them together by force — friends and foes, good and evil. It is a breath superior to all of them, independent of their desires and deeds. It is the spirit, the breathing of God on earth.
    It descends on men in whatever form it wishes — as dance, as eros, as hunger, as religion, as slaughter. It does not ask our permission.
  • At every moment of crisis an array of men risk their lives in the front ranks as standard-bearers of God to fight and take upon themselves the whole responsibility of the battle.
    Once long ago it was the priests, the kings, the noblemen, or the burghers who created civilizations and set divinity free.
    Today God is the common worker made savage by toil and rage and hunger
  • Cries rise up on every side. Who shouts? It is we who shout — the living, the dead, and the unborn. But at once we are crushed by fear, and we fall silent.
    And then we forget — out of laziness, out of habit, out of cowardice. But suddenly the Cry tears at our entrails once more, like an eagle.
    For the Cry is not outside us, it does not come from a great distance that we may escape it. It sits in the center of our hearts, and cries out.
    God shouts: "Burn your houses! I am coming! Whoever has a house cannot receive me!
    "Burn your ideas, smash your thoughts! Whoever has found the solution cannot find me."
  • This is our epoch, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, rich or poor — we did not choose it. This is our epoch, the air we breathe, the mud given us, the bread, the fire, the spirit!
    Let us accept Necessity courageously. It is our lot to have fallen on fighting times. Let us tighten our belts, let us arm our hearts, our minds, and our bodies. Let us take our place in battle!
  • It is our duty to help liberate that God who is stifling in us, in mankind, in masses of people living in darkness.
    We must be ready at any moment to give up our lives for his sake. For life is not a goal; it is also an instrument, like death, like beauty, like virtue, like knowledge. Whose instrument? Of that God who fights for freedom.
    We are all one, we are all an imperiled essence. If at the far end of the world a spirit degenerates, it drags down our spirit into its own degradation. If one mind at the far end of the world sinks into idiocy, our own temples over-brim with darkness.
    For it is only One who struggles at the far end of earth and sky. One. And if He goes lost, it is we who must bear the responsibility. If He goes lost, then we go lost.
    This is why the salvation of the Universe is also our salvation, why solidarity among men is no longer a tenderhearted luxury but a deep necessity and self-preservation, as much a necessity as, in an army under fire, the salvation of your comrade-in-arms.
  • The essence of our God is obscure. It ripens continuously; perhaps victory is strenghened with our every valorous deed, but perhaps even all these agonizing struggles toward deliverance and victory are inferior to the nature of divinity.
    Whatever it might be, we fight on without certainty, and our virtue, uncertain of any rewards, acquires a profound nobility.
  • God cries to my heart: "Save me!"
    God cries to men, to animals, to plants, to matter: "Save me!"
    Listen to your heart and follow him. Shatter your body and awake: We are all one.
    Love man because you are he.
    Love animals and plants because you were they, and now they follow you like faithful co-workers and slaves.
    Love your body; only with it may you fight on this earth and turn matter into spirit.
    Love matter. God clings to it tooth and nail, and fights. Fight with him.
    Die every day. Be born every day. Deny everything you have every day. The superior virtue is not to be free but to fight for freedom.
    Do not condescend to ask: "Shall we conquer? Shall we be conquered?" Fight on!

The Action : The Relationship between Man and Nature

All this world, all this rich, endless flow of appearances is not a deception, a multicolored phantasmagoria of our mirroring mind. Nor is it absolute reality which lives and evolves freely, independent of our mind's power.
Even the most humble insect and the most insignificant idea are the military encampments of God.
Contend with the powers of nature, force them to the yoke of superior purpose. Free that spirit which struggles within them and longs to mingle with that spirit which struggles within you.
In a violent flash of lightning I discern on the highest peak of power the final, the most fearful pair embracing…
  • All this world, all this rich, endless flow of appearances is not a deception, a multicolored phantasmagoria of our mirroring mind. Nor is it absolute reality which lives and evolves freely, independent of our mind's power.
    It is not the resplendent robe which arrays the mystic body of God. Nor the obscurely translucent partition between man and mystery.
    All this world that we see, hear, and touch is that accessible to the human senses, a condensation of the two enormous powers of the Universe permeated with all of God.
  • One power descends and wants to scatter, to come to a standstill, to die. The other power ascends and strives for freedom, for immortality.
    These two armies, the dark and the light, the armies of life and of death, collide eternally.
  • Even the most humble insect and the most insignificant idea are the military encampments of God. Within them, all of God is arranged in fighting position for a critical battle.
    Even in the most meaningless particle of earth and sky I hear God crying out: "Help me!"
    Everything is an egg in which God's sperm labors without rest, ceaselessly. Innumerable forces within and without it range themselves to defend it.
    With the light of the brain, with the flame of the heart, I besiege every cell where God is jailed, seeking, trying, hammering to open a gate in the fortress of matter, to create a gap through which God may issue in heroic attack.
  • Contend with the powers of nature, force them to the yoke of superior purpose. Free that spirit which struggles within them and longs to mingle with that spirit which struggles within you.
  • We do not only free God by battling and subduing the visible world about us; we also create God.
    "Open your eyes," God shouts; "I want to see! Prick up your ears, I want to hear! March in the front ranks: you are my head!"
  • Every man has his own circle composed of trees, animals, men, ideas, and he is in duty bound to save this circle. He, and no one else. If he does not save it, he cannot be saved.
    These are the labors each man is given and is in duty bound to complete before he dies. He may not otherwise be saved. For his own soul is scattered and enslaved in these things about him, in trees, in animals, in men, in ideas, and it is his own soul he saves by completing these labors.
  • If you are a man of learning, fight in the skull, kill ideas and create new ones. God hides in every idea as in every cell of flesh. Smash the idea, set him free! Give him another, a more spacious idea in which to dwell.
  • Profound and incommensurable is the worth of this flowing world: God clings to it and ascends, God feeds upon it and increases.
  • The wife of my God is matter; they wrestle with each other, they laugh and weep, they cry out in the nuptial bed of flesh.
    They spawn and are dismembered. They fill sea, land, and air with species of plants, animals, men, and spirits. This primordial pair embraces, is dismembered, and multiplies in every living creature.
    All the concentrated agony of the Universe bursts out in every living thing. God is imperiled in the sweet ecstasy and bitterness of flesh.
    But he shakes himself free, he leaps out of brains and loins, then clings to new brains and new loins until the struggle for liberation again breaks out from the beginning.
  • Joy! Joy! I did not know that all this world is so much part of me, that we are all one army, that windflowers and stars struggle to right and left of me and do not know me; but I turn to them and hail them.
    The Universe is warm, beloved, familiar, and it smells like my own body. It is Love and War both, a raging restlessness, persistence and uncertainty.
    Uncertainty and terror. In a violent flash of lightning I discern on the highest peak of power the final, the most fearful pair embracing:
    Terror and Silence. And between them, a Flame.

The Silence

Time disappears, the moment whirls, becomes eternity, and every point in space — insect or star or idea — turns into dance.
Every person, after completing his service in all labors, reaches finally the highest summit of endeavor, beyond every labor, where he no longer struggles or shouts, where he ripens fully in silence, indestructibly, eternally, with the entire Universe.
  • "Fire is the first and final mask of my God. We dance and weep between two enormous pyres."
    Our thoughts and our bodies flash and glitter with reflected light. Between the two pyres I stand serenely, my brain unshaken amid the vertigo, and I say:
    "Time is most short and space most narrow between these two pyres, the rhythm of this life is most sluggish, and I have no time, nor a place to dance in. I cannot wait."
    Then all at once the rhythm of the earth becomes a vertigo, time disappears, the moment whirls, becomes eternity, and every point in space — insect or star or idea — turns into dance.
  • This ultimate stage of our spiritual exercise is called Silence. Not because its contents are the ultimate inexpressible despair or the ultimate inexpressible joy and hope. Nor because it is the ultimate knowledge which does not condescend to speak, or the ultimate ignorance which cannot.
    Silence means: Every person, after completing his service in all labors, reaches finally the highest summit of endeavor, beyond every labor, where he no longer struggles or shouts, where he ripens fully in silence, indestructibly, eternally, with the entire Universe.
  • How can you reach the womb of the Abyss to make it fruitful? This cannot be expressed, cannot be narrowed into words, cannot be subjected to laws; every man is completely free and has his own special liberation.
    No form of instruction exists, no Savior exists to open up the road. No road exists to be opened.
  • Within profound Silence, erect, fearless, in pain and in play, ascending ceaselessly from peak to peak, knowing that the height has no ending, sing this proud and magical incantation as you hang over the Abyss:
    I BELIEVE IN ONE GOD, DEFENDER OF THE BORDERS, OF DOUBLE DESCENT, MILITANT, SUFFERING, OF MIGHTY BUT NOT OF OMNIPOTENT POWERS, A WARRIOR AT THE FARTHEST FRONTIERS, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF ALL THE LUMINOUS POWERS, THE VISIBLE AND THE INVISIBLE.
    I BELIEVE IN THE INNUMERABLE, THE EPHEMERAL MASKS WHICH GOD HAS ASSUMED THROUGHOUT THE CENTURIES, AND BEHIND HIS CEASELESS FLUX I DISCERN AN INDESTRUCTIBLE UNITY.
  • BLESSED BE ALL THOSE WHO HEAR AND RUSH TO FREE YOU, LORD, AND WHO SAY: "ONLY YOU AND I EXIST."
    BLESSED BE ALL THOSE WHO FREE YOU AND BECOME UNITED WITH YOU, LORD, AND WHO SAY: "YOU AND I ARE ONE."
    AND THRICE BLESSED BE THOSE WHO BEAR ON THEIR SHOULDERS AND DO NOT BUCKLE UNDER THIS GREAT, SUBLIME, AND TERRIFYING SECRET:
    THAT EVEN THIS ONE
    DOES NOT EXIST!

The Odyssey : A Modern Sequel (1938)[edit]

As translated by Kimon Friar
O Sun, great Oriental, my proud mind's golden cap, I love to wear you cocked askew and to burst in song to rouse our hearts, so long as you and I both live...
A woman's body is a dark and monstrous mystery...
And now, my gallant lads... that worm's god-slaying sword has fallen into my hands...
We will not leave! We guard the innocent soul of man!
Speak straight and clear! I only hear that manly prayer
which like a huge fist breaks my head against the stones.
Who holds a sword is tempted, who has youth must play, he who does not fear death on earth does not fear God.
Blessed be that haughty mind that aimed at the greatest hope!
A slave's soul has no worth, my brothers; it lacks strength
to tread on this great earth with gallantry and freedom...
I know well that only words, that words alone,
like the high mountains, have no fear of age or death.
I've always fought to purify wild flame to light,
and kindle whatever light I found to burst in flame.
I've fought with men and gods, I've weighed them well and found
the sea more firm than earth, the air more firm than sea,
and man's impalpable soul still yet more firm than air!
  • O Sun, great Oriental, my proud mind's golden cap,
    I love to wear you cocked askew, to play and burst
    in song throughout our lives, and so rejoice our hearts.
    • Variant: O Sun, great Oriental, my proud mind's golden cap,
      I love to wear you cocked askew and to burst in song
      to rouse our hearts, so long as you and I both live.
    • Prologue, line 1
  • With silent strides Odysseus then shot back the bolt,
    passed lightly through the courtyard and sped down the street.
    Some saw him take the graveyard's zigzag mountain path,
    some saw him leap on rocks that edged the savage shore,
    some visionaries saw him in the dead of night
    swimming and talking secretly with the sea-demons,
    but only a small boy saw him in a lonely dream
    sit crouched and weeping by the dark sea's foaming edge.
    • Book II, line 457
  • A woman's body is a dark and monstrous mystery;
    between her supple thighs a heavy whirlpool swirls,
    two rivers crash, and woe to him who slips and falls!
    • Odysseus, Book II, line 1017
  • Death's dry bones glowed with light in the erotic dark
    but he woke not nor felt the two warm bodies merge;
    the male worm then took heart and in his wife's ear whispered:
    "With one sweet kiss, dear wife, we've conquered conquering Death!"
    • Orpheus' song, Book III, line 178
  • The worm stood straight on God's blood-splattered threshold then
    and beat his drum
    , beat it again, and raised his throat:
    'You've matched all well on earth, wine, women, bread, and song,
    but why, you Murderer, must you slay our children? Why?'
    God foamed with rage and raised his sword to pierce that throat,
    but his old copper sword, my lads, stuck at the bone.
    Then from his belt the worm drew his black-hilted sword,
    rushed up and slew that old decrepit god in heaven!
    And now, my gallant lads — I don't know when or how —
    that worm's god-slaying sword has fallen into my hands;
    I swear that from its topmost iron tip the blood still drips!
    • Odysseus' song, Book III, line 424
  • The rosy mountain peaks laughed like high lustrous thoughts,
    and Helen, speechless, raised her pale hands toward the sun
    and joyed to feel its warm rays falling on her frozen palms.
    • Book IV, line 1361
  • Thus did the Holy Harlots unhinge the brains of man,
    and when they met and clashed with the pure Mountain Maidens,
    they raised their white arms high, their armpits smelled of musk,
    and, as the rites decreed, both fought their verbal war:
    "God swoops from mountain peeks to eat and play on earth;
    we are his food and drink and even his sacred toys —
    and learn, O sterile maids, we are his soft, sweet mates.
    Let her now leave who fears to merge with her dread God!"
    The scornful savage mouth of Krino flashed reply:
    "We will not leave! We guard the innocent soul of man!
    God is a spirit with pure white wings, a soul that sails,
    light, disembodied, deep in our thoughts, without embrace.
    It's we who keep the world in bloom with virgin souls!"
    • From the Bull Ritual, Book VI, line 197
  • High up where the poor sat, the people quaked with fear:
    they saw the soul stretched on the ground, a votive beast
    beaten by the conflicting powers of light and dark,
    and their minds shook, nor knew now what great god to choose,
    for comfort's road dropped to the right, the rough ascent
    rose to the left, and both roads seemed to lead to God,
    while at the crossroads stood the human heart, and swayed.
    • Book VI, line 242
  • Thus night with all her snares passed through the upper world
    and baited all heads sweetly, fed all foolish hopes,
    for night can bring to men all shrewish day denies,
    wrapped as a gift in the green leaves of opiate dream.
    • Book VII, line 356
  • Death gestured with his hands and bade the king thrice welcome.
    • Book VIII, line 168
  • Her green eyes fluttered swiftly twice or thrice, then glazed,
    her mouth gaped open, bleating, then her jaws hung loose
    and retched up all her soul in lumps of clotting blood.
    • Death of Phida, Book VIII, line 410
  • Speak straight and clear! I only hear that manly prayer
    which like a huge fist breaks my head against the stones.
    • Odysseus, Book VIII, line 530
  • Who holds a sword is tempted, who has youth must play,
    he who does not fear death on earth does not fear God.
    • Odysseus, Book VIII, line 560
  • Alas for him who seeks salvation in good only!
    Balanced on God's strong shoulders, Good and Evil flap
    together like two mighty wings and lift him high.
    • Odysseus, Book VIII, line 770
  • But we, O blockhead, with dogged spite and armored love
    shall force those deaf dark powers to grow ears and hear us!

    I know that God is earless, eyeless, and heartless too,
    a brainless Dragon Worm that crawls on earth and hopes
    in anguish and then in secret that we'll give him soul,
    for then he, too, may sprout ears, eyes, to match his growth,
    but God is clay in my ten fingers, and I mould him!
    • Odysseus to Kentaur, Book VIII, line 829
  • Blessed are those eyes that have seen more water than any man!
    Blessed be that haughty mind that aimed at the greatest hope!

    May you be blessed who row the current your life long
    and now with dry unfreshened lips descend to Hades
    to find the hidden deathless springs and slake your thirst!
    My son, it's death who keeps and pours the deathless waters.
    • Voice of the Nile, from Odysseus' story, Book VIII, line 1290 (the first line is taken from an Egyptian hieroglyph.)
  • May he be cursed on earth who gives his trust to virtue,
    that bankrupt crone who takes our life's pure gold and gives
    but bad receipts for payment in the lower world.
    Ah, passers-by that stroll, travelers that come and go,
    all that I had, I placed on virtue, and lost the game!
    • Book IX, line 402
  • A slave's soul has no worth, my brothers; it lacks strength
    to tread on this great earth with gallantry and freedom.

    I pity the poor slaves, they're nought but airy mist,
    a light breeze scatters them, a fragrance knocks them down;
    it's only just they crawl on the earth on hands and knees.
    Today I'll write a hymn to God and pray for this great grace.
    • Egyptian high priest, Book X, line 90
  • Cursed be all those on land and sea who eat their fill,
    cursed be all those who starve yet raise no hand in protest,
    cursed be all the bread, the wine, the meat which day by day
    descends deep in the entrails of the exploited man
    and turns not into freedom's cry, the murderer's ruthless knife!
    • Prayer of three revolutionaries, Book X, line 391
  • Fools, art is a heavy task, more heavy than gold crowns;
    it's far more difficult to match firm words than armies
    ,
    they're disciplined troops, unconquered, to be placed in rhythm,
    the mind's most mighty foe, and not disperse in air.
    I'd give, believe me, a whole land for one good song,
    for I know well that only words, that words alone,
    like the high mountains, have no fear of age or death.
    • Pharaoh, Book X, line 688
  • Comrades, I've voyaged long and far on sea and soul,
    my eyes have seen disease, gods, ghosts, and men, and yet
    in no land have I seen a more false, murderous siren
    than that wind-headed, babbling, blind bitch-hound called Hope!
    • Odysseus, Book X, line 892
  • Monarch of earth, I shall confess my secret craft:
    I've always fought to purify wild flame to light,
    and kindle whatever light I found to burst in flame.
    • Odysseus to Hades, Book XI, line 145
  • Crocodiles sweetly shut their lidded eyes, and yawned,
    for the blond meat had been quite good, and in slow rains
    new flesh would sprout once more and then be munched anew.
    • Book XI, line 652
  • Descend you weary-laden, descend in the dark earth,
    help me to finish swiftly my dread master's shroud,
    let each hem hold my pain, each corner hide a crow,
    a lean, voracious crow to peck his heart out bit by bit.
    • Slave's prayer, Book XI, line 708
  • I hate all virtues based on food and bloated bellies;
    though food and drink are good, I'm better slaked and fed
    by that inhuman flame which burns in our black bowels.
    I like to name that flame which burns within me God!
    • Odysseus, Book XI, line 840
  • I've fought with men and gods, I've weighed them well and found
    the sea more firm than earth, the air more firm than sea,
    and man's impalpable soul still yet more firm than air!
    • Odysseus, Book XI, line 846

Zorba the Greek (1946)[edit]

Main article: Zorba the Greek
All that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart.
The highest point a man can obtain is not Knowledge, or Virtue, or Goodness, or Victory, but something even greater, more heroic and more despairing: Sacred Awe!
  • To cleave that sea in the gentle autumnal season, murmuring the name of each islet, is to my mind the joy most apt to transport the heart of man into paradise.
    • On the Aegean Sea, in Ch. 2
  • Two equally steep and bold paths may lead to the same peak. To act as if death did not exist, or to act thinking every minute of death, is perhaps the same thing.
    • Ch. 3
  • While experiencing happiness, we have difficulty in being conscious of it. Only when the happiness is past and we look back on it we do suddenly realize — sometimes with astonishment — how happy we had been.
    • Ch. 6
  • How simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. . . . All that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart.
    • Ch. 7
  • Every village has its simpleton, and if one does not exist they invent one to pass the time.
    • Ch. 8
  • In religions which have lost their creative spark, the gods eventually become no more than poetic motifs or ornaments for decorating human solitude and walls.
    • Ch. 12
  • As I watched the seagulls, I thought: "That's the road to take; find the absolute rhythm and follow it with absolute trust."
    • Ch. 21
  • What a strange machine man is! You fill him with bread, wine, fish, and radishes, and out comes sighs, laughter, and dreams.
    • Ch. 23
  • The highest point a man can obtain is not Knowledge, or Virtue, or Goodness, or Victory, but something even greater, more heroic and more despairing: Sacred Awe!
    • Ch. 24

The Last Temptation of Christ (1951)[edit]

I wanted to offer a supreme model to the man who struggles; I wanted to show him that he must not fear pain, temptation or death — because all three can be conquered, all three have already been conquered.
The doors of heaven and hell are adjacent and identical.
  • This is the Supreme Duty of the man who struggles — to set out for the lofty peak which Christ, the first-born sone of salvation, attained. How can we begin?
    If we are to follow him we must have a profound knowledge of his conflict, we must relive his anguish: his victory over the blossoming snares of the earth, his sacrifice of the great and small joys of men and his ascent from sacrifice to sacrifice, exploit to exploit, to martyrdom's summit, the Cross.
  • I wanted to offer a supreme model to the man who struggles; I wanted to show him that he must not fear pain, temptation or death — because all three can be conquered, all three have already been conquered.
  • This book is not a biography; it is the confession of every man who struggles. In publishing it I have fulfilled my duty, the duty of a person who struggled much, was embittered in his life,
and had many hopes. I am certain that
every free man who reads this book, so filled as it
is with love, will more than ever before, love
Christ.
  • The more devils we have within us, the more chance we have to form angels.
    • Ch. 10
  • Do you believe in dreams, Uncle Simeon? I do; I believe in nothing else. One night I dreamed that invisible enemies had me tied to a dead cypress. Long red arrows were sticking into me from my head to my feet, and the blood was flowing. On my head they had placed a crown of thorns, and intertwined with the thorns were fiery letters which said: "Saint Blasphemer." I am Saint Blasphemer, Rabbi Simeon. So you'd better not ask me anything else, or I'll start my blasphemies.
    • Ch. 10
  • There's a devil inside me which cries, "You're not the son of the Carpenter, you're the son of King David! You are not a man, you are the Son of man whom Daniel prophesied." And still more: "The Son of God! And still more: God!"
    • Ch. 10
  • Outside the wind of Jehovah still beat on the door, trying to enter. There was no other sound. Not a jackal on the earth, nor a crow in the air. Every living thing cowered in fear, waiting for the Lord's anger to pass.
    • Ch. 10
  • The doors of heaven and hell are adjacent and identical.
    • Ch. 18
  • If you love me, be patient. Look at the trees. Are they in a hurry to ripen their fruit?
  • I possess no weapon but love. With that I have come to do battle. Help me!
  • I said only one word, brought only one message: Love. Love — nothing else.
  • How can anyone see the only way the world can be saved and not be forced to weep?

Report to Greco (1965)[edit]

The first English edition was translated and published by Bruno Cassirer, Oxford (1965); this section uses primarily the translation by P. A. Bien, Faber and Faber Limited (1973)
Every man worthy of being called a son of man bears his cross and mounts his Golgotha.
Overdraw me, Lord, and who cares if I break.
  • My entire soul is a cry, and all my work the commentary on that cry.
    • Author's Introduction, p. 15
  • Every man worthy of being called a son of man bears his cross and mounts his Golgotha. Many, indeed most, reach the first or second step, collapse pantingly in the middle of the journey, and do not attain the summit of Golgotha, in other words the summit of their duty: to be crucified, resurrected, and to save theirs souls. Afraid of crucifixion, they grow fainthearted; they do not know that the cross is the only path to resurrection. There is no other path.
    • Author's Introduction, p. 15
  • Three kinds of souls, three prayers:
    1) I am a bow in your hands, Lord. Draw me, lest I rot.
    2) Do not overdraw me, Lord. I shall break.
    3) Overdraw me, Lord, and who cares if I break.
    • Epigraph, p. 16
Beauty is merciless. You do not look at it, it looks at you and does not forgive.
  • General, the battle draws to a close and I make my report. This is where and how I fought. I fell wounded, lost heart, but did not desert. Though my teeth clattered from fear, I bound my forehead tightly with a red handkerchief to hide the blood, and ran to the assault.
    Before you shall pluck out the precious feathers of my jackdaw soul, one by one, until it remains a tiny clod of earth kneaded with blood, sweat, and tears. I shall relate my struggle to you — in order to unburden myself. I shall cast off virtue, shame, and truth — in order to unburden myself. My soul resembles your creation "Toledo in the Storm"; girded by yellow thunderbolts and oppressive black clouds, fighting a desperate, unbending battle against both light and darkness. You will see my soul, will weigh it between your lanceolate eyebrows, and will judge. Do you remember the grave Cretan saying, "Return where you have failed, leave where you have succeeded"? If I failed, I shall return to the assault though but a single hour of life remains to me. If I succeeded, I shall open the earth so that I may come and recline at your side.
    Listen, therefore, to my report, general, and judge. Listen to my life, grandfather, and if I fought with you, if I fell wounded and allowed no one to learn of my suffering, if I never turned my back to the enemy: Give me your blessing!
    • "Prologue", p. 23
  • Beauty is merciless. You do not look at it, it looks at you and does not forgive.
I thank God that this refreshing childhood vision still lives inside me in all its fullness of color and sound...
  • "Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality," says one of my favorite Byzantine mystics. I did this when a child; I do it now as well in the most creative moments of my life.
    • "The Son", Ch. 4, p. 45
Every word is an adamantine shell which encloses a great explosive force. To discover its meaning you must let it burst inside you like a bomb and in this way liberate the soul which it imprisons.
  • I thank God that this refreshing childhood vision still lives inside me in all its fullness of color and sound. This is what keeps my mind untouched by wastage, keeps it from withering and running dry. It is the sacred drop of immortal water which prevents me from dying. When I wish to speak of the sea, woman, or God in my writing, I gaze down in my breast and listen carefully to what the child within me says. He dictates to me; and if it sometimes happens that I come close to these great forces of the sea, woman, and God, approach them by means of words and depict them, I owe it to the child who still lives within me. I become a child again to enable myself to view the world always for the first time, with virgin eyes.
    • "The Son", Ch. 4, p. 49
  • Every word is an adamantine shell which encloses a great explosive force. To discover its meaning you must let it burst inside you like a bomb and in this way liberate the soul which it imprisons.
    • "Massacre", Ch. 10, p. 88
Everything is a unity and this unity is a profound mystic intoxication in which death loses its scythe and ceases to exist.
  • A magical portal opened inside my mind and conducted me into an astonishing world. ... Before this moment I had divined but had never known with such positiveness that the world is extremely large and that suffering and toil are the companions and fellow warriors not only of Cretan, but of every man. ... that by means of poetry all this suffering and effort could be transformed into dream; no matter how much of the ephemeral existed, poetry could immortalize it by turning it into song.
    • "Naxos", Ch. 11, p. 96
I realized to what an extent earthly happiness is made to the measure of man.
Happiness is a domestic bird found in our own courtyards.
  • I felt that human partitions — bodies, brains, and souls — were capable of being demolished, and that humanity might return again, after frightfully bloody wandering, to its primeval, divine oneness. In this condition, there is no such thing as "me", "you", and "he"; everything is a unity and this unity is a profound mystic intoxication in which death loses its scythe and ceases to exist. Separately, we die one by one, but all together we are immortal. Like prodigal sons, after so much hunger, thirst, and rebellion, we spread our arms and embrace our two parents: heaven and earth.
    • "Liberty", Ch. 12, p. 105
  • Once more I realized to what an extent earthly happiness is made to the measure of man. It is not a rare bird which we must pursue at one moment in heaven, at the next in our minds. Happiness is a domestic bird found in our own courtyards.
    • "Italy", Ch. 18, p. 182
  • How difficult, how extremely difficult for the soul to sever itself from its body the world: from mountains, seas, cities, people. The soul is an octopus and these are its tentacles. ... No force anywhere on earth is as imperialistic as the human soul. It occupies and is occupied in turn, but it always considers its empire too narrow. Suffocating, it desires to conquer the world in order to breathe freely.
    • "My Friend The Poet. Mount Athos.", Ch. 19, p. 188
  • As long as our souls remain strong, that is all that matters; as long as they don't decline. Because with the fall of certain souls in this world, the world itself will collapse. These are the pillars which support it. They are few, but enough.
    • "My Friend Poet. Mount Athos.", Ch. 19, p. 215
  • One day our Sodom and Gomorrah would be trampled by some all-powerful foot, and this world which laughed, reveled, and forgot God would be transformed, in its turn, into a Dead Sea. At the end of every period God's foot comes along in this way and tramples the cities of the overindulged belly, the overdeveloped mind. I felt afraid (Sometimes it seems to me that this world is another Sodom and Gomorrah just before God's passage above it. I think the terrible foot can already be heard approaching).
    • "Jerusalem", Ch. 20, p. 249
  • Sodom and Gomorrah reclined along the riverbank like two whores kissing each other. Men copulated with other men, women with other women, men with mares, women with bulls. They ate and overate from the Tree of Life; they ate and overate from the Tree of Knowledge. Smashing their sacred statues, they saw that they were filled with air. Coming very, very close to God, they said, "This God is not the father of Fear, he is the son of Fear," and they lost their fear. On the four gates to the city they wrote in large yellow letters, THERE IS NO GOD HERE. What does There is no God mean? It means there is no bridle on our instincts, no reward for good or punishment for evil, no virtue, shame, or justice — that we are wolves and she-wolves in heat.
    • "Jerusalem", Ch. 20, p. 249-50
Whoever climbed the Lord's mountain had to possess clean hands and an innocent heart; otherwise the Summit would kill him. Today the doorway is deserted. Soiled hands and sinful hearts are able to pass by without fear, for the Summit kills no longer.
  • Inhuman solitude made of sand and God. Surely only two kinds of people can bear to live in such desert: lunatics and prophets. The mind topples here not from fright but from sacred awe; sometimes it collapses downward, losing human stability, sometimes it springs upward, enters heaven, sees God face to face, touches the hem of His blazing garment without being burned, hears what He says, and taking this, slings it into men's consciousness. Only in the desert do we see the birth of these fierce, indomitable souls who rise up in rebellion even against God himself and stand before Him fearlessly, their minds in resplendent consubstantiality with the skirts of the Lord. God sees them and is proud, because in them his breath has not vented its force; in them, God has not stooped to becoming a man.
    • "The Desert. Sinai.", Ch. 21, p. 276
Here was an almond tree in bloom before me: I must reach out and cut a flowering branch.
  • How can anyone have a true sense of the Hebrew race without crossing this terrifying desert, without experiencing it? For three interminable days we crossed it on our camels. Your throat sizzles from thirst, your head reels, your mind spins about as serpent-like you follow the sleek tortuous ravine. When a race is forged for two score years in this kiln, how can such a race die? I rejoiced at seeing the terrible stones where the Hebrews' virtues were born: their perseverance, will power, obstinacy, endurance, and above all, a God flesh of their flesh, flame of their flame, to whom they cried, "Feed us! Kill our enemies! Lead us to the Promised Land!"
    To this desert the Jews owe their continued survival and the fact that by means of their virtues and vices they dominate the world. Today, in the unstable period of wrath, vengeance, and violence through which we are passing, the Jews are of necessity once again the chosen people of the terrible God of Exodus from the land of bondage.
    • "Jerusalem", Ch. 20, p. 265
The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired…
  • Whoever climbed the Lord's mountain had to possess clean hands and an innocent heart; otherwise the Summit would kill him. Today the doorway is deserted. Soiled hands and sinful hearts are able to pass by without fear, for the Summit kills no longer.
    • "The Desert. Sinai.", Ch. 21, p. 277
  • "Tomorrow, go forth and stand before the Lord. A great and strong wind will blow over you and rend the mountains and break in pieces the rocks, but the Lord will not be in the wind. And after the wind and earthquake, but the Lord will not be in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord will not be in the fire. And after the fire a gentle, cooling breeze. That is where the Lord will be."
    This is how the spirit comes. After the gale, the earthquake, and fire: a gentle, cooling breeze. This is how it will come in our own day as well. We are passing through the period of earthquake, the fire is approaching, and eventually (when? after how many generations?) the gentle, cool breeze will blow.
    • "The Desert. Sinai.", Ch. 21, p. 278
I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.
  • I heard the bells from the future churches, the children playing and laughing in the schoolyards … and here was an almond tree in bloom before me: I must reach out and cut a flowering branch. For, by believing passionately in something which still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired, whatever we have not irrigated with our blood to such a degree that it becomes strong enough to stride across the somber threshold of nonexistence.
    • p. 434; in a few publications since 2008 part of this has been misattributed to Franz Kafka: "By believing passionately in something which still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired."


Disputed[edit]

There is only one woman in the world. One woman, with many faces.
  • There is only one woman in the world. One woman, with many faces.
    • This occurs in the film The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), based upon the novel by Kazantzakis, but has not been located in the novel itself.



Misattributed[edit]

  • In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can.

Quotes about Kazantzakis[edit]

Kazantzakis indicates that behind all appearances lies a struggling divine essence (the "Invisible") that is striving to merge with our hearts just as the mystic is striving to merge with God's. ~ Daniel Dombrowski
  • Like Teresa of Avila, Kazantzakis indicates that behind all appearances lies a struggling divine essence (the "Invisible") that is striving to merge with our hearts just as the mystic is striving to merge with God's. Nonetheless God's striving is on a cosmic scale such that there is something trivial involved when we push anthropocentric images too far in our description of God. Behind any religious face like Buddha's or Confucius's or Jesus' lies the awesome reality of the Tao of the Great Spirit or God — the Great Ecstatic. … We must tame some passions to unleash some others in Kazantzakis's religious eroticism. But no human passion is sufficient to put God under our thumbs. Kazantzakis defines "God" in Spain as "the Power that always gives us more than we are able to receive and always asks for more than we are able to give."
  • Kazantzakis is very clear about his belief in some "mystic law" at work in the world. … It must be admitted that Kazantzakis is at least tempted by nihilism and atheism. But … there are too many passages in his oeuvre where he makes it clear he does not want a merely human "god." Nor does he want a "god" who would be limited by our puny imagination. It is those who turn Kazantzakis's partial criticism (and partial appropriation) of traditional theism into an agnosticism or atheism who are unfaithful to Kazantzakis's texts. … neither a pantheistic nor a Buddhist/nihilist interpretation can stand up under the the weight of Kazantzakis's many writings about God.
    • Daniel A. Dombrowski, in Kazantzakis and God (1997), p. 88
  • I am suggesting that, for Kazantzakis, it is God who is "Immortal." What this means is that Kazantzakis is searching neither for heaven nor Nirvana nor ataraxia. Kazantzakis believes in matter, or better, in the transformation of matter into spirit and in the attachment of an embodied human being to spirit as if fastened by a nail. The (nonanthropocentric) "God" of Kazantzakis is a name given to a dark force at work in the world that in many ways is more like an agitated Yahweh or God the Father than like an anesthetic or passive receiver of human woes. In any event, Kazantzakis's theism is Buddhist if what you mean by Buddhism includes a consideration of the aforementioned Unborn or Undying, and it is in the Abrahamic tradition if what one means by Judaism, Christianity, or Islam is an an embracing of mysticism… Bien puts Kazantzakis's mysticism into focus when he says that human knowing (gnosis) — "You and I are one, Lord" — is necessarily followed by unknowing (agnosis) — "Even this one does not exist." The former element is reminiscent of the kataphatic tradition of Christian mysticism, otherwise known as the via positiva. But the latter element does not necessarily lead to nihilism, as some scholars allege, in that it is part of traditional apophatic theology or the via negativa. This negativity is not absolute, but rather indicative of the psychic renewal consistent with Buddhism and Christianity (including Greek Orthodoxy). It is a "rest in the life force's evolution toward ever-increasing value."
    • Daniel A. Dombrowski, in Kazantzakis and God (1997), p. 89

External links[edit]

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