Zorba the Greek

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Zorba the Greek [Βίος και Πολιτεία του Αλέξη Ζορμπά, literally meaning Life and Politics of Alexis Zorba] (1946) is a novel written by Nikos Kazantzakis. In it a young Greek intellectual , the narrator, is writing a manuscript about the Buddha. He meets Alexis Zorba who greatly influences his outlook on life. The novel was translated into English by Carl Wildman in 1952, and a film adaptation was made in 1964, directed by Michael Cacoyannis who also wrote its screenplay.

Chapter 2

  • 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
  • You turn the wheel and the mud whirls round, as if you were possessed while you stand over it and say "I'm going to make a jug, I'm going to make a plate, I'm going to make a lamp and the devil knows what more!" That's what you might call being a man: freedom!
  • What kind of a man are you? Don't you even like dolphins!?
  • The maimed don't get into Paradise.
  • A man's a savage beast when he's young...he eats sheep...and hens and pigs, but if he doesn't eat men his belly's not satisfied.

Chapter 3

  • 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.
  • Behind each woman rises the austere, sacred and mysterious face of Aphrodite. That was the face Zorba was seeing and talking to, and desiring. Dame Hortense was only an ephemeral and transparent mask which Zorba tore away to kiss the eternal mouth.

Chapter 4

  • Man is a brute [...] It seems everything's been too easy for you, but you ask me! A brute, I tell you! If you're cruel to him, he respects and fears you. If you're kind to him, he plucks your eyes out.
  • Keep your distance, boss! Don't make men too bold, don't go telling them we're all equal, we've got the same rights, or they'll go straight and trample on your rights; they'll steal your bread and leave you to die of hunger.

Chapter 6

  • 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.
  • Tell me what you do with the food you eat, and I'll tell you what you are. Some turn their food into fat and manure, some into work and good humor, and others, I'm told, into God.
  • Is it possible to talk by dancing? And yet I dare swear that's how the gods and devils must talk to one another.
  • In more primitive and creative ages, Zorba would have been the chief of a tribe. He would have gone before, opening up the path with a hatchet. Or else he would have been a renowned troubadour visiting castles, and everybody would have hung on his words — lords and ladies and servants ... In our ungrateful age, Zorba wanders hungrily round the enclosures like a wolf, or else sinks into becoming some pen-pusher's buffoon.
  • It's beyond me. Everything seems to have a soul — wood, stones, the wine we drink and the earth we tread on. Everything, boss, absolutely everything!

Chapter 7

  • How simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else. And all that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart.
  • You must have seen those sails with red, yellow, and black patches, sewn with thick twine, which never tear even in the roughest storms. Well, that's what my heart's like. Umpteen holes, and umpteen patches: it need fear nothing more!
  • Woman's something incomprehensible, and all the laws of state and religion have got her all wrong.

Chapter 8

  • Every village has its simpleton, and if one does not exist they invent one to pass the time.
  • You must sometimes rejoice that the dark forces of destruction are so numerous and invincible: for thus your aim to live almost without hope becomes more heroic and your soul acquires a more tragic greatness.

Chapter 11

  • It is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.

Chapter 12

  • 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.
  • Action, dear inactive master, action: there is no other salvation.

Chapter 13

  • I have realized for some time I didn't come into this world to be a horse, or an ox. Only animals live to eat.
  • Death is nothing — just pff! and the candle is snuffed out. But old age is a disgrace.

Chapter 16

  • The day's for working [...] Daytime is a man. The night-time's for enjoying yourself. Night is a woman. You mustn't mix them up!
  • We travel, crossing whole countries and seas and yet we've never pushed our noses past the doorstep of our home.
  • You have seen what happens when you hold a glass out to the sun and concentrate all the rays onto one spot [...] ? That spot soon catches fire, doesn't it? Why? Because the sun's power has not been dispersed but concentrated on that one spot. It is the same with men's minds. You do miracles, if you concentrate your mind on one thing and only one.

Chapter 21

  • As I watched the seagulls, I thought: "That's the road to take; find the absolute rhythm and follow it with absolute trust."

Chapter 23

  • What a strange machine man is! You fill him with bread, wine, fish, radishes, and out of him come sighs, laughter and dreams. Like a factory. I'm sure there's a sort of talking-film cinema in our heads.
  • "What's strange in that, you idiot? The truth is that man is full of worms from the day he's born, but you can't see them."

Chapter 24

  • "Well all those damned books you read — what good are they? Why do you read them? If they don't tell you [why we die], what do they tell you?"
  • 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!

Chapter 25

  • Sometimes the earth becomes transparent and we see our ultimate ruler, the grub, working night and day in his underground workshops. But we quickly turn our eyes away, because men can endure everything except the sight of that small white maggot.
  • Happiness is doing your duty, and the harder the duty is the greater the happiness.

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Chapter citations should be provided for these.
  • Wife; children; house; everything. The full catastrophe.
  • Live life and enjoy it!
  • Boss, everything's simple in the world. How many times must I tell you? So don't go and complicate things!
  • I'm sorting out my own brand of folly here in Candia.
  • You want to build a monastery. That's it! Instead of monks you'd stick a few quill drivers like your honored self inside and they'd pass the time scribbling day and night. [...] Well, I'm going to ask you a favor, holy abbot: I want you to appoint me doorkeeper to your monastery so that I can do some smuggling and, now and then, let some very strange things through into the holy precincts: women, mandolins, demijohns of raki, roast sucking pigs ... All so that you don't fritter away your life with a lot of nonsense!
  • It's all because of doing things by halves, saying things by halves, that the world is in the mess is in today. Do things properly by God! One good knock for each nail and you'll win through! God hates a halfdevil ten times more than an archdevil!
  • "Alexis," he said, "I'm going to tell you a secret. You're too small to understand now, but you'll understand when you are bigger. Listen, little one: neither the seven stories of heaven nor the seven stories of the earth are enough to contain God; but a man's heart can contain him. So be very careful, Alexis — and may my blessing go with you — never to wound a man's heart!
  • What d'you lack? You're young, you have money, health, you're a good fellow, you lack nothing. Nothing, by thunder! Except just one thing — folly! And when that's missing, boss, well ...
  • “What’s your favorite dish, granddad?”
“Everything, everything, my son. It’s a great sin to say that this food is good, that food not good.”
“Why? Can’t we choose?”
“No, we really cannot.”
“Because there are people who are hungry.”
  • "Perhaps I'll stay here with you ..." I said, appalled by Zorba's desperate affection for me. "Perhaps I shall come away with you. I'm free."
    Zorba shook his head.
    "No, you're not free," he said. "The string you're tied to is perhaps no longer than other people's. That's all. You're on a long piece of string, boss; you come and go, and think you're free, but you never cut the string in two. And when people don't cut that string ...
    "I'll cut it some day!" I said defiantly, because Zorba's words had touched an open wound in me and hurt.
    "It's difficult, boss, very difficult. You need a touch of folly to do that; folly, d'you see? You have to risk everything! But you've got such a strong head, it'll always get the better of you. A man's head is like a grocer; it keeps accounts: I've paid so much and earned so much and that means a profit of this much or a loss of that much! The head's a careful little shopkeeper; it never risks all it has, always keeps something in reserve. It never breaks the. string. Ah no! It hangs on tight to it, the bastard! If the string slips out of its grasp, the head, poor devil, is lost, finished! But if a man doesn't break the string, tell me, what flavor is left in life? The flavor of camomile, weak camomile tea! Nothing like rum—that makes you see life inside out!"
  • One day in Berlin came a telegram: FOUND A WONDERFUL GREEN STONE. COME IMMEDIATELY, ZORBA.

Quotes about Zorba the Greek

  • Zorba the Greek resists easy definition. Like the Odyssey and Don Quixote, it is nearly plotless but never pointless. Like the heroes of those fictional sagas, its hero, Alexis Zorba, casts a larger shadow on the world than the world does on him. … Who is Zorba? He is Everyman with a Greek accent. He is Sinbad crossed with Sancho Panza. He is the Shavian Life Force poured into a long, lean, fierce-mustached Greek whose 65 years in the Mediterranean sun have neither dimmed his hawk eyes nor dulled his pagan laughter. … Zorba is a great unbeliever in everything but the abundant life. Pockmarked with bullet scars, he has no faith in war. Full of reverent awe before the universe, he cannot stomach organized religion or priests ("[They] even fleece their fleas"). Child of instinct, Zorba defines the hours as if he had created them. "Daytime is a man," he explains, "night is a woman."
    On many a night Zorba heads for the home of Bouboulina, a blowzy, scow-bottomed "old siren," once the darling of admirals and of fleets. When his boss refuses to make love to a young, appetizing widow, Zorba warns him: "Every man has his folly, but the greatest folly of all ... is not to have one." The boss takes Zorba's advice to heart and the young widow to bed. Meanwhile, Zorba never misses a chance to ask such puzzlers as: What is a woman? Who made the stars? Why do men die? The boss's widow is murdered by puritanical peasants, Bouboulina dies, the lignite mine fails — and all these calamities lead to the heart of Zorba's message: live as if one were to die the next minute.
    Zorba is too full of juice to die onstage. Author Kazantzakis tries to kill him off in a letter. His last words: "I've done heaps and heaps of things in my life, but I still did not do enough . . . Good night!" But Author Kazantzakis reckons without his own talent. He has created Zorba, but he cannot kill him.
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