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The Renovated Kazantzakis Museum or Odyssey of Spirit

06 July 2010 / 13:07:31  GRReporter
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In “Report to El Greco” Kazantzakis wrote that his father’s extended family originated from a village on the island of Crete, which is called Barbarians. One of the etymological interpretations of this strange toponym, which is located 18 km away from Heraklion, is associated with mercenaries, perhaps varyazi - used by Emperor Nicephorus Phocas in the 10 century to repel the invasions of Arabs and reclaim the temporary conquered Crete. Later it was renamed in the more euphonious and Greek Myrtia. The museum of the world famous writer Nikos Kazantzakis that existed here since 1983 was completely renovated, presenting the exhibits with a completely new concept. Its inspirer and designer - the writer and artist Dimitris Kalokiris - stresses that its focus is more on the global dimension of Kazantzakis, on symbolic odyssey and wandering to spiritual areas, rather than the image of a Crete young man, devoted to his native land.
”Travels and dreams” writes Nikos Kazantzakis, “were the greatest benefactors in my life.” The visitor is greeted by a video wall showing rough sea expanse - the element of the character of Ithaca - as embodiment of that passion and philosophy of the Odyssey. Тravelling acquires another dimension nowadays - that of immigration and refugees. In 1919 Kazantzakis himself was charged by the government of Venizelos Elefeterios a mission for the repatriation of 150,000 Pontian Greeks from Caucasus from the flames of the October Revolution of Russia in which the writer must overcome many difficulties.  
The two floors of the museum contain the writer’s personal belongings, manuscripts, correspondence with his brothers in pen, portraits of thinkers and writers that had influence on him - Bergson, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Dostoevsky, Buddha, Lenin, Francis Asizki, M. Meterlink, personal acquaintances as the Fire Circle of revolutionary-minded Russian-Polish Jewish women, with whom he met during his studies, memorabilii, the first editions of his books translated into dozens of languages cross-referenced with footage of their adaptation, old passports of the writer and his second wife Eleni Samiu studded with stamps from around the world, etc. Kalokiris arranged several opened suitcases that pour the contents of the travels of Kazantzakis. Visitors will be intrigued by all the drawers, windows and hiding places in the exhibition, where surprises await them. Opening one of them you see unreleased manuscripts of Kazantzakis, in others old photographs in sepia color are looking at you.  

By the end of his life Kazantzakis frequently travels abroad as a reporter for the Kathimerini  newspaper, gets to know new lands, moral and philosophical teachings. In 1952 he was proposed for the Nobel Prize that he was not awarded - it was awarded to Albert Camus - a difference of only one vote due to lack of support from the Greek literary and academic circles. He continues to travel in Greece and abroad, while death does not overtake him in 1957 after returning from a trip to China. In the novel “Alexis Zorbas” (1946) the Cretan writer launches seven well-composed and well-known works which bring him wide renown. His most important novels “Christ Recrucified”, “The Fratricides”, “Captain Michalis”, “The Last Temptation”, “Report to Greco”, “God’s Pauper” were published between 1946-1957, ie during the last decade of his life. They caused intensive translation work, resulting in the translation of most of his novels (and many others of his works) into most common European languages in the first ten years after his death. His novels have been translated into over thirty languages. Thanks to translations his work is widely read and Kazantzakis won praise from prominent brothers in pen as A. Schweitzer, Thomas Mann and Albert Camus, who adopted him as one of the greatest European writers.  
Roussos Kipriotakis, the mayor of the N. Kazantzakis Municipality that was created within the Capodistrias Plan for Local Government Reform, emphasized that its residents are not afraid of the difficult situation in the country now as they have a powerful spiritual weapon - the covenant of their most famous countryman. The museum sends a powerful message even in times of crisis and devaluation of ideals. The famous scientist-physicist George Gramatikakis with two rectorial seats in the University of Crete, a researcher at the Dimokritos Institute and in the French academic center CERN, is currently the Chairman of the Managing Board of the Kazantzakis Museum.   
The author of the poetic book of astrological and physical phenomena “Hair of Verenika -  CV of Light” (University Press of Crete, 1999), turned into a song by Thanassis Papakonstantinou, filmed as a documentary series broadcasted with great success by the Greek television, something very strange for a scientific - and astronomical – treatise, shared his excitement that his dream for the nationwide opening of the renovated museum comes true today. And it was all with the approval and support of the official institutions. Regardless of all sorts of reservations about his work, explained Gramatikakis, Kazantzakis is a great writer and now he gets museum space corresponding to his spiritual growth. He expressed confidence that Greece will overcome the numerous and treacherous reefs, that its spiritual horizons are never exhausted and always offer a new vision to the world, citing the Nobel Prize winning South African writer Nadine Gordimar who in a recent interview on the crisis in Greece said: “I think Kazantzakis would help you overcome the problems you face today.”
Without state support Cretans create this first of its kind private personal museum of one writer, since high-class authors like K. Varnalis, K. Palamas, J. Seferis, O. Elitis, A. Sikelianos and others still remain homeless. The goddaughter of N. Kazantzakis - the poet Katerina Angelaki-Rooke who inherited the best qualities of his godfather - quoted the correspondence of the great Cretan writer with her father - his lawyer and personal friend: “I will hand the pen to your daughter and will step aside to let her go.” 
After the success of the Michalis Kakoyanis’s film “Zorba the Greek”, their contribution for the international popularity of the writer had the adaptations of two of his novel “The One Who Must Die (after the novel “Christ Recrucified”) by Jules Dasen (1957) and “The Last Temptation” by Martin Scorsese (1988). Fifty three years after the death of the great Cretan his works continue to be translated into more and more languages - from Finnish to Georgian, from Afrikaans to Chinese and Vietnamese, and his old translations are reprinted proving the lasting impact of the thought of this unique Greek writer worldwide.
In 1907-1908 Kazantzakis studied law in Paris, where he listened to the lectures of Henri Bergson and wrote a dissertation on Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy of law and state. The young Kazantzakis was equated with the German philosopher and in the dissertation outlined political and moral elements of his views: his relentless criticism of the Christian religion to the democratic, socialist, anarchist, feminist theories, ie to all systems, movements and schools, proclaiming the political and social equality. With this work the beginning philosopher of law and a future writer (now with a book – “Snake and the Lily”) has the ambition to become Assistant at the Law Faculty of Athens University. He does not ever hold this academic position in practice, but his systematic interest in this subject largely determines his later searches. Hereinafter fundamental postulates of the philosophy of Nietzsche like death of gods, will of power and superman would represent constants in his work.  
Maybe Kazantzakis himself never dreamed that his novel “God’s Pauper” - romanized biography of Saint Francis Asizki - one day will be published by the Franciscan monastery in Lithuania after another of his novels – “The Last Temptation” was included in the list of banned books from the Vatican. The list of banned books from the Vatican was made in 1559 and it was repealed only in 1966. Apparently Kazantzakis has won an appeal before the divine court after entering in the list with “The Last Temptation”. Then he addressed the Catholic censors with the words of Tertullian - one of the early Christian Fathers of the Latin Church: “Before your court, Lord, I am appealing.” (Ad tuum, Domine, tribunal apello.) “You made a curse and I extend a wish - let your conscience be as clear as mine.” Even he is not anathematized as the myth says, the Greek Orthodox Church refused Christian burial to Kazantzakis and only one turbulent Cretan priest named Michalis agreed to lead a funeral service for the remains in Heraklion.
In his works “Odyssey”, “Zorbas”, “Christ Recrucified”, “The Last Temptation” the writer examines a fundamental problem of our time: how does one cope with the failure and feelings of doom, how to live your life “as if it is immortal in a modern Darwin world, how to give a eternal sense of a life that is devoid of any real eternal dimension.” At first glance, the spiritual mentors of Kazantzakis seem controversial and colorful conglomerate. How is it possible to jump from Christ to Buddha, from Buddha to Zorbas and then to Lenin? Kazantzakis believed in the constant volatility of life and agreed that the most important is the movement, that everything is imbued with it. Principally, he identified with Heraclitus and his maxim “twice in the same river you can not come”, ie everything flows, and everything changes. Penetrating the mind of Kazantzakis leads to understanding that the contradiction is only on the superficial level. His justified philosophy lies under this apparent antinomiya. Kazantzakis is convinced that the West is in decline after the horrors of the World War. Then Lenin, who made a revolution, overwhelming the old and possessed of ideals laid the foundations of something new became his hero. Later he changed his mind. Daryl Middleton of the Texas Christian University, who examined the “Religion in Kazantzakis”, believes that since the time of his “Asketika” this controversial thinker was a pioneer of the so-called “process theology”, according to which  since everything is evolving and changes, then God  undergoes changes too. Some Protestant theologians actually support this thesis. Kazantzakis is one of the first to say something similar about Christ: that he was born as an earthly man and it was difficult for him to realize that there is a mission and he should be crucified in its name. This understanding naturally assumes that as part of the world its creator God is influenced by the events occurring in life. “If you want to understand me,” says the writer himself, “read my “Asketika.” It is not philosophical, but religious work, a handbook on spiritual exercises.
It is difficult to predict if a writer will continue to be read in future as the interest even to literary works and authors of compelling features is determined by the changing needs of each era. So far much of the pleasure that Kazantzakis offers to the European public is linked to his “exotic”. He looks so non-European and simultaneously considers issues dealing with the concerns of postwar Europe. In the USA, where they have not known the horror and devastation of the World War II just like the Europeans, the perception is different. The famous American Hellenist, Professor of Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College Peter Bean assess the actuality of his work today as follows: “The heroes of Kazantzakis continue to teach us many lessons: Zorbas about the futility of war and nationalism, Jesus in “The Last Temptation” about how the spiritual life and all other things are subject to development, the “Odyssey” about the likelihood of transition from the aesthetic to the moral life, “Asketika” for the need of silence to reign from time to time that will burst like a bomb and blows up all the immediately preceding it meaningless profoundness.”

Tags: Nikos KazandzakisMuseumCreteLiterature
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