Nikos Kazantzakis is widely considered a giant of modern Greek literature.
He was born in Heraklion, Crete on the 18th February 1883.
From 1902 to 1906, Kazantzakis studied law at the University of Athens. He then continued his studies in Paris (1907-1909), where he was influenced by the philosophy of Henry Bergson, primarily the idea that a true understanding of the world comes from the combination of intuition, personal experience, and rational thought.
Kazantzakis, was as much more a philosopher (if not more so) than a writer and was influenced by the writings of Nietzsche and Bergson, and the philosophies of Christianity, Marxism and Buddhism.
His first published work was the 1906 narrative, Serpent and Lily (Όφις και Κρίνο), which he signed with the pen name Karma Nirvami.
From the 1910s through the 1930s, he traveled around Greece, much of Europe, northern Africa, and to several countries in Asia. These journeys put Kazantzakis in contact with different philosophies, ideologies, lifestyles, and people, all of which influenced him and his writings.
Kazantzakis began writing The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel in 1924, and completed it in 1938 after fourteen years of writing and revision. The poem follows the hero of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus, as he undertakes a final journey after the end of the original poem. Following the structure of Homer’s Odyssey, it is divided into 24 rhapsodies and consists of 33,333 lines. Kazantzakis felt this poem held his cumulative wisdom and experience.
He became famous, during the last years of his life- during that time he published, among others: Zorba the Greek (Vios kai politeia tou Alexi Zorba), The Last Temptation of Christ (O teleftaios peirasmos), Captain Michalis (O Kapetan Mihalis) and his autobiography Report to Greco (Anafora ston Greco). His book, The Last Temptation of Christ, was considered quite controversial when first published in 1955, and prompted angry reactions from both the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church.
Kazantzakis was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature on nine different occasions.
On the 28th of June 1956, in Vienna, he was awarded the International Peace Award.
He passed away the following year, 1957, from leukemia. He is buried on the wall surrounding the city of Heraklion near the Chania Gate, looking out over the mountains and sea of Crete. His epitaph reads “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” (Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λέφτερος.)
Heraklion International Airport in Crete is also named after Nikos Kazantzakis.
The 50th anniversary of his death was selected as main motif for a high-value euro collectors’ coin; the €10 Greek Nikos Kazantzakis commemorative coin, minted in 2007. His image is on the obverse of the coin, while the reverse carries the National Emblem of Greece with his signature.