Nerding Out in Crete: My Kazantzakis Pilgrimage

Since first reading Zorba the Greek for a course during my senior year of college, Nikos Kazantzakis has become very dear to me, representing all at once my primary research interest, the instigator of much of my epistemological curiosity, and the crazy Greek pseudo-grandfather I never met.

He was, as many of you know, the subject of my undergraduate thesis, and the source of my first inklings of curiosity about Greece. Though many of my classmates couldn’t fathom why, Kazantzakis somehow really resonated with me. His writing is old-fashioned, incorrigibly sexist (the man even had a thoroughly thought-out, biologically-based reason for thinking that women were inferior to men), and far beyond quirky. In fact, at this point, I’d even call it batty in places. Yet his work also showcases a wealth of magnificent truths about Greece, human life, and perhaps even the universe.

It’s been almost two years since I turned in my thesis, and this week, I finally visited his homeland: Crete. He lived all over the world at various points in his life, but was born in Irakleio, and several of his novels are set in Crete and proudly flaunt the Cretan spirit. On the Friday before Palm Sunday, I visited the Kazantzakis exhibit at the Historical Museum of Crete, and then spent two full hours finishing his Spiritual Exercises on the hilltop where he is buried.

The following are photos from my blissful day of nerdery and some of my favorite quotations from Spiritual Exercises (as translated by Kimon Friar), which acts as a manifesto for his personal philosophy.

Disclaimer: The quotations go pretty deep, but if you haven’t read any Kazantzakis before, please don’t be intimidated! Start with Zorba!

Playing with the touchscreen Kazantzakis database at the Historical Museum of Crete, while the film version of "Zorba" is projected on the wall!

 “We are a humble letter, a single syllable, one word out of a gigantic Odyssey. We are immersed in an enormous song and we shine like humble pebbles as long as they remain immersed in the sea.”

Drooling over some of his original manuscripts at the exhibit. (Good thing they have a glass case.)

 “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.”

A fully reconstructed replica of his study. This is only half of it, and therefore only half his books.

“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.”

From the looks of his belt, he must have been relatively small.

 “I am a weak, ephemeral creature made of mud and dream.”

Editions of his works, translated into numerous languages.

 “Beyond! Beyond! Beyond! Beyond man I seek the invisible whip which strikes him and drives him into the struggle.”

Taken on the walk up to his tomb. Sounds like every day of the semester I spent writing my thesis!

 “A power greater than you passes through you, smashing your body and mind, shouting: ‘Gamble the present and all things certain, gamble them for the future and all things uncertain!… Hold nothing in reserve. I love danger! We may be lost, we may be saved. Do not ask. Place the whole world in the hands of danger every single moment…’”

I have been waiting for two years to see this.

 “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!”

Hands down the most awesomely nerdy experience of my life thus far.

 “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.”

His famous epitaph: "I hope for nothing; I fear nothing; I am free."

“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. This is what I want. I want nothing more. I have been seeking freedom.”

With love from your friendly neighborhood lit nerd,



About wrap me in phyllo dough

travel addict. greece-obsessed. grad student. bottomless pit.
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3 Responses to Nerding Out in Crete: My Kazantzakis Pilgrimage

  1. supesukauboi says:

    Okay, now I definitely need to read this guy’s stuff. It sounds wonderfully challenging.

    I’ve just caught up on all your adventures since February, and all I can say is, you are downright amazing!

    • k8peterson says:

      JAAAAAAAMES!!!! So nice to hear from you! And I agree; I think you would love Kazantzakis, especially with your connections to Christianity (his views are pretty unorthodox, but worth a read!). Miss you much! I may be coming out to the West Coast this summer; will keep you posted. Hugs!!

  2. Pingback: The Wrap Me in Phyllo Dough 100th Post Spectacular! | wrap me in phyllo dough

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