Arguably the most important and most translated Greek writer and philosopher of the 20th century. Yet he did not become well known globally until the 1964 release of the Michael Cacoyannis film Zorba the Greek, based on Kazantzakis' novel whose English translation has the same title.
He was born in Crete, In 1902, Kazantzakis began the study of law at the University of Athens, then went to Paris in 1907 to study philosophy, where he studied under Henri Bergson.
Upon his return to Greece, he began translating works of philosophy. In 1914, he met Angelos Sikelianos. Together they travelled for two years in places where Greek Christian culture flourished, largely influenced by the enthusiastic nationalism of Sikelianos.
Late in 1957, even though suffering from leukemia, he set out on one last trip to China and Japan. Falling ill on his return flight, he was transferred to Freiburg, Germany, where he died. He is buried on the wall surrounding the city of Heraklion, because the Orthodox Church ruled out his being buried in a cemetery. His epitaph reads "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free." (Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λεύτερος.)
Since his youth, Kazantzakis was spiritually restless. Tortured by metaphysical and existential concerns, he sought relief in knowledge, in travelling, in contact with a diverse set of people, in every kind of experience. The influence of Friedrich Nietzsche on his work is evident, especially in his atheism and sympathy for the superman (Übermensch) concept. However, religious concerns also haunted him. To attain a union with God, Kazantzakis entered a monastery for a brief stay of six months.
Many Greek religious conservatives condemned Kazantzakis' work.His interesting reply was: "You gave me a curse, Holy fathers, I give you a blessing: may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as I" before the Greek Orthodox church excommunicated him in 1955. (Greek: "Μου δώσατε μια κατάρα, Άγιοι πατέρες, σας δίνω κι εγώ μια ευχή: Σας εύχομαι να ‘ναι η συνείδηση σας τόσο καθαρή, όσο είναι η δική μου και να ‘στε τόσο ηθικοί και θρήσκοι όσο είμαι εγώ").
"I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free." - N.K.