Born in 1883 in Heraklion, Crete, Nikos Kazantzakis was in Paris before World War I, where he immediately came into contact, in 1908, with the philosophy of Henri Bergson, which he would make sure to introduce a little later, with his writings and lectures, in Greece. Around the same years, he will present his first plays, with their Ibsenian influence evident.

In 1910, Kazantzakis participates in the founding of the Educational Group of Alexandros Delmouzos and Dimitris Glinos and embraces their fight for the spread and establishment of the vernacular language, while here another starting point can be distinguished. The starting point of a frantic intellectual journey, which in the years to come will incorporate the most heterogeneous materials: from nationalism, fascism and Nietzscheism to an iconoclastic communism, which will fearlessly mix Christ, Buddha and Lenin, unhesitatingly spreading its gaze and to the prophetically inspired poetic speech of Angelos Sikelianos – a poetic speech which he will hasten to graft with the momentum of the fresh forces of a proletariat wedged in the heart of the Greek tradition and its super-historical values.

Through such an idiosyncratic gathering, the treatise “Asceticism” (1927), which has just been released by Dioptra publications, will emerge as part of the re-publishing program of Kazantzakis’ works, which began to be implemented at the end of the previous year. The prologue and epimeter belong to Dimitris Kokoris, who has studied the Kazantzakis work repeatedly and for a long time, while the introduction is a translation of a 1960 text by Kimon Friar, Kazantzakis’ translator, as well as a number of Greek language workers , in English.

With “Asceticism”, which has been read by many generations of readers and has not ceased to arouse the interest of the reading public to this day, Kazantzakis will go through his playwriting and Thomas Carlyle-style hero worship (with assimilated marginal forms of the heroes of Knut Hamsun and Panait Istrati) in the superhuman universe of Friedrich Nietzsche, in the universe of an orgiastically earthly deity, who appears in the guise of a ferocious worker, ready to seize life by the head and suck it up with abysmal audacity and impudence to the core. The exuberance of this divine materialism is likely to be found in an underground layer with the Greek and European neo-romanticism of the first decades of the 20th century, which in “Asceticism” is reflected as a complete lack of faith, but also as a brave contemplation of death, in a explosive combination of asceticism and passion or collective exaltation and solitary wandering.

Kazantzakis does not believe in the good divine decree of Christianity, although Christ returns regularly both in his pre-war and post-war books (his beatitudes stand out in “Asceticism”), because God is in the midst of the world’s chaos (he is not afraid of disorder , its dissolution, decay and fall), deriving from it its power. Furthermore, God is not a substance, but a pervasive animal energy and ecstasy (here we surely recognize Bergson), whom man is called to save along with himself (the first title of the Asceticism, which in the revised edition of 1945 became a subtitle, it was “Salvatores Dei” – “Saviors of God”). Of course, the path Kazantzakis wants to carve for man is an uphill one (it is no coincidence that his anecdotal novel, published in 2022 by Dioptra, was titled “The Uphill”).

The uphill journey, the feeling of an epic loneliness, but also the post-communist ideas of “Asceticism” caused the message of its time: from the priesthood, which directly criticized what it advocates for God, to Kostas Varnalis, who spoke of reactionary work . Even if Kazantzakis played the role of the poet-prophet of Sikelianos and Palamas, even if he stubbornly denied the materialistic values ​​of the Soviet Union at the time, even if he declared in every direction that the highest human goal remains the challenge to transmute flesh into spirit.

As D. Kokoris observes in his review of “Asceticism”, the Kazantzakis text is part of the tradition of apocalyptic and visionary texts, starting from the New Testament and the “Apocalypse” of John and reaching up to the “Woman of Zakythos” of Dionysios Solomos. Texts that are read nowadays in the context of the conversation of literature and philosophy, covering a range of topics dominated by stray nihilism, everyday metaphysics and modern oligotheism, combined with the renewed need for the search for God or the communitarians (see in our case post-communist) values. And all this while “Asceticism” is ultimately neither a philosophy nor an essayistic approach, deriving its visionary thought from poetry and gradually transforming its lonely hero, who is none other than the authorial ego of Kazantzakis, into a fictional one. protagonist of a huge mental and intellectual adventure. An adventure that walks between the paeans of the advance and the generosity of the crash.

The path to the pursuit of the high is paved for good. Along with the utopia of a state of Christ and Marx, which proclaims as its inviolable ideals the relief of the tortured, but also the ability of male beauty to constantly fly forward (in a universe within which God seems half-dead) , the mind of Kazantzakis gives birth, in the following years, to the vision of perfect art: poetry, if we talk exclusively about it, will be poetry only when it reconstitutes into an indivisible one all its contrasts and contradictions or antinomies, acting as a guiding myth not only for art, but for human existence as a whole. The time has now come for Kazantzakis to publish The Odyssey (1938), a work of 33,333 verses, on the subject of Odysseus’ long journey in antiquity, from Greece and Africa to the Equator and the South Pole. That, however, is another story.