Terrestrial Gospel of Nikos Kazantzakis: Will the Humans Be Saviors of the Earth?

Translated by Thanasis Maskaleris. Edited by Thanasis Maskaleris. 2011. Ithaca, NY: Zorba Press. ISBN: 978-0927379-97-7 (hard cover).

Reviewed by Maria Hnaraki, Drexel University

[Review length: 612 words • Review posted on January 9, 2013]

This book is mainly an anthology of passages centering on nature selected from various books written by Nikos Kazantzakis, compiled, translated and edited by Thanasis Maskaleris. Its goal is to raise environmental awareness and compassionately call us to ecological action.

A foreword by the famous writer’s adopted son Patroclos Stavrou and step-granddaughter Niki (Stavrou) is followed by three prefaces: firstly, by French environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau; secondly, by the Rector of the Technical University of Crete, Dr. Yannis Phillis; and thirdly, by Distinguished Professor of Greek Philosophy and Culture, Dr. John Anton. The translator’s/editor’s introduction comes next, followed by several earth quotations from noted literary figures and ecologists.

Fifty-two pages of passages about nature from a wide variety of Kazantzakis’ works comprise the main core of the book, along with a postscript by Kazantzakis scholar and Emeritus Professor Dr. Peter Bien titled “Kazantzakis & Saint Francis.” An essay titled “Kazantzakis, Crete, and Biodiversity” by ecologist Michael Charles Tobias continues the book’s “green” wanderings, along with a short collection of original, environmental poems referred to as a “Greek Earth-Mantra” by Thanasis Maskaleris. Lastly, the publisher of the book, Michael Pastore, concludes that section with an essay, “Nikos Kazantzakis and the Great Transformation.”

Of importance are the acknowledgments and notes on references that conclude the book, along with a list of works by Kazantzakis that have been translated into English as well as seventeen black-and-white photos of Greece and Crete. The book is available both as an ebook and paperback, and totals 162 pages.

Nikos Kazantzakis is the most famous modern Greek writer with whom non-Greeks are familiar. The popularity of his novel Zorba the Greek urged American and European intellectuals to discover what their repressed self was, offering Westerners a prototype of liberation. That sparked immediate interest in Kazantzakis’ work and resulted in a thorough studying and bringing forth of his political and religious ideas. (Characteristic works here are the novels Freedom or Death and The Last Temptation of Christ.)

Maskaleris, however, focuses on Kazantzakis’ ecological personality, aiming to underline how “throughout his life, Kazantzakis was an intellectual-spiritual, political, humanistic and terrestrial human being--an inspiring exemplar for today’s un-integrated humans, fragmented by the sweeping onslaught of technological invasions” (21). Kazantzakis viewed the people of his native island as being like the wild goat of Crete (pictured on the cover of the book) that manages to endure hardship and stand alone, high and proud on remote and abrupt hills.

In addition to the fact that this book contains new translations of Kazantzakis from Greek to English, it also familiarizes its readers with another aspect of the writer’s work, very relevant to the emerging field of ecocriticism: namely, the reflection on humanity’s relationship with nature as a topic for future studies of Kazantzakis as an ecocritic. Their poetic nature is not merely decorative but may serve as a cultural fertilizer, capable of formulating grounds and cultivating notions of home. By re-localizing and ecologizing nature, we could teach our audiences to be responsible to their homes and socially and ecologically aware of their land, with a vision that is simultaneously communal and global.

Through tough periods of crisis, not essentially financial but mostly ideological and definitely ecological as well, we need such alternative readings so as to understand what it means to live well. Maskaleris’ book is capable of raising both a sense of place and an ecological awareness along with a duty to one’s home. It carries environmental themes that can function as cultural vehicles, keeping alive a distinctive nature and culture, a “scent” of home, making us all pause for a minute and realize that, after all, we can be the saviors of our Mother Earth.

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© Journal of Folklore Research, 2010. Last revised June 21, 2010.