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Burly Zorba and his egghead "boss" observed absurd religious superstitions of the villagers surrounding them. They laughed at the pretense of priests and the gullibility of believers. Zorba scoffed: "God makes them deaf or blind, and they say: 'God be praised.'"
"But we have no God to nourish us, Zorba," the employer observed.
And Zorba commented:
"Would God bother to sit over the earthworms and keep count of everything they do? And get angry and storm and fret himself silly because one went astray with the female earthworm next door or swallowed a mouthful of meat on Good Friday? Bah! Get away with you, all you soup-swilling priests! Bah!"
Yet they returned, again and again, to the enigma that haunted them:
"When a man dies, can he come to life again?" he asked abruptly.
"I don't think so, Zorba."
"Neither do I"."
Zorba urged his employer to pursue a buxom village widow who exuded sensuality.
"If you're looking for any other paradise than that, my poor fellow, there is none! Don't listen to what the priests tell you, there's no other!"
Zorba shrewdly perceived that his intellectual friend had little interest in succeeding as a lignite miner that his real dream was to create a haven for thinkers and scholars. When their mine failed, and they finally parted, the owner reassured him:
"Don't fret, Zorba, we shall meet again, and, who knows, man's strength is tremendous! One day we'll put our great plan into effect: we'll build a monastery of our own, without a god, without a devil, but with free men; and you shall be the gatekeeper, Zorba"."
Zorba the Greek was published in 1946, gaining great popularity, and became a successful movie two decades later with Anthony Quinn as the cunning hero. Neither the novel nor the film caused noticeable controversy.
But a later novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, printed in 1955, was a bombshell. Multitudes of Christians were outraged by its portrayal of Jesus as uncertain and self-doubting, distracted by his yearning for Mary Magdalene. The Vatican banned the book and the Greek Orthodox Church excommunicated Kazantzakis, a nominal member. Movie producers avoided the novel until 1988, when it finally was directed by Catholic-born Martin Scorsese, who cast no Jews in the film to avert bigoted hostility. Even with that precaution, it nonetheless provoked rage.
Kazantzakis received the International Peace Award in Vienna in 1956. He was nominated repeatedly for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and in 1957 he lost by a single vote to Albert Camus. Later that year, he died of leukemia in Germany.
Albert Schweitzer wrote: "Since I was a young boy, no author has made such a deep impression on me as Nikos Kazantzakis. His work has depth and durable value because he has experienced much and in the human community he has suffered and yielded much."
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