Nikos Kazantzakis, (born Feb. 18, 1883, Iraklion, Crete, Ottoman Empire [now in Greece]--died Oct. 26, 1957, Freiburg im Breisgau, W.Ger.), Greek writer whose prolific output and wide variety of work represent a major contribution to modern Greek literature.
Kazantzakis was born during the period of revolt of Crete against rule by the Ottoman Empire, and his family fled for a short time to the Greek island of Naxos. He studied law at the University of Athens (1902-06) and philosophy under Henri Bergson in Paris (1907-09). He then traveled widely in Spain, England, Russia, Egypt, Palestine, and Japan, settling before World War II on the island of Aegina. He served as a minister in the Greek government (1945) and worked for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris (1947-48). He then moved to Antibes, France.
Kazantzakis' works cover a vast range, including philosophic essays, travel books, tragedies, and translations into modern Greek of such classics as Dante's Divine Comedy and J.W. von Goethe's Faust. He produced lyric poetry and the epic Odissa (1938; Odyssey), a 33,333-line sequel to the Homeric epic that expresses the full range of Kazantzakis' philosophy.
Kazantzakis is perhaps best known for his widely translated novels. They include Vios kai politia tou Alexi Zormpa (1946; Zorba the Greek), a portrayal of a passionate lover of life and poor-man's philosopher; O Kapetan Mikhalis (1950; Freedom or Death), a depiction of Cretan Greeks' struggle against their Ottoman overlords in the 19th century; O Khristos Xanastavronetai (1954; The Greek Passion); and O televtaios pirasmos (1955; The Last Temptation of Christ), a revisionist psychological study of Jesus Christ. Published after his death was the autobiographical novel Anafora ston Greko (1961; Report to Greco). Motion pictures based on his works include Celui qui doit mourir (1958; "He Who Must Die," from The Greek Passion), Zorba the Greek (1964), and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).