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Zorba the Greek



Wisdom and knowledge are entirely different things. In fact, they need not have much in common. Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, Zorba the Greek, is a kind of trailblazer for those who seek wisdom.

Zorba is a 65-year-old man whose heart is still in the twenties. He refuses to grow old by celebrating life to its fullest. Old age is scary, he says. “Death is nothing,” he says – “just pff! and the candle is snuffed out. But old age is disgrace.”

The narrator of the novel is a 35-year-old man who loves books and knowledge. Right now he is on a different quest, on an adventure undertaken in order to escape that bookworm tag which his friends have attached to him. He encounters Zorba on the way and takes him on as a staff. A friend, rather. Zorba is a kind of Buddha, quite a different kind though.

Life is a celebration for Zorba. He is always happy, come what may. What is his secret? “My joys here are great,” he says, “because they are very simple and spring from the everlasting elements: the pure air, the sun, the sea and the wheaten loaf.” Of course, those may not be enough for happiness. “This is true happiness,” he says elsewhere, “to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition. To live far from men, not to need them and yet to love them.”

People are not a source of happiness. Love is. Love is an attitude of openness and acceptance to the whole cosmos. But you should learn to keep people at a safe distance. They are stupid and wicked. Let them be, that is Zorba’s advice. Don’t even dare to open their eyes. “Suppose you did, what’d they see? Their misery! Leave their eyes closed, boss, and let them go on dreaming!”

Even their gods let them do that. “God makes them deaf or blind, and they say: ‘God be praised.’ They feel at home in their misery.” In the “chequered, incoherent, indifferent, perverse (and) pitiless” affair called life, illusions and delusions have their roles to play. Zorba has a brother, he says, who is a sensible person who goes to church regularly and lends money at cutthroat rates for a job. He is a hypocrite, but “a real pillar of society”. Most people are like that brother: hypocrites and real pillars of society. Let them be.

Let their religion be too. It won’t make sense to people like Zorba and probably the narrator too. Religion teaches them wrong things like opposition between the spirit and the flesh. Zorba gives the example of Father Lavrentio, a monk whom he met on Mount Athos. This monk believed that there was a devil inside him and he gave him the name Hodja. “Hodja wants to eat meat on Good Friday!” The monk would lament. “Hodja wants to sleep with a woman. Hodja wants to kill the Abbot. It’s Hodja, Hodja, it isn’t me!” Having narrated the story of Father Lavrentio, Zorba says, “I’ve a kind of devil inside me too, boss, and I call him Zorba!”

Accepting the good and the bad, the spirit and the flesh, is necessary if you want to be happy, if you want enlightenment. You are not your flesh, you are not your spirit, you are both of them. Zorba goes to the extent of saying: “God and the devil are one and the same thing?” It all depends on you, on your perception. Zeus, says Zorba, loved women. Whenever he saw a woman in distress because she wanted a man, Zeus came down to her in whatever form the woman had imagined her man and made love to her. And there were too many women in distress. Zeus overworked himself. Finally the women emptied him. He started vomiting, became paralysed and died. That’s when his heir, Christ, arrived. He understood the misery and said, “Beware of women!” And women who were good for Zeus became evil for Christ.

“God be praised!” That’s all what the people know to say, be it God Zeus or God Christ. If you want real wisdom, you’d as well make a heap of all your books and set fire to them. All your knowledge won’t help, Zorba tells the narrator. “You understand, and that’s why you’ll never have any peace. If you didn’t understand, you’d be happy!” Life is a mystery that has to be lived, be experienced, not be understood. One of the biggest ironies of life is that “All those who actually live the mysteries of life haven’t the time to write (about them), and all those who have the time don’t live them!” The highest point you can reach in life is not knowledge, virtue, goodness… but “Sacred Awe”.

Zorba is a personification of that Awe. The novel shows how.

PS. This is the last part of the BlogchatterA2Z series for which I have been writing in the whole of April. The other parts are listed below. I take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Blogchatter Team that went out of its way to make this challenge an interesting and engaging one.  My heart goes out in gratitude to my fellow bloggers who helped me make this Challenge a celebration.

The previous posts in this series can be accessed below:
14. No Exit
17Quixote
18. The Rebel

24. X, Malcolm      




Comments

  1. Zorba looks like an interesting character. Truly said- Those who have lived life didn't get a chance to write about it and those who wrote , probably didn't get to live it. Thanks for many wonderful suggestions through this series. I am definitely going to get hold of at least two of them, Harari for sure. Looking forward to more words from your side.

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    1. Keep in touch, Navita, though the Challenge is over. Writing is never over.

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  2. 'Sacred awe' has a beautiful ring to it. Love the idea of experiencing and living life rather than trying to understand it. Thank you so much your recommendations! My TBR list has become quite long and I'm looking forward to a rich reading experience. :D

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    1. My pleasure, Dashy. I'm sure you will love most of my recommendations.

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  3. Zorba is an interesting character who believes in the here and now and has found heaven here on earth.
    It was an interesting journey this year where through your posts I could refresh my memories about great books and added a few to my TBR list. Thanks for being a co traveler in this series. Wishing you all the best. May the journey never end.

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad i could add a couple of books to your list. It was a thrill to be with your rural journeys.

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  4. An interesting character and an intriguing read. Greek has always been alluring. Thank you so much for taking us through a variety of books and their synopsis in your posts. It has been a pleasure knowing your writing through this challenge. With my TBR list on the rise, I so look forward to enriching my reading experience inspired by your posts. Best wishes!

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    1. It was nice to meet people like you. We shall go ahead with the new friendships.

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  5. Congratulations on successfully completing the A to Z Challenge!
    An interesting choice to end the challenge with.
    www.nooranandchawla.com

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    1. Congrats to you too. Yes, Zorba is an apt conclusion.

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  6. The review struck every right chord with me. I must lay my hands on the book. Thanks Matheikal for that.
    Heartiest congratulations on successful completion of the A to Z challenge while giving us glimpses of great works of written word in the journey of 30 days!

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    1. Glad you were here with me. And the journey isn't ending, of course.

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  7. This one also seems to be a very interesting read... Thanks for such a nice compilation and review of such interesting reads... I can actually check on this list each time I finish one book on my kindle :)!And especially in this lock down this is like the greatest gifts to each one of the readers :)

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    1. I'm glad that many people found my suggestions helpful.

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  8. Wisdom and knowledge aren't the same things. On another note one can be acquired through books, the other not even with age. They say it comes with experience. I don't know.
    Zorba looks my kind of book. Thank you sir. Your series made me realize that despite the fact that I am an avid reader I haven't read so many jewels. Such a vast sea it is!
    Congratulations sir!

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    1. I know your love for books, Sonia. It was a delight going through your history in verses during the A2Z days. I'm going to be a regular visitor at your blog. And congrats to you too.

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  9. Zorba is definitely an interesting character. Sacred Awe is the highest point we can reach.Food for thought there!

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    1. Those who reach that sacred awe are the really religious or spiritual people. The rest are traders of gods.

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