Nikos Kazantzakis – Zorba the Greek

“Zorba had got so far beyond contemporary events that they had already ceased to be anything but out of date rubbish.  Certainly, to him telegraphy, steamships and engines, current morality and religion must have appeared like rusty old rifles.  His mind progressed much faster than the world.”

“As far as I can see, your lordship’s never been hungry, never killed, never stolen, never committed adultery.  What ever can you know of the world?  You’ve got an innocent’s brain and your skin’s never even felt the sun,” he muttered with obvious scorn.

“Calmly, fondly, he was letting himself drift on a shady current as thick as honey.  The whole universe of earth, water, thoughts and men was slowly drifting towards a distant sea, and Zorba was drifting away with it, unresistingly, unquestioningly and happy.”

“We  stayed silent by the brazier until far into the night.  I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness:  a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea.  Nothing else.  And all that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart.”

“Life is trouble,” Zorba continued.  “Death, no. To live – do you know what that means?  To undo your belt and look for trouble!”  I still said nothing. I knew Zorba was right, I knew it, but I did not dare.  My life had got on the wrong track, and my contact with men had become now a mere soliloquy.  I had fallen so low that, if I had had to choose between falling in love with a woman and reading a book about love, I should have chosen the book.  “Don’t calculate, boss,” Zorba continued.  “Leave your figures alone, smash the blasted scales, shut up your grocer’s shop, I tell you.  Now’s the time you’re going to save or to lose your soul.”

“Nowadays I say this man is a good fellow, that one’s a bastard.  They can be Greeks or Bulgars or Turks, it doesn’t matter.  Is he good?  Or is he bad?  That’s the only thing I ask nowadays.  And as I grow older – I’d swear this on the last crust I eat – I feel I shan’t even go on asking that!  Whether a man’s good or bad, I’m sorry for him, for all of ‘em.  The sight of a man just rends my insides, even if I act as though I don’t care a damn!  There he is, poor devil, I think; he also eats and drinks and makes love and is frightened, whoever he is:  he has his God and his devil just the same, and he’ll peg out and lie as stiff as a board beneath the ground and be food for worms, just the same.  Poor devil! We’re all brothers! All worm meat!”

“What is this world?  I wondered.  What is its aim and in what way can we help to attain it during our ephemeral lives?  The aim of man and matter is to create joy, according to Zorba – others would say  “to create spirit,” but that comes to the same thing on another plain.  But why?  With what object?  And when the body dissolves does anything at all remain of what we have called the soul?  Or does nothing remain, and does our unquenchable desire for immortality spring, not from the fact that we are immortal, but from the fact that during the short span of our life we are in the service of something immortal?”

“So long as there are countries, man will stay like an animal, a ferocious animal…”

“Sea, women, wine and hard work!”  I was murmuring Zorba’s words in spite of myself as I walked.  “Sea, women, wine and hard work!” Throwing yourself headlong into your work, into wine, and love, and never being afraid of either God or devil…that’s what youth is!” I kept saying it to myself and repeating it as if to give myself courage, and I walked on.”

“Every minute death was dying and being reborn, just like life. For thousands of years young girls and boys have danced beneath the tender foliage of the trees in spring – beneath the poplars, firs, oaks, planes and slender palms – and they will go on dancing for thousands more years, their faces consumed with desire.  Faces change, crumble, return to earth; but others rise to take their place.  There is only one dancer, but he has a thousand masks.  He is always twenty.  He is immortal.”

“No, I don’t believe in anything or anyone; only in Zorba.  Not because Zorba is better than the others; not at all, not a little bit!  He’s a brute like the rest!  But I believe in Zorba because he’s the only being I have in my power, the only one I know.  All the rest are ghosts.  I see with these eyes, I hear with these ears, I digest with these guts.  All the rest are ghosts, I tell you.  When I die, everything’ll die.  The whole Zorbatic world will go to the bottom!”   “What egoism!” I said sarcastically.  “I can’t help it, boss!  That’s how it is.  I eat beans, I talk beans; I am Zorba, I talk like Zorba.”

“I alone was impotent and rational, my blood did not boil, nor did I love or hate with passion.  I still wanted to put things right, in cowardly fashion, by laying everything at destiny’s door.”

“Let people be, boss; don’t open their eyes.  And supposing you did, what’d they see?  Their misery!  Leave their eyes closed, boss, and let them go on dreaming.”

“Look here, boss, do stop meddling. As fast as I build, you destroy.  Now what are all those things you were telling them today?  Socialism and rubbish!  Are you a preacher or a capitalist?  You must make up your mind!”

copyright 1952 Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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