Nikos Kazantzakis and Christ as a Hero

Citation metadata

Editors: Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau
Date: 2007
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 4,834 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(essay date May 2004) In the following essay, Antonakes examines the Christ figures in Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation of Christ and The Greek Passion.]

F. W. Dillistone, in his study, The Novelist and the Passion Story, analyzes the problems that an author must resolve when he/she makes Christ the main character in the novel. Dillistone contends that a direct approach to representing Christ in literature is bound to fail. If the author would take a historical perspective, the more he/she would struggle to present Jesus as a product of Roman times, the less the contemporary readers would relate to the actual experience of Christ. According to Dillistone, "The very brilliance of the historical reconstruction may stand in the way of an actual encounter with the living Christ" (1960:11). On the other hand, if the author would take the synchronic approach, the more he/she would try to give Christ a contemporary appeal, the less accurate and recognizable the representation of the historical Christ would be. This problem is compounded when novelists create exciting secondary characters that tend to obscure Christ as he is revealed in the Gospels. Therefore, Dillistone recommends an oblique approach which helps the novelist to create a Christ-like hero whose experience resembles the acceptance, opposition, conflict, rejection, suffering and final vindication that marked the career of Jesus himself. To Dillistone, works such as Francois Mauriac's The Lamb, Herman Melville's Billy Budd, William Faulkner's A Fable, and Nikos Kazantzakis's The Greek Passion have succeeded in their representation of Christ-like figures because of this method.

Unlike Dillistone, some critics feel that there have been novelists who have been successful in making Christ himself the main character in their works. For example, D. H. Lawrence's The Man Who Died (1928), which features Christ as a hero, commanded the attention of the literary community.1 Theodore Ziolkowski, in his study, Fictional Transfigurations of Jesus, stated that

the two most brilliant [Jesus] biographies of the last twenty-five years have emerged ... [which] transcend the average by the radicalism of their approach and method: Robert Graves's King Jesus (1946) and Nikos Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation of Christ (1960).(Ziolkowski 1972:16)

Ziolkowski, however, mentioned in his study that one of the difficulties encountered by the "authors of fictionalizing biographies stems from the paucity of incidents supplied by the Gospel narrative." Nonetheless, he noted that Kazantzakis overcame this problem thanks to the "creative power" of his imagination and his keen psychological understanding. Ziolkowski also added that "for the most part, however, the fictionalizing biographies have not been works of literary distinction" (17). By the way, in the prologue to The Last Temptation of Christ, Kazantzakis states that his novel is not a biography. Ziolkowki, who gave an extended analysis of Kazantzakis's The Greek Passion, did not discuss the actual content of Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation of Christ in his study.

Did Kazantzakis's particular approach to The Last Temptation of Christ help or hinder his attempt to give his readers an "actual encounter with the living Christ?" Did Kazantzakis's oblique...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420073737