Each country has its well-known and loved literary characters whose essence is deeply connected to the identity of a nation or region. This exhibition is about those characters, introducing the fictional world, authors and cultural surrounding of smaller European states. Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg are represented with their literary characters. Learn about the project


Οδυσσέας (Odysseus)


The 33,333 lines of Nikos Kazantzakis’ Odyssey offer a panorama of the author’s entire intellectual life, his worldview, and the questions he sought answers to over many years. The central motif is travel, and the central thesis the struggle to win freedom.

The protagonist, a figure of whom Kazantzakis was particularly fond, is not identical to the prototypical Homeric Odysseus. It is with his own characteristics that we see him dominate the world of Kazantzakis’ Odyssey. His main trait is his detachment from the world. Eternal traveler and constant migrant, he rebels without fear or hope against decline, against enslavement, against the tyranny of the material world, seeking the meaning of life and pure, absolute freedom.

Kazantzakis decided that the protagonist of his grandiose epic “had to be made to view the abyss with such a glance– without hope and fear, but also without insolence – upright on the very brink of the precipice.”

“I am creating him,” says the author, “to face the abyss with tranquility, and in creating him I struggle to resemble him. I am entrusting Odysseus with all my longings. He is the mould I am carving to cast the human being of the future. Whatever I longed for but was unable to do, he will be able to accomplish...”


Nikos Kazantzakis

Nikos Kazantzakis


Nikos Kazantzakis was born in Heraklion, Crete, when the island was still under Ottoman rule. He studied law in Athens (1902-06) before moving to Paris to pursue postgraduate studies in philosophy (1907-09) under Henri Bergson. It was at this time that he developed a strong interest in Nietzsche and seriously took to writing. After returning to Greece, he continued to travel extensively, often as a newspaper correspondent. He was appointed Director General of the Ministry of Social Welfare (1919) and Minister without Portfolio (1945), and served as a literary advisor to UNESCO (1946). Among other distinctions, he was president of the Hellenic Literary Society, received the International Peace Award in Vienna in 1956 and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Kazantzakis regarded himself as a poet and in 1938 completed his magnum opus, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, divided into 24 rhapsodies and consisting of a monumental 33,333 verses. He distinguished himself as a playwright (The Prometheus Trilogy, Kapodistrias, Kouros, Nicephorus Phocas, Constantine Palaeologus, Christopher Columbus, etc), travel writer (Spain, Italy, Egypt, Sinai, Japan-China, England, Russia, Jerusalem and Cyprus) and thinker (The Saviours of God, Symposium). He is, of course, best known for his novels Zorba the Greek (1946), The Greek Passion (1948), Freedom or Death (1950), The Last Temptation of Christ (1951) and his semi-autobiographical Report to Greco (1961). His works have been translated and published in over 50 countries and have been adapted for the theatre, the cinema, radio and television.


Odysseus, like almost all the protagonists in the Cretan author’s works, is in essence a variation of the Kazantzakis hero, who has become part of the long European tradition of rebellious heroes, from Milton’s Lucifer to Camus’ rebel. They do not belong to any place or society, and live by a value system all of their own, defined by dedication to a struggle that is condemned from the very outset. They clash with established political, social and religious order, overturn conventions and stereotypes and fight against injustice, enslavement and falsehood, as well as against an unfavourable environment which, being unable to absorb them, attempts to crush them. In parallel, they fight just as hard against their own passions and desires, which threaten to trap them in a life of compromise. In the end they die a violent death, though remaining fearless and free of expectations when facing the prospect of vanishing once and for all in the abyss.

Writing the Odyssey absorbed Kazantzakis from 1925 to 1938. He regarded it as his most important work. The process of literary composition was in itself another Odyssey, since it took seven successive drafts before the poem was ready for the press. It has been translated into several languages, inspiring many artists in Greece and beyond.

The hero created by Nikos Kazantzakis in the Odyssey is also encountered in his tragedy named Odysseus, a work inspired by the closing books of the Homeric epic and influenced by Hauptmann’s work The Bow of Odysseus.

Listen to the music track composed by Kostas Mountakis inspired by Kazantzakis’ Odyssey

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