Book Review: A Neglected Masterpiece: Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Odyssey

“How much more ancient is the heart’s deep root, and mind is but a last, last bloom of little memory! The heart wants to recount what it has seen and suffered, but stutters, mute, and cannot brim with a single word; it hops round in our chests and shrills like a caged bird…”

I stumbled across Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, one afternoon in Dog Eared Books in San Francisco. I was riveted from the first line, and also shocked that such a magnificent book existed and somehow I had never heard a word about it. I then discovered that very few other people (outside of Greece) had either, so I feel obliged to say something about this tremendous work.

It seems sacrilegious to say this, but Kazantzakis’ modern sequel to The Odyssey is superior to Homer’s in every way, at least from the perspective of the modern mind. This is one of the greatest accomplishments of world literature, and it is a tragedy that it is not better known; most people have heard of Kazantzakis’ Zorba The Greek but few people are familiar with this, his masterpiece.

Kazantzakis lops off the last two sections of Homer’s Odyssey and grafts onto it his own modern sequel. It is both far more visceral and far more existential than Homer’s. It blazes with passion and seethes with the lustfulness of life. But it also tackles the greatest of modern questions: the spirit’s quest for independence and freedom. This Kazantzakis does with the fearless, relentless passion of Nietzsche, but also with the overflowing love of life of Walt Whitman.

Tackling this work is like trying to read an 800 page work by Shakespeare. It demands to be read with absolute attention and to be reread through each section in order to be properly absorbed. But it is an investment you will never regret.

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