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SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI INSPIRATION FOR N KAZANTZAKIS IN GOD’S PAUPER NOVEL

Zaneka S1, Kalathaki M2, Schoinoplokaki E3

1
Ph.D., Med, Teacher of 1st Lyceum of Chania, Crete, Greece
2
Ph.D., Med, School Advisor for Secondary Science Teachers of West Crete, Greece
3.
Teacher of Castelli Kissamos Gymnasium, Chania, Crete, Greece

The time when Kazantzakis was studying St. Francis of Assisi, felt that humans should
strive to convert their flesh in spirit, but this struggle required overcoming the nature. St.
Francis seemed then the finest and the most fascinating example of this agonist, unfeasible
thus, for most of the people. Despise of life, humility and poverty.
In his novel “God’ s Pauper” 1 Kazantzakis portrayed the ideal that he tried to pursue,
the militant who denatures the material given from God in spirit, a debt higher than the moral,
the truth and the beauty, but provoked much discussion due to its flintiness: “… through
exercise and love, his soul overcame reality – what wingless people call reality – hunger, cold,
scorn, injustice, ugliness. And he succeeded in transforming it into a joyful, tangible dream
that was truer even than the truth.” Nikos Kazantzakis hero Francis of Assisi, whose
renunciation of his young man’s life of leisure and founding of a religious order, is dedicated
to living in poverty, virginity and humility. The author draws his inspiration from a biography
of the Saint Francis, written by Johannes Joergensen whom he meets during his stay in Assisi
and enriches it with many fictional elements.2 Recounted in Nikos Kazantzakis’s striking prose
through the eyes of the saint’s brother, Leo, the life of Saint Francis shines in these pages as a
heroic example of inspirational leadership and boundless love for God and all His creatures.
Absolute poverty: not so much having no possessions, but not being possessed by anything,
above all, not being possessed by the “ego” and its hopes and fears. To forget who you are
and what your name is, not to have any will and not to say “I”: that is true freedom!
In every era, the spirituality of St. Francis exercised great allure with its simplicity and
humility. Early biographies of the St. appeared almost immediately after his death in 1226.
The official biography for the Assembly of the Franciscan Order written by Legenda Major in
1260, eliminates the most extreme aspects of his life, the denial of pleasures, food, clothes
and sleep, mitigating thus his rigor.
Nikos Kazantzakis in his course of life is seeking insistently for the Divine. The concepts
of sacrifice of mercy and love that predominate in his work undoubtedly arise from the
Christian faith. He admires saints, ascetics, visits Mount Athos and constantly thinks God.
Kazantzakis' God works and goes along with man; but it is not God who descends but the man
who ascends. Kazantzakis’ s God exists everywhere in the natural world and in human. "I had
the omnipotence of God and did not know it while I lived, I could as I wanted to create the
world" he points out to “The report to Greco”. 3
Lifelong Learning Program Grundtvig “European Literary Characters” hosts, in its
website, Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), the Catholic saint and founder of the Franciscan
Order who, largely known as “God’s Pauper” of N Kazantzakis novel with the following
description of his hero: “Francis was one of the first, the first perfect flower to come up from
the painfully ploughed winter of the Middle Ages. His heart was plain, joyful, immaculate; his
eyes, like those of a great poet or a child, gazed on the world for the first time. Many times,
Francis would have looked on a humble flower, a spring or an insect, and his eyes would have
filled with tears… He is a poet; one of the greatest poets of the early Renaissance; he even
bent over God’s lowliest creatures to hear the immortal thing they bear within them - their
melody.”
According to Thanasis Maskaleris, all of Kazantzakis’s works contain an abundance
of passages about rocks, soil, seeds, rain, air, rainbows, the sea, flowers, and flowering.

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Possibly no other modern writer has written as extensively about the cosmogonic energies of
Nature, with as much poetic brilliance. And what is more, Kazantzakis constantly integrates
the terrestrial, the material womb of life, with human life in all its manifestations - and this
with insights and a dynamism that only mythology can surpass. Human life, he passionately
declares, is rooted in the soil and its growth parallels the essential life of Nature.4
According to Nick Trakakis, Francis not only patiently endures suffering, but also seeks
it out: he incites people to attack him by telling them that the more stones they throw at him,
the more blessed by God they will be; tormented by demonic thoughts, he beats his flesh
mercilessly all night long with a knotted cord while sprawled out on top of bitterly cold snow;
and he implores Christ: “ Let me feel thy sufferings and holy passion in my body and soul; let
me feel them as intensely as is possible for a sinful mortal”. But he is not driven by vanity or
arrogance to attain new heights, nor is he driven by an inhuman masochistic temperament,
as some contemporary critics have thought. 5 Rather, Francis is motivated by the conviction
that only through suffering can redemption be found. For Brother Leo and the common man,
pain is nothing more than a physical sensation to be avoided: “For Francis, in other words,
pain and suffering are a providential sign that one is on the road towards fulfilling the supreme
obligation to transubstantiate the matter that God entrusted to us, and turn it into spirit”. 6
However, pain, in Francis view, also affords an opportunity to identify with the
sufferings of Christ and of every human being: he takes their sufferings upon himself, not to
lighten their load (or not merely for this reason), but as an expression of a profound sense of
solidarity and responsibility. This is why when Brother Leo confesses his sins to Francis, Francis
punishes himself. That is also why, according to Francis, paradise cannot exist as long as hell
exists, for “how can anyone be completely happy when he looks out from heaven and sees his
brothers and sisters being punished in hell? Therefore, if one is saved all are saved, and if one
is lost all are lost”. Francis dares to do what he finds most difficult to do: He finds a leper,
embraces him and kisses him on the lips. “This, Brother Leo, is what I understand: all lepers,
cripples, sinners, if you kiss them on the mouth they all become Christ”. 7
The interview with Nikos Kazantzakis regarding St. Francis of Assisi is a rare
audiovisual excerpt on French television to Pierre Dumayet and Max- Pol Fouchet in 1957, a
few months before his death. The interview covered two of Kazantzakis' books, "Zorba" and
"Pauper of God" which was the most recent. Nikos Kazantzakis said "We had nothing to eat.
I was prepared to die from hunger. Everyone was dying around me. Well, one day, I received
a letter from a Franciscan monk who lives in Athens. He said: If you translate the biography
of Saint Francis of Assisi, written by Joergensen, then we will send you a box with supplies...So,
I said to my wife: Take the pencil and write. And I dictated something to her that Saint Francis
never said, but might as well have said. One day, St. Francis saw an almond during the winter.
Well, St. Francis said: “I said to the almond tree, 'Sister, speak to me of God,' and the almond
tree blossomed.”

NOTES

1
The novel was entitled in Greek O ftohúlis tu Theú (The Little Poor Man of God), and was published in
Athens by Difros. Kazantzakis, however, had originally proposed the title, Pax et Bonum, this of course being a
favourite expression of Francis. Although the work was first released as a book in 1956, it had already been
published in a series of instalments by the Athenian newspaper Elefthería from June 1954. The novel was translated
into English by Peter Bien and the translation was published in 1962 as Saint Francis in the United States (by Simon
and Schuster) and as God’s Pauper in Great Britain (by Cassirer). The Greek text I rely upon is that published in
Athens by Helen Kazantzakis in 1981.
2
Cappellaro E, p. 5-8.

3 Grigoropoulou M., p. 16.
4
Maskaleris Th., introduction

2
5 Trakakis N., p. 13-14.
6 Trakakis N., p. 27.
7 Trakakis N., p. 14-15.

REFERENCES
Cappellaro E, “Νίκος Καζαντζάκης. Ο Φτωχούλης του Θεού” (Nikos Kazantzakis. The
God’ pauper), available on http://gcla.phil.uoa.gr/newfiles/syngrisi18/18.cappellaro.pdf
Grigoropoulou M (2014), “H εικονοποιία της Καζαντζακικής αναφοράς”, (The imagery
to “The report to Greco”), Νίκος Καζαντζάκης, Αναφορά στον Γκρέκο, Νέα αναθεωρημένη
σύγχρονη έκδοση, επιστημονική επιμέλεια Νίκος Μαθιουδάκης, εκδόσεις Καζαντζάκη,
Αθήνα.

European Literary Characters, Ο Φτωχούλης του Θεού (God’s Pauper), Education and
Culture Lifelong Learning Programme Grudving, available at 02/02/2016 on
http://www.literarycharacters.eu/GR-saintfrancis
Interview with Nikos Kazantzakis regarding St. Francis of Assisi
http://fresques.ina.fr/europe-des-cultures-en/fiche-media/Europe00005/nikos-
kazantzakis-regarding-zorba-the-greek-and-st-francis-of-assisi.html
Maskaleris T., «The Terrestrial Gospel of Nikos Kazantzakis—Will the Humans Be
Saviors of the Earth?», introduction by Thanasis Maskaleris, translated and edited
by Thanasis Maskaleris, published by Kazantzakis Publications (in Athens) in collaboration with
Zorba Press (http://zorbapress.com/?page_id=1730). For the introduction of the book of
Thanasis Maskaleris, see here: http://trise.org/node/102 and here:
http://www.kfcf.org/08/Articles/Maskaleris/Kazantzakis_Inspiration_for_Saving_the_Earth_
by_Maskaleris.htm

Trakakis N. (2008) “Kazantzakis’ Poor Man of God: Philosophy without Philosophy”
COLLOQUY text theory critique 15 (2008). © Monash University.
Available on www.colloquy.monash.edu.au/issue15/trakakis.pdf
http://artsonline.monash.edu.au/colloquy/download/colloquy_issue_fifteen/trakaki
s.pdf

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