Tuesday, 17 October 2017

A lecture in Dublin marking
the ‘Year of Kazantzakis’

The grave of Nikos Kazantzakis in Crete has a simple epitaph: ‘I hope for nothing, I fear for nothing, I am free’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Greek Ministry of Culture has declared this year [2017] the ‘Year of Kazantzakis.’ Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), one of the great Greek writers of the 20th century, died 60 years ago on 26 October 1957.

Kazantzakis was nominated on nine occasions for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His books include Zorba the Greek, Christ Recrucified, Captain Michalis (first published as Freedom or Death) and The Last Temptation of Christ.

By one vote, he lost the Nobel Prize for Literature to Albert Camus a few days before he died in 1957. He is buried on the bastion above Iraklion.

The Irish Hellenic Society opens its new season of lectures with an inaugural meeting in University College Dublin this Friday [20 October 2017] with a fresh look at the work of this great figure in modern Greek literature and philosophy.

Niki Stavrou is the publisher of Kazantzakis’s works and the Director of Kazantzakis Publications since May 2014. Her godmother, Eleni Kazantzakis, gave her the name Niki to honour and commemorate her late husband, Nikos Kazantzakis.

Niki spent her childhood listening to stories from the life of Eleni and her Nikos. Eleni read to her and meticulously explained one by one all the books of Nikos Kazantzakis, starting with his children’s books, Alexander the Great and At the Palaces of Knossos, and continuing with his translations of Dante and theatrical plays, enlightening every line with her deep knowledge of her beloved husband.

Even though at the time, Eleni lived in Geneva and the Stavrou family lived in Cyprus, Eleni regularly visited Cyprus and Greece to spend her holidays and work with Patroclos Stavrou.

When Eleni adopted Patroclos Stavrou in 1982, this formalised the already profound family relationship between Eleni Kazantzakis and the Stavrou family. Eleni used to quip that with that once official act of adoption she had acquired a son, a daughter-in-law, a granddaughter as well as a goddaughter. In July 1974, at the time of the Turkish invasion in Cyprus, Eleni Kazantzakis, Mary Stavrou and Niki’s nanny Angela Kapodistrias were together at the apartment Eleni had just bought in Kyrenia, as a gift to Niki.

Patroclos Stavrou was the chief of staff in the Presidential Palace for Archbishop Makarios, at the time of the coup and was arrested by the junta leaders. Meanwhile, from 1967 until 1974, Eleni Kazantzakis was unable to travel to Greece until the fall of the colonels’ junta. Ever since, she spent her summers and holidays with the Stavrou family.

Eleni Kazantzakis died on 18 February 2004 in the Henry Dunant Hospital in Athens, holding the hand of her adopted son, Patroclos Stavrou. I was visiting Athens at the time, and had arranged to meet her, only to find she died on the night I arrived.

Niki Stavrou studied philosophy and political sciences at the University of Indianapolis. She holds a master’s degree in English Literature and taught English and American History, Literature and Poetry before becoming the Director of Kazantzakis Publications.

In her research on the life of Nikos Kazantzakis and the real people behind the characters of Report to Greco, she has identified the first love of Nikos Kazantzakis, Kathleen Forde from Ireland.

Niki Stavrou is still working with a deep sense of commitment and respect for the promotion and dissemination of the work of Nikos Kazantzakis, following in the steps of her godmother, Eleni Kazantzakis, and her father, Patroclos Stavrou.

I have been invited to follow Niki Stavrou with next month’s lecture in this season’s programme of the Irish Hellenic Society. I am speaking on ‘Sir Edward Law (1846-1908): the Irish Philhellene who rescued the Greek economy in the 1890s.’ The lecture takes place on Wednesday 22 November 2017, at 7.30 pm in the United Arts Club, 3 Upper Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin 2.

Sir Edward Law (1846-1908): the subject of my lecture at the Irish Hellenic Society next month.

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