Journey to the Morea [ePub]

by Nikos Kazantzakis

One of the many consequences of the fourth Crusade, the one in which the miserable Venetians caused the Western Christians to invest and then loot Constantinople (Venice's rival), was that a small number of Franks also took the opportunity to conquer the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece. There the Villehardouin family ruled the Principality of Achaea for a certain time, but I'll have more to say about that elsewhere.

When Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) evokes the Morea, he means that portion of the Peloponnesos formerly ruled by the Franks (and then replaced by the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea). There, where in antique times the Spartans were masters, one can still find the remains of the castles and walled cities of the Franks perched high upon their mountaintops (above is an image of part of the ruins of Mistra). Some of the buildings have been maintained or reconstructed, such as the Agioi Theodoroi:

Journey to the Morea is the result of a 1937 trip through the Morea, one of many Kazantzakis undertook. He uses the travelogue and his evocative description of the sights as an opportunity to reflect on Greece's long, long history and on his melancholic sense that contemporary Greeks are a "debased people," and to pass on folklore and colorful stories of encounters with the locals.

Im Zauber der griechischen Landschaft is another collection of short pieces based on Kazantzakis' travels and contains some of the texts found in Journey. But the geographic extent of the pieces in Zauber includes all of Greece. Indeed, the two finest concern Crete and Knossos (this includes a magical moment in the courtyard of a Sufi monastery shared with a French Catholic priest and the abbot of the monastery), on the one hand, and the unusual enclave of Eastern Orthodox monasteries surrounding Mount Athos, on the other. Every account I have read of Mount Athos has made clear how very, very strange life is there. There is no end to the variety of ways men have chosen to carry out their lives. Layered into this account of faith taken to extremes is the poignant story of an idealistic youth as seen forty years later by an experienced and disillusioned man.

Greece through the eyes of a very eloquent Greek, a Greek who found living in Greece so painful that he spent most of his life elsewhere, thinking, writing and dreaming about Greece.




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