Wit: Zorba the Greek

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The acknowledged Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis uses his novel, Zorba the Greek, as a means to present philosophical ideas to his audience. In his novel he explores many different themes and ideas, some of which stem from his greatest inspirations. Two of these philosophical ideas are Epicureanism and Dionysian nature. Epicureanism is a theoretical system founded by the philosopher, Epicurus (341-270 B.C.E.), who held that happiness should be valued as life’s highest good and that the best way to achieve it is to live in the moment. According to Epicureanism you cease to be with your death, this is a thread of thought further developed by Freidrich Nietzsche (1884-1900), one of Kazantzakis greatest influences. The word Dionysian originated from Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. Dionysian nature is prominently associated with music and dance, and giving emotions free reign. These two philosophies are closely associated since both find great merit in happiness and are found to have been controversial. One reason for this is our tendency to discard pleasure as a moral good; we usually consider humility, wisdom, justice, and other virtues to be ethical. However, following the doctrines of Epicurus and Dionysus, behavior in pursuit of pleasure is the only life path that will assure an upright life. The protagonist of Kazantzakis novel, Zorba, is the embodiment of these values; through Zorba the reader obtains a better understanding of these concepts. Zorba’s personification is seen through his expression of emotion, his challenging death, his tendency to live in the moment and his love of the santuri and dance.

Epicureanism is characterized by the drive to do things solely because you want to. This notion is first introduced very early in the novel: “Can’t a man do anything without a why?” (Kazantzakis, 10) says Zorba. Later when speaking of his latest engagement as a miner, he says “simply because I felt like it” (10) when explaining why he left the mine. Zorba...
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