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Journal of Modern Greek Studies, May 1984 Fratricides: Interesting Document, Defective Work of Art Peter Bien -IAccording to his usual practice, no sooner had Kazantzakis completed Christ Recrucified than he began a new project. Christ Recrucified 's hidden subject was the civil war then in progress in Greece. Yet, perhaps because he felt that the contemporary relevance of the work just finished might not be sufficiently apparent, he determined now to treat the civil war again, this time in a totally non-cryptic manner. Fratricides is Christ Recrucified rewritten in contemporary dress with the mythic element removed. What is extraordinary in all this is that Kazantzakis should have even considered utilizing the non-mythic mode. Perhaps we ought to regard the new book simply as a temporary aberration; on the other hand, since we are dealing with an author who was expected by many to write exclusively in the realistic mode of Fratricides and who typically refused to do so, favoring myth and/or history, we ought to dwell on this "aberration" a little more. My own view is that Kazantzakis' decision in late November 1948 to write directly about a contemporary subject reflects a moment of weakness—more precisely, of despair. Others might argue the reverse, saying that the decision shows strength. What I feel is that Kazantzakis' true strength lay in his ability to retain a degree of optimism despite what he saw around him and that this ability, in turn, was always connected by him with the mythic method because myth, in converting historical events into timeless symbols, allows those events to speak positively to future man.1 It seems that at the ]See Journey to the Morea (New York, 1965), 67-69, for Kazantzakis' theory of myth and ibid. 59-60 for his view that realism is a sign of decadence. We may assume that the issues raised here were freshly in Kazantzakis' mind at the time because they appear in the prologue to Sodom and Gomorrah, most likely drafted precisely when Fratricides was in progress. Kazantzakis states in this prologue that to express his agonized age he habitually turned to the dramatic form, using ancient 2 Peter Bien moment when he wrote Fratricides, he was so totally dismayed by the civil war in Greece that he fell into a very uncharacteristic pessimism —which for him, by definition, meant weakness. One of the starkest expressions of this pessimism comes in a gloss on the novel itself, spoken during an interview in 1954, when he was attempting to revise Fratricides for the third time: "The central idea of the book is that a man who wants to be free, today, is done for."2 Previous to the novel's initial draft (December 1948February 1949) we find statements such as the following to Professor Kakridis (9 February 1948): When?! When will our tragic homeland lift its head above the blood? What we learn here [in Antibes] is so sad, so terrible, so incalculable that one begins to believe that a terrible pitiless fate is Greece's fate.' Soon after the novel's completion in second draft (March 1949), the despair was still present, though softened perhaps by a dogged assertion of some future good: When I think of our blood-soaked land, my eyes brim with tears. When will the torment end? I keep hoping and the hope keeps retreating . But I believe in our race and I'm sure that this torment will strengthen it and will make many people more mature. But it must not last too long.4 The dominant mood here, despite the attempt to qualify it, is overwhelming sadness. Unable to sustain the hope that he always connected with myth, Kazantzakis decided to abandon the mythico-historical mode in Fratricides, indeed to abandon it with a vengeance, since the mythic element is not simply omitted but is included in a negative way, the absence of any possibility of resurrection at the novel's end nullifying the suggestiveness that might have come from the setting during Easter. legends to express contemporary content, and that he looked to the future with hope. Indeed, the most basic myth in his various works, he continues, is that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 1-21
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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