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Journal of Modern Greek Studies, May 1984 Reviews Nikos Kazantzakis, Buddha. Trans, from the Greek by Kimon Friar and Athena Dallas-Damis. San Diego: Avant Books. 1983. Pp. 192. Paperback. $11.95. "The idea that a film cannot last more than 2-3 years and that it fades in the pellicule after that, would have pleased the Buddha tremendously ," Kazantzakis wrote to Prevelakis in 1928.1 He might have said the same about the half-serious answer which, more recently , a computer expert gave on television to his interviewer: "My fantasy is to erase my name from all computers on earth. ' ' Kazantzakis would feel vindicated for having illustrated the doctrine of enforced obsolescence in Buddha, the trilogy which we now have in English thanks to Kimon Friar and Athena Dallas-Damis. In his excellent introduction, Peter Bien clarifies most of the questions that arise from reading this trilogy or from seeing it enacted on stage. The different phases of the writing spanned two decades (1922-1942) and reflected Kazantzakis' varying attitudes toward a life of action. The realistic and the visionary levels of the play correspond to contradictory forces inside Kazantzakis himself, who asserted that the Buddha was his swan song. Bien aptly notes that the ultimate solution presented by this (seemingly) pessimistic play is an aesthetic one: "imagination subsumes both politics and metaphysics ...". Reservations about the trilogy as a theater-piece come easy. As in Kazantzakis' other trilogy, Prometheus, the length is inordinate. The work could be compressed to half or even one third, made tighter and more energetic without its losing anything of substance, the speeches of most characters pruned, action boosted. There is too much declamation, not enough suggestion. Messages are fired at the audience like cannon balls. More serious, the words put on the characters ' lips sometimes originate in Kazantzakis' love of them, not in dramatic necessity. Perhaps Kazantzakis means to tell or remind us Tetrakósia Grámmata tou Kazantzáki ston Preveláki (Athens, 1975), 73. 117 118 Reviews that his characters are never really independent, that their umbilical cords are attached to the source, i.e., his own mind. On the whole, Kazantzakis' intention is not to lead us gently or cunningly into a spiritual experience but rather overwhelm us with "pity" and "awe" in the Aristotelian sense of the words. Like Wagner, he wants to enmesh us in a kind of ritual, to break the shell of the individual ego, so that we can take in the cosmic truths of the play and shake off boredom and fatigue, the demons of the ordinary spectator or reader. Aeschylus seemed to be doing the same in the Oresteia. Reading or following Buddha on stage is a real challenge which few of us, no longer in an Aeschylean or Wagnerian mood, are prepared to face. The challenge, however, is worth facing. The translators are to be highly commended for carrying the original Greek into accurate and poetic English, as luxuriant as Friar 's translation of Kazantzakis' The Odyssey, a Modern Sequel (1958). An examination of selected parallel parts from the Greek and the English has produced only one mistranslation, which would have been unworthy of mention, had it not trivialized one of the really few original metaphors of the play. Preparing his first pageant (what Bien calls the visionary part of the play), the magician declares that he is arriving with his powerful army, "the multi-colored, multiwinged , multi-eyed regiments of the imagination that fly over the dung heap called man's mind." Yet, what Kazantzakis has called the human mind is koprobourboulas, that is, "dung-beetle," which is a metaphor far livelier than the translation suggests. But such weakenings of the original are extremely few. On the other hand, the book seems to lack footnotes or endnotes that might explain Kazantzakis' less obvious allusions to Buddhist symbols and myths, now not elucidated either in the brief preface by Michael Tobias (centering on the symbol of the river in the trilogy) or in Bien's much longer and more useful introduction, which, together with the quality of the translation , is a great asset to the book. A final word on Kazantzakis' decision to weave...


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