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Reviews 119 recall that the freedom to which Kazantzakis' famous epitaph alludes is freedom in the Buddhist sense of the word, that is, non-existence. Buddha is truly Kazantzakis' swan song. George Thaniel University of Toronto George Thaniel, Homage to Byzantium. The Life and Work of Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis. St. Paul, Minn.: The North Central Publishing Company. 1983. Pp. xi + 155. $15.50. Mr. Thaniel has set himself a daunting task: to present to the North American reader—and by extension the English reader in general—a writer who is virtually unknown outside Greece and who even in Greece itself has only relatively recently been read and esteemed by more than a small circle of readers. To add to the difficulty , although Pentzikis has written a considerable body of prose and poetry, only a single chapter of one of his books of essays has been translated into English, and only half a dozen of his poems. The latter have been excellently translated by Kimon Friar and are to be found in his monumental volume, Modern Greek Poetry (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973): they do in fact constitute the best introduction to Pentzikis' complex genius that is to be found in English in terms of his own actual writing. How, then, does one set about making such an inaccessible author (except to those who know Greek) coherent to a foreign public that cannot pursue its exploration of his world by turning to anything more than this bare minimum of translation? Mr. Thaniel's method is to take one on a guided chronological and thematic tour of Pentzikis' life and work. "Home is where one starts from," so we are given first a picture of Thessaloniki which, as well as being Pentzikis' birthplace and place of residence for the greater part of his life, is also for him far more than its merely physical structure, just as its history is also far more than a sequence of merely terrestrial or temporal events; for it is the scene of the epiphany of two figures—St. Demetrius and St. Gregory Palamas—who occupy a dominant position in Pentzikis' mythical landscape, and so its true identity is to be discerned in its hierohistory, the only history that in any case really counts for Pentzikis. Having been given this essential introduction, we are then led through the successive stages of Pentzikis' spiritual development 120 Reviews and literary career (the two of course interpenetrating), starting with the years prior to the Second World War, when Pentzikis, along with other contemporary Greek intellectuals, was trying to assimilate some of the wider perspectives of modern western literature into the somewhat narrow, almost parochial world of Greek letters; through his gradual recognition that the living springs of Greek self-identity and inspiration are to be found only in Greece's Orthodox Christian heritage, especially as this is manifest in the Byzantine world (hence the title of this book); down to the present day, when Pentzikis' creative activity, in poetry, prose and painting, continues unabated and with a richness that reflects the maturation of a vision in which God and man, saints and sinners, the dead and the living, angels and the most humble examples of the flora and fauna of this world all participate in a liturgy that is as concrete as it is diversified. Finally, we are given an account of Pentzikis' conception of art and of his views on other writers, Greek and non-Greek, as well as of his own reception by Greek critics. Each stage in this spiritual and literary journey is illustrated by excerpts, translated into English, from Pentzikis' oeuvre, and a Selected Bibliography and an Index close the book. What emerges from all this? First of all, there is the living man whose almost Blake-like vision is so all-embracing that the most humdrum, the most minute particulars of existence bear witness to the majesty of the Divine; the Orthodox Christian who is also Platonic not because—to use his own words—he holds and raises high in his hands a form of the Athenian philosopher but because he is as though baptized in the everflowing waters where the pebbles and shells...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 119-120
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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