Kypselos, the moonstruck son of Periandros, the Corinthian tyrant, brings his brother Lykophron to see the ghost of Melissa, their dead mother. Lykophron cannot see anything, but Periandros meets the dead woman, talks to her and is overcome by a fit of rage. Kypselos leaves, while Lykophron announces to their father than they are departing for Epidaurus so as to bid farewell to their grandfather, who is on his deathbed. Periandros makes a vain attempt to prevent him.

At Epidaurus, Melissa's father Proklis tells Lykoprhon that Periandros killed his mother, and hands him the gold knife with which the murder was commited. On returning to Corinth, Lykophron clashes with his father and hands over the knife in a ritual manner. Periandros realises who has revealed the secret and orders that Proklis be burnt alive in his palace.

He then calls the nobles and the people, announces that games will be held in reception of Dionysian worship and proclaims Lycophron as his regent. In response, the young mn throws down the sceptre, removes his regal attire and calls on his father to kill him. The tyrant dismisses him, forbidding his subjects to so much as talk to him.

Lykophron wanders the city in rags, bent on revenge. Kypselos meets him and says that he has had a dream in which Melissa instructed him to tell Periandros that she is cold. Lykophron advises him to carry out the order disguised as the ghost of the dead woman. This is done, but Periandros sees through the disguise and kills his younger son. Following yet another clash with Lykophron, Periandros almost loses his mind and orders that the city's noblewomen be sacrificed on his wife's tomb.

As the noblewomen mourn, Lykophron appears. Periandros informs him that he has taken poison and asks for forgiveness, but the young prince is adamant, cruelly saying that Melissa hated him her whole life long. In his rage, Periander kills Lykophron with the gold knife and then breathes his last in the palace, which is set ablaze by the guards, in accordance with his final order.

Writing history

Written on Aegina in 1937, following Kazantzakis' tour of the Peloponnese. He translated it into French while in Paris in 1948, in the hope of a French performance. The French director Maurice Jacquemont gave the text to Albert Camus, who was so impressed that he recommended Jean Louis Barrault put it on; despite his wishes, Barrault never managed to do so.

Greek editions

  • N. Kazantzakis, Melissa. Drama triprakto, Nea Estia, vol. 25, issues. 289-295 (1.1 - 1.4.1939) pp. 4-9, 97-101, 168-172, 232-237, 303-310, 382-388, 448-452 - dedicated to Alexis Minotis - offprints also appeared.
  • N. Kazantzakis, Tragodies I. Tragodies me archea themata. Promitheas, Kouros, Odisseas, Melissa, edited by E. C. Kasdaglis, Athens: Difros 1955
  • N. Kazantzakis, Tragodies I. Tragodies me archea themata. Promitheas, Kouros, Odisseas, Melissa, Athens: Eleni Kazantzakis 1964 - and subsequent editions; the one published in 1998, edited by Patroklos Stavrou, is a reprint of the 1955 edition

Foreign editions & translations

  • Nikos Kazantzakis, Tragédies grecques. Melissa, Thésée, translated into French by Charles Guillemenau, Monaco: du Rochers 1953 (translations by Kazantzakis, revised by Guillemenau)
  • Nikos Kazantzakis, Melisa. Tragedia grieca, translated into Spanish by Roberto Guibourg, Buenos Aires: Carlo Lohlé/Losange 1957
  • Nikos Kazantzakis, Three Plays. Christopher Columbus, Melissa, Kouros, translated into English by Athena Giannakas-Dallas, New York: Simon and Schuster 1969
  • Nikos Kazantzakis, Théâtre. Melissa, Kouros, Christoph Colomb, translated into French by Liliane Princet - Nikos Athanassiou, Paris: Plon 1974

Performances & adaptations

  • Antoine Bourseiller Troupe, in the new theatre company contest (Concours des Jeunes Compagnies), France 1960. Directed by Antoine Bourseiller. The troupe won first prize and gave performances at the Liège Festival and in Bourges, Biarritz and Toulouse. Cast: Roger Marion, Alain Weiler, Guy Kerner, Anne Leanor, Georges Aubert
  • Royal Theatre, Athens Festival, 1962. Directed by Alexis Solomos, music by Argyris Kounadis and costumes by Yiorgos Bakalo. Cast: Thanos Kostopoulos, Nikos Kazis, Petros Fyssoun, Eleni Chatziargyri, Lycourgos Kallergis. The performance was repeated in 1964
  • Crete Youth Troupe, 1982-1983. Directed by Mary Bostantzi. Cast: Nikos Tyritidis, Niki Vardaki, Antonis Vassilokonstantakis, Yiannis Brass, Onissimos Saridakis. Also performed at the Ithaca Festival and on tour in Crete.
  • Bucharest Municipal Theatre, 1992. Translated into Romanian by Alexandra Modrea-Denciu and Marius Dimitru Sopterean.


  • Melissa, radio broadcast by the National Radio Foundation, 1957
  • Melissa, radio broadcast by Radio Suisse Romande 2, Geneva 1981. Directed for radio by René Habib. Cast: Gerard Carrat, Oers Kisfaludi, Christiane Vincent


  • Melissa, a French production for TV Romande, Lausanne 1977. Adapted by Liliane Princet and Nikos Athanassiou, produced by Roger Burckhart. Cast: Georges Wod, François Berthet, Laurance Calame, Michel Vitold, Bernard Gruninger.


  • Periandros, Opera. Composed by Theodoros Antoniou, libretto by G. Christodoulakis, 1983 (the libretto is based in part on Melissa)