Constantinople, 969: Emperor Nikiforos Fokas is an object of hatred. Years of war and burdensome taxation have turned the people against him, while Empress Theofano is conspiring to overthrow him and give her love to the imprisoned Ioannis Tsimiskis. Remorseful for his wrongdoings, Nikiforos has become a secular ascetic, abstaining from all pleasures of the flesh. In a moment of magnaminity, he forgives the Mayors who stirred up the populace against him and sets Tsimiskis free, but on seeing him in the palace he becomes violent and overbearing.

Theofano moves the plot forward by attempting to seduce the emperor. He capitulates, having decided to to live a night of passion before confining himself to a monastery the following day. But at the crucial moment his confessor, Athanassios the monk, appears; he urges the emperor to dedicate himself to life as a prophet, and warns him that death awaits him if he gives in to sexual provocation. Nevertheless, Fokas treats him with arrogance.

Later, prostrate on the floor of Hagia Sophia, he has a vision in which he talks to Christ. Jesus first appears weak and passive, but Nikoforos' impious taunts stir him to violent reaction.

Back in the palace, Theofano is readying herself for the night of passion, and asks Michael, the chief eunuch, to read the story of Judith to her. On entering the chambers the emperor hears the reading and realises what is about to happen. He announces his intention to confine himself to a monastery and confesses that he personally killed Emperor Romanos.

An anonymous letter reveals the conspiracy to him, but after a brief outburst of rage he appears resigned to his fate. He hurls abuse at the icon of Christ and then falls into the arms of Theofano, and is later found murdered by the Empress, Vourtsis and Tsimiskis.

Writing history

First begun in late 1915, under the initial title Thefano, but appeared in print in 1927 as Nikiforos Fokas. An extract (the second part and the intermezzo) was published in Neoellinika Grammata magazine (Heraklion) in February 1927. Kazantzakis translated the work into French while in Japan in 1932, and adapted it for the Pitoëff troupe. He later reworked it once more, making changes to the structure and action.

Greek editions

  • N. Kazantzakis, Nikiforos Fokas, Athens: Stochastis 1927 - dedicated to Mudita [= Elli Lambridi]
  • N. Kazantzakis, Nikiforos Fokas, Athens: Pyrsos 1939 (the new, reworked version)
  • N. Kazantzakis, Theatro II. Tragodies me vizantina themata. Christos, Ioulianos o Paravatis, Nikiforos Fokas, Konstantinos Paleologos, edited by E. C. Kasdaglis, Athens: Difros 1956
  • N. Kazantzakis, Theatro II. Tragodies me vizantina themata. Christos, Ioulianos o Paravatis, Nikiforos Fokas, Konstantinos Paleologos, Athens: Eleni Kazantzakis 1964 - and subsequent editions; the one published in 1998, edited by Patroklos Stavrou, is a reprint of the 1956 edition.
  • Apo to piitiko ergo tou N. Kazantzaki, with a prologue by Manolis Karellis. Introduction, selection and notes by Stylianos Alexiou, illustrations by N. Chatzikyriakos-Gikas, Heraklion, Crete: Municipality of Crete 1977 - an anthology of excerpts.

Foreign editions & translations

  • Nikos Kazantzakis, Teatro. I. Odiseo, Juliano, Niceforo, Kapodistria, translated into Spanish with an introduction and notes by M. Castillo Didier, prologue by Fotios Malleros K., Santiago (Chile): Universidad de Chile, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Centro de Estudios Bizantinos y Neohelénicos 1978


  • Chania Municipal Regional Theatre, in Chania and on tour throughout Crete, 1984. Directed by Pavlos Panagopoulos. Cast: A. Aronis, G. Yeralis, M. Tzombanaki. V. Yeorgiadou


  • Presentation by the Theatre on Sunday (recording, at the N. Kazantzakis Museum)