The new Odyssey begins from where Homer's Odyssey leaves off. Consisting of 33.333 17-syllable lines, it was justly named "the greatest epic of the white race".
Having killed the suitors, Odysseus grows bored on his small island; he no longer fits in with his wife, his son, the old institutions and his homeland. He thus decides to leave Ithaca once more and to undertake a journey of no return.
So he picks out a number of companions of the type he wishes: bold, free of soul and strong in body. He rigs up a new ship, marries his son to Nausicaa so that they can give birth to a grandson to preserve his line, and one morning he hoists his sails and sets out across the sea.
The long, last journey has begun. He first weighs anchor at Sparta, where he goes up to the famous city and saves his long-standing brother-in-arms Menelaus from a mutiny by the people. Odysseus eats, drinks and chats to him and then seizes Helen, who has also grown bored with the triviality of her new everday life, and leaves with her.
He then weighs anchor off Crete, where the island's great civilization is in decline. Armed with Iron, the new weapon, the barbarians and slaves are plotting to overthrow Idomeneus, the ageing king, and Odysseus becomes their leader.
One night at the grand royal symposium Odysseus gives the sign, and the conspirators attack. The king and the corrupt lords and ladies are killed, the Palace of Knossos is burnt down and Helen falls in love with a blond barbarian. Odysseus boards ship with his companions once more and sets sail for the south.
He weighs anchor off Egypt. Here too, everything is in turmoil. The famished slaves have joined forces with the blond barbarians from the North and want to overthrow their sated overlords. Odysseus hesitates for a moment, but eventually makes his decision and joins the slaves at their head. But his army is defeated and the nobles capture him and throw him into prison. There he forges friendships with new, savage companions, and in his hunger, desperation and prison bondage he carves the face of his new God out of wood: it is a terrible, merciless mask covered in wounds and blood, like War itself.
He manages to trick his way out of prison, once again picks out the wildest companions from among the warriors, slaves and barbarians, and then sets off for the desert. At their head, the mask of the new God leads them on.
Having fought against savage tribes, he reaches the source of the Nile, in the heart of Africa. There he builds his new city, which he fortifies, inscribing the commandments of his God on the fortress and making new, just laws. He rejoices in the fact that he is creating a society of fearless, free individuals.
But on the day he is inaugurating the new city and has declared a great celebration, there is an earthquake; the earth opens up and swallows up the city. It sinks underground in its entirety.
On the edge of the chasm that has opened up, Odysseus remains entirely alone, devoid of companions, devoid of hope, concentrating like an ascetic, fighting to overcome fate. Later, after a terrible internal struggle, his mind is enlightened, his soul conquers and he stands up to continue his journey.
He heads ever southwards, and in the course of his journey meets all the great leaders who have brought a new religion, a chimera or a new world view to mankind - the archetypes that are Hamlet, Don Quixote, Faust, Homer, Buddha and Christ. He lives with them and talks to them, measures his soul against their souls and, leaving them one by one, he continues on his way alone.
He reaches the tip of Africa, where the beloved sea is. He laughs, rolls around in the foaming waves and plays with the ocean. He makes his last boat, which is small and narrow like a coffin. Bidding the land farewell, he leaves. As he crosses the frozen sea, a storm breaks out and his boat is smashed to pieces on jagged, snow-covered rocks.
Odysseus continues on his way until he comes across a village made of snow, where wild seal hunters welcome him as a god. He spends the winter with them, and in the spring, when the snows melt, he fashions a boat out of sealskin and takes to the sea once more.
As he pulls on his oars in the never-setting sun, Death comes quietly and sits opposite him in the prow. He is identical to Odysseus: a scarred old man with a white beard. They smile at each other and sail on in silence. An iceberg suddenly looms and crashes into the boat, but Odysseus manages to climb up onto the iceberg and sail along with it as if it were a ship. He feels as if his final hour has come. He bids farewell to his five senses - sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch - thanking them for working well for him, for he has no complaints.
He opens his arms and emits a cry, shouting for all his beloved companions - the men and women he loved, and his faithful dog from Ithaca. The companions of old hear their master's voice, burst out of their tombs and arrive - Odysseus' boat fills with companions yet again. Odysseus rejoices; joyfully welcoming his companions, he raises his arm and gives the signal for departure in a fearless, triumphant voice:
"Forward, my lads, sail on, for Death's breeze blows in a fair wind"
[Handwritten summary sent by Kazantzakis to Prevelakis in late December 1938, see P. Prevelakis Four Hundred Letters from Kazantzakis to Prevelakis, Athens: Eleni N. Kazantzakis 1984, 476-479]
Kazantzakis began the Odyssey in Heraklion in 1925, and completed it on Aegina in 1938. In the intervening years he worked constantly on the initial version, incorporating images and impressions from every new journey he made. Before full publication in 1938, excerpts from the Odyssey had appeared in various literary magazines:
- "Dinner (Odyssey, IV, lines 633-795)", Anagennisi, issue 4 (December 1926) 222-226
- "Odyssey [IX, lines 1-104]", Ilysia, issue 2 (22.5.1927) 2-4
- "Odyssey [X, lines 1-47]", Ilysia, issue 3 (1927) 67-68
- "Odyssey [VIII, lines 857-913]", Neoellinika Grammata (Heraklion) 10 (July 1927) 435-436
- "Odyssey: IV", O Kyklos, issue 1 (November 1931) 16-18
- "Odyssey: I", O Kyklos, issue 4 (February 1932) 145-148
- "Excerpts from Odyssey", Neoellinika Grammata I (4.8.1935)
- "Odyssey [XII, lines 1-24]", Kritikes Selides (February 1936) 3
- "Odyssey [Prologue, lines 1-71]", Kathimerini newspaper, 27.7.1938
- N. Kazantzakis, Odisia, Athens: Pyrsos 1938
The first edition was a milestone in Greek publishing history: it was printed in folio, in the monotonic system, with specially ordered type. The author dedicated it to Joe Macleod, the American woman who funded its publication. The dedication was removed from subsequent editions
- N. Kazantzakis, Odissia, Athens: G. S. Christou 1957
- N. Kazantzakis, Odissia, Athens: Dorikos 1960
- N. Kazantzakis, Odissia, Athens: Eleni Kazantzakis 1967 (and subsequent editions)
- Apo to piitiko ergo tou N. Kazantzaki, with a prologue by Manolis Karellis. Introduction, selection and notes by Stylianos Alexiou, illustrations by N. Chatzikyriakos-Ghikas, Heraklion, Crete: Municipality of Crete 1977 - an anthology of excerpts
- N. Kazantzakis, Odisia, edited by Patroklos Stavrou Athens: Kazantzakis 2006 [facsimile of the 1938 edition]
Foreign editions & translations
- Nikos Kazantzakis, The Odyssey. A Modern Sequel, translated into English, with a synopsis and notes by Kimon Friar, illustrations by Nikos Chatzikyriakos-Ghikas, New York: Simon and Schuster 1958, 1965, 1985. London: Secker and Warburg, 1958
- Nikos Kazantzakis, L'Odyssée, translated into French by Jacqueline Moatti, Paris: Plon 1968-69 [with lithographs by André Cottavoz, Paul Guiramand, André Minaux, Walter Spitzer] Paris: Plon 1971 [with an introduction by Nikos Athanassiou]
- Nikos Kazantzakis, Odyssee. Ein modernes Epos, translated into German by Gustav A. Conradi, Munich: Kurt Desch 1973
- Nikos Kazantzakis, Obras Selectas. IV. Odisea, translated into Spanish by Miguel Castillio Didier, Barcelona: Planeta 1975
- Nikos Kazantzakis, Odysseia: ett modernt epos. Prologen och första sången, translated into Swedish by Gottfried Grunewald, in collaboration with Stig Rudberg and Christos Tsiparis, Partille: P. Aström 1988 (Prologue and Book I)
- Nikos Kazantzakis, Odysseia: ett modernt epos, translated into Swedish by Gottfried Grunewald, in collaboration with Stig Rudberg and Christos Tsiparis, Partille: P. Aström 1990-92
- Nikos Kazantzakis, L'Odyssée, translated into French by Charis Vourkas, with engravings by Christos Santamouris, Paris: Artémis 1998-1999, 2 vols
- Nikos Kazantzakis, Tjusdansen ur Kazantzakis Odíssia, sjätte sången verserna 1-75, 284-317, 340-352, 522-550, 564-608, translated by Eva Hedin, with illustrations by Frank Stella ["six songs", lines 1-75, 284-317, 340-352, 522-550, 564-608]
Theatre performances & adaptations
- Adapted for the theatre in a translation by Kimon Friar, performed by the University of Michigan Players, 1970
- Performances of adapted excerpts at the universities of Michigan and Wisconsin (USA), with musical accompaniment by Morton Achter, 1971
- Nikos Mamangakis, Odyssey, Opera, 1970, 1982-1984 (first version). Work performed at the Athens Festival and in Heraklion, Crete, in 1984, marking the 100th anniversary of Kazantzakis' birth
- Thomas Beveridge, Odysseus, a musical composition based on the Odyssey, performed at the Horvard Clee Club Foundation (USA), 1969
- Nikos Mamangakis, Odyssey for vocal and instrumental ensembles, 1992
- Manos Moundakis, a composition for the Odyssey, created for eight musicians, 1997. The Work was performed at the Institute Française in Athens to mark the 40th anniversary of Kazantzakis' death.