Nikos Kazantzakis carried on the epic tradition of Greek literature through many of his novels by exploring what drives man on through the journeys of the flesh and the mind. In both his most famous novels, Freedom or Death and Zorba the Greek, Kazantzakis asks what is man’s purpose on earth. The role of the woman in both novels sheds light on man’s purpose and plight on earth, both in stark contrast to the “female species”, as Zorba refers to her, and in complementary fashion as the key to paradise. Kazantzakis depicts woman as an advisory, a temptress, evil, something to pass the time with, and the only paradise man can ever know. Within these contrasting visions of woman, Kazantzakis depicts a philosophical underpinning that is still true in Crete today as much as it was in the epic poetry of ancient Greece – Woman is a mystery to man, and one of the many demons that drives him on.
In all of Kazantzakis’s novels, Crete is a metaphor for the human values that are essential for man’s survival. Except for the later end of the 20th Century’s reliance on tourism, Westernization has not aided in the breaking down of these values or the provincial constraints on women. Thus Kazantzakis’s novel is still relevant today in light of the overwhelming nationalism and traditional patriarchy of modern day Greece.
Kazantzakis presents the novels to represent modern day epic Greek tragedy with tragic heroes. Heroes reflect the values we revere, the accomplishments we respect and the hopes that give life meaning. The Epic tradition is familiar in the works of Sophocles and in the grandiose Gods of Greek heritage. It is this tradition that brings the God's closer to the heart with lyrical poetry of emotion and human nature.