Places: Zorba the Greek

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Vios kai politela tou Alexe Zormpa, 1946 (English translation, 1952)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Places DiscussedPiraeus tavern

Piraeus Zorba the Greektavern. Place on Crete where the Boss meets Zorba. A chance encounter throws together the two protagonists, and readers immediately see the difference in their outlooks on life. Zorba is a reckless adventurer who travels where his heart takes him; the Boss is a sensitive thinker, afraid to strike out on his own. The location is important because it establishes a motif that is thematically central to the novel: the lure of the sea, a metaphor for the unknown that awaits every traveler through life.

The Boss’s hut

The Boss’s hut. Seaside shack in which the Boss and Zorba live as they work at mining lignite. While Zorba supervises the miners and works beside them, the Boss frequently remains at the hut writing a book about Buddha. At the end of each day, the two frequently converse about issues such as God, human immortality, the wisdom of activity versus contemplation, the place of women and family in men’s lives, and other philosophical and moral issues.

Significantly, the hut is set beside the sea, a central symbol in the novel. Both Zorba and the Boss recognize the mystery posed by the sea, on which hundreds of generations of men have gone to seek adventure, fortune, and happiness. The warm breezes that blow north across the sea from Africa suggest both the source of human life and the life-giving forces of nature–concepts that the Boss struggles to understand.

Madame Hortense’s hotel

Madame Hortense’s hotel. Located in the village, Madame Hortense’s hotel is a pivotal locale in the novel. Through the character of Madame Hortense, Kazantzakis displays the fate of women in the world, and her home is emblematic of the transient nature of male-female relationships. Once the mistress of men from many nations, she is now reduced to keeping house for travelers who pass through the village. At her death, the house is scavenged by other women who take away the mementos that signified her worth as a human being.


Village. Locale for the majority of the action in the novel. Here Zorba carries on a love affair with Madame Hortense, and the Boss meets the widow whose death at the hands of angry villagers causes him personal pain and leads him to question further the purpose of life. Like the inhabitants of Megalokastro, the village in Kazantzakis’s Freedom or Death (1953), the citizens of this village display the values that characterize Crete itself: a proud sense of self-reliance based on isolation from other centers of civilization, a keen sense of family loyalty, and a zest for life that Zorba admires but the Boss mistrusts.


Monastery. Religious community that the Boss and Zorba visit at the invitation of Zacharias, a monk who has become disillusioned with life there. Within the walls of the monastery, they discover that monks ostensibly devoted to the service of God carry on lives characterized by petty jealousies, scandalous sexual behavior, acquisitiveness, and preferment based on favoritism rather than merit. With Zorba’s help, Zacharias gains revenge on the monks by burning down the monastery.

BibliographyAnapliotes, Giannes. The Real Zorbas and Nikos Kazantzakis. Translated by Lewis A. Rich-ards. Amsterdam: A. M. Hakker, 1978. A comprehensive history of Kazantzakis’ friendship and adventures with the real Zorba, George Zorba, in 1917, during World War I, when they were engaged in coal-mining and tree-harvesting operations.Bien, Peter. “The Mellowed Nationalism of Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek.” Review of National Literatures 5, no. 2 (Fall, 1974): 113-136. Discusses Zorba’s character as an uncommitted patriot who admires Cretan food, oil, wine, and women but does not want to sacrifice his life for Crete.Elsman, Kenneth R., and John V. Knapp. “Life-Span Development in Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek.” International Fiction Review 11, no. 1 (Winter, 1984): 37-44. Analyzes Kazantzakis’ novel within its social and political contexts and examines the different transformations and developments of the novel’s characters.Givelski, Paskal. “From Homer to Kazantzakis.” Macedonian Review 22, no. 2 (1992): 147-150. A useful review and analysis of the connection between Kazantzakis’ tragic figures. Gives background to aid in understanding characters in Zorba the Greek, such as the village Widow and Pavli, both of whom meet their ends tragically.Levitt, Morton. “The Companion of Kazantzakis: Nietzsche, Bergson and Zorba.” In The Cretan Glance: The World and Art of Kazantzakis. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980. An excellent discussion of Zorba’s philosophy as encompassing elements from Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Carl Jung.
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