Each country has its well-known and loved literary characters whose essence is deeply connected to the identity of a nation or region. This exhibition is about those characters, introducing the fictional world, authors and cultural surrounding of smaller European states. Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg are represented with their literary characters. Learn about the project


Ο Φτωχούλης του Θεού (God’s Pauper)


The figure in question is Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), the Catholic saint and founder of the Franciscan Order who, largely thanks to the novel, is known as “God’s pauper”.

For the novel’s author, Nikos Kazantzakis, Saint Francis was yet another role model as regards the conversion of matter into spirit or the reconciliation of words and deeds.

Kazantzakis himself describes his hero in the following words: “Francis was one of the first, the first perfect flower to come up from the painfully ploughed winter of the Middle Ages. His heart was plain, joyful, immaculate; his eyes, like those of a great poet or a child, gazed on the world for the first time. Many times, Francis would have looked on a humble flower, a spring or an insect, and his eyes would have filled with tears… He is a poet; one of the greatest poets of the early Renaissance; he even bent over God’s lowliest creatures to hear the immortal thing they bear within them - their melody.”

“… through exercise and love, his soul overcame reality – what wingless people call reality – hunger, cold, scorn, injustice, ugliness. And he succeeded in transforming it into a joyful, tangible dream that was truer even than the truth.”

“… because for me, Saint Francis is the role model of the man in arms, who through incessant, arduous struggle succeeds in doing man’s highest duty, higher than morality, truth and beauty: transubstantiating the matter entrusted to him by God, and making it into spirit.”


Nikos Kazantzakis

Nikos Kazantzakis


Nikos Kazantzakis was born in Heraklion, Crete, when the island was still under Ottoman rule. He studied law in Athens (1902-06) before moving to Paris to pursue postgraduate studies in philosophy (1907-09) under Henri Bergson. It was at this time that he developed a strong interest in Nietzsche and seriously took to writing. After returning to Greece, he continued to travel extensively, often as a newspaper correspondent. He was appointed Director General of the Ministry of Social Welfare (1919) and Minister without Portfolio (1945), and served as a literary advisor to UNESCO (1946). Among other distinctions, he was president of the Hellenic Literary Society, received the International Peace Award in Vienna in 1956 and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Kazantzakis regarded himself as a poet and in 1938 completed his magnum opus, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, divided into 24 rhapsodies and consisting of a monumental 33,333 verses. He distinguished himself as a playwright (The Prometheus Trilogy, Kapodistrias, Kouros, Nicephorus Phocas, Constantine Palaeologus, Christopher Columbus, etc), travel writer (Spain, Italy, Egypt, Sinai, Japan-China, England, Russia, Jerusalem and Cyprus) and thinker (The Saviours of God, Symposium). He is, of course, best known for his novels Zorba the Greek (1946), The Greek Passion (1948), Freedom or Death (1950), The Last Temptation of Christ (1951) and his semi-autobiographical Report to Greco (1961). His works have been translated and published in over 50 countries and have been adapted for the theatre, the cinema, radio and television.


Love and admiration for the hero Saint Francis of Assisi led Nikos Kazantzakis to create his fictional biography. The figure of the most popular saint in the Christian West had moved the author ever since the 1920s, when he first visited Assisi in Italy.

The novel was written in 1953; earlier, in 1951, Kazantzakis had translated Johannes Joergensen’s biography of the saint. He dedicated it to Albert Schweitzer, “the Saint Francis of our times,” as he called him. Kazantzakis’ acquaintance with the Alsatian theologian, philosopher, doctor and musician confirmed his view that the life of Saint Francis was no fairytale, and that even human beings could work miracles on earth. Of the traits shared by saint and doctor, he notes characteristically: “The same powerful, tender love of nature… The same tender, respectful emotion for everything that lives and breathes... The same active compassion and kindness for everything that suffers… The same divine derangement. Both with the same innocent humor…The same impassionate love of music”.

Although reviews of the work were far from unreserved, resting mainly on the fact that it was not an original composition, but rather a “fictionalized biography”, God’s Pauper is well loved by Greek readers, as evidenced by successive re-issues.

God’s Pauper has been translated into many foreign languages and has also been adapted for the theatre.

Interview with Nikos Kazantzakis regarding St. Francis of Assisi

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