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
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.”
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
Text by Varvara TsakaBack to top