When Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis’ started working on his first known major novel, Zorba the Greek, he already has an established literary career. Predicated on his friend George Zorbas and their mining venture in the island of Crete, Zorba the Greek has further consolidated Kazantzakis’ status as a top-notch storyteller, not just in the ambit of Greek literature but in the entire literary universe. In Zorba the Greek, Kazantzakis also managed to put to life one of the most memorable literary characters of all time. Mostly philosophical, the novel also provided some of the most memorable passages, which are featured in this quotable quotes post. I hope you enjoy them.

Do check out my complete review of this literary work by clicking here.


“Ah, what remains of a soul for which the wound was too small! A few lines of some else’s poetry, scattered and mutilated lines – not even complete quatrain! I come and go on earth, visit those who were dear to me, but their hearts are closed. Where can I enter? How can I bring myself to life? I turn in a circle like a dog going around and around a house where all the doors are locked and barred. Ah if only I could live free, and not have to cling like a drowning man to your warm and living bodies.”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“That little body is, I believe the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“Alone by the dying fire, I weighed Zorba’s words – they were rich in meaning and had warm earthy smell. You felt they came up from the depths of his being and that they still had a human warmth. My words were made of paper. They came down from my head, scarcely splashed by a spot of blood. If they had any value at all, it was to that mere spot of blood they owed it.”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“A man’s head is like a grocer, it keeps accounts: I’ve paid so much and earned so much and that means a profit of this much or a loss of that much. The head’s a careful little shopkeeper, it never risks all it has, always keeping something in reserve. It never breaks the string. Ah no! It hangs on tight to it, the bastard! If the string slips out of its grasp, the head, poor devil, is lost, finished! But if a man doesn’t break the string, tell me what flavor is left in life? The flavor of camomile, weak camomile tea! Nothing like rum – that makes you see inside out!”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“I’ve seen all sorts and I’ve done all kinds of things… A woman has nothing else in view. She’s a sickly creature, I tell you, and fretful. If you don’t tell her you love and want her, she starts crying. Maybe she doesn’t want you at all. maybe you disgust her, maybe she says no. That’s another story. But all men who see her must desire her. That’s what she wants, the poor creature, so you might try and please her.”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“Luckless man has raised what he thinks is an impassable barrier round his poor little existence. He takes refuge there and tries to bring a little order and security into his life. A little happiness. Everything must follow the beaten track, the sacrosanct routine, and comply with safe and simple rules. Inside the enclosure, fortified against the fierce attacks of the unknown, his petty certainties, crawling about like centipedes, go unchallenged. There is only one formidable enemy mortally feared and hated: the Great Certainty. Now this Great Certainty had penetrated the outer walls of my existence and was ready to pounce upon my soul.”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“Free yourself from one passion to be dominated by another and nobler one. But is not that, too, a form of slavery? To sacrifice oneself to an idea, to a race, to God? Or does it mean that the higher the model the longer the tether of our slavery? Then we can enjoy ourselves and frolic in a more spacious arena and die without having come to the end of the tether. Is that, then, what we call liberty?

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“Is he good? Or is he bad? That’s the only thing I ask nowadays. And as I grow older – I’d swear this on the last crust I eat – I feel I shan’t even go on asking that! Whether a man’s good or bad, I’m sorry for him, for all of ’em. The sight of a man just rends my insides, even if I act as though I don’t care a damn! There he is, poor devil, I think he also eats and drinks and makes love and is frightened, whoever he is: he has his God and his devil just the same, and he’ll peg out and lie as stiff as a board beneath the ground and be food for worms, just the same. Poor devil. We’re all brothers! All worm-meat!”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“I did not know. I was fully aware of what would be destroyed. I did not know what would be built out of the ruins. No one can know that with any degree of certainty, I thought. The old world is tangible, solid we live in it and are struggling with it every moment – it exists. The world of the future is not yet born, it is elusive, fluid, made of the light from which dreams are woven; it is a cloud buffeted by violent winds – love, hate, imagination, luck, God… The greatest prophet on earth can give men no more than a watchful word, and the vaguer the watch word the greater the prophet.”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“Look, one day I had gone to a little village. An old grandfather of ninety was busy planting an almond tree. ‘What granddad!’ I exclaimed. ‘Planting an almond tree?’ And he, bent as he was, turned around and said, ‘My son, I carry on as if I should never die.’ I replied: ‘And I carry on as if I was going to die any minute.’ Which of us was right, boss?”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“Keep your distance boss! Don’t make men too bold, don’t go telling them we’re equal, we’ve got the same rights, or they’ll go straight and trample on your rights; they’ll steal your bread and leave you to die of hunger. Keep your distance, boss, by all the good things I wish you!”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“Woman is a fresh spring. You lean over her, you see your reflection and you drink, you drink until your bones crack. Then there’s another who comes and he drinks. Then a third… A fresh spring, that’s what she is and she’s a woman, too.”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“I think, Zorba – but I may be wrong – that there are three kinds of men: those who make it their aim, as they say, to live their lives, eat, drink, make love, grow rich, and famous; then come those who make it their aim not to live their own lives but to concern themselves with the lives of all men – they feel that all men are one and they try to enlighten them, to love them as much as they can and do good to them; finally, there are those who aim at living the life of the entire universe – everything, men, animals, trees, stars, we are all one, we are all one substance involved in the same terrible struggle. What struggle?… Turning matter into spirit.”

~ Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek