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Nikos Kazantzakis’ Cocoon


No place in the world could hold the great thinker of the 20th century like Aegina could. A free spirit like his heroes Alexis Zorbas or Captain Michalis, he refused to succumb to the slightest restriction in his life; he barely lasted three months as a government minister. He was a migratory bird wandering from east to west and from north to south, either as a war correspondent and UNESCO translator, or in search of his own truth. He fell in love with Aegina and built the first permanent home in his life here so he could withdraw for long periods of time, particularly during the years of German occupation, writing or completing some of the masterpieces he left as a legacy to the world. He had been thinking about it since the 1920s, but finally bought the seaside property in Livadi in 1935. The foundation for the house, designed by architect Vasilis Douras, was laid in May 1936. He settled there with his wife, Eleni, in the spring of the following year, while the house was still unfinished. They helped complete it with their own labours, as Kazanzakis worked alongside the builders, grouting and generally overseeing the work. Perhaps he loved it so much that he called it his "cocoon". It is a stone-built structure whose austere simplicity and organic incorporation into the rocky Aeginetan landscape make it a perfect example of modern architecture, set on the waterfront with an infinite view of the Saronic blue. Stories say that in the autumn, Kazantzakis would go up on the roof where his office was and he would open his arms to welcome the first rains as payment for his own work.

Under the northwestern shed roof, he would later place a wooden carving of a mermaid which he had spotted at a boatyard on the island, and on the lintel above the door, there was the sacred Shinto wheel, made in black and gold mosaic.

Kazantzakis and his wife stayed in their "cocoon" until 1946. They were visited by poet Angelos Sikelianos, writer Pantelis Prevelakis, classical scholar Ioannis Kakridis and dozens of other friends. While there, he wrote a large portion of his works, as during this period he continued to work on his epic poem Odyssey and wrote the canta for his tercets; he translated Dante, Cocteau, Hauptmann, Shakespeare, Pirandello and Goethe and wrote about his travels, as well as theatrical works and novels in French.

He rarely left Aegina, except to travel (Japan, China, Spain and England) or to oversee the publication of Odyssey (1938).

"Wherever I go, I always hold Greece like a laurel leaf in my teeth", he would say proudly. And the house in Livadi is certainly a piece of that laurel leaf.

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