Muhammad as a synthesis of meditation and action: a 1932 screenplay by Nikos Kazantzakis

Panayiota Mini

In 1932, Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), the Greek author known worldwide for his novels (e.g., Zorba the Greek 1946, The Last Temptation of Christ 1951), wrote a screenplay titled Mohammed. This text, written in French, was not Kazantzakis’s only attempt at screenwriting. Influenced by the montage cinema of the Soviet Union, where he lived at intervals between 1925 and 1929, Kazantzakis first wrote the screenplays Kokino mandili [Red Handkerchief], Saint Pacome et Cie, and Lenin there in 1928. After putting aside this preoccupation for some time, he resumed it in 1931 in Gottesgab, Czechoslovakia, where he then resided, and by the end of 1932, in addition to Mohammed he had completed four more screenplays, Don Quixote, Buddha, A Solar Eclipse, and Decameron.'

Kazantzakis dearly wished to see these works on screen. In the Soviet Union, he and Panait Istrati (1884-1935), the French-Romanian author of Greek origins, with whom Kazantzakis collaborated in this endeavor, hoped to have the scripts filmed by the All-Ukrainian Photo-Cinema Administration (VUFKU).2 Then, in the early 1930s, Kazantzakis and on his behalf his friend Pantelis Prevelakis, a Greek author who was studying in Paris, approached foreign filmmakers and producers to shoot his works of the 1930s. Despite these efforts, none were shot. Still, Kazantzakis’s screenplays, most of which are available either in published form and/or in typed manuscripts, are important in understanding this author’s career. They reveal his indebtedness to major film movements, including Soviet montage and French impressionism.’’ They evince his desire to give his ideas concrete form through techniques he later developed in his epic poem The Odyssey (1938) and his novels.4 And, they show his influence from neo-romantic theories, most prominently those by Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and also Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), and Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936).

Among Kazantzakis’s screenplays, Mohammed bears special contemporary significance, given the ever-growing scholarly interest in the dialogue between cinema and religion5 and the depiction of Muslims on film.6 Kazantzakis’s screenplay does include stereotypes of Arabs, in line both with his own perception of peoples and ethnicities and with prevailing Orientalist tropes of the 19th and 20th centuries. Stereotypes notwithstanding, Mohammed is a particularly interesting work, as it offers us a highly positive depiction of Muhammad produced by a non-Muslim author in the first half of the 20th century; an author, moreover, from Greece which has historically been considered unfriendly to the Ottomans and their religion. As this chapter shows, influenced by anti-rationalist thinkers, Kazantzakis understood Muhammad as a great hero who sensed deeply inside him the existence of a single God and passionately fought for his ideas, putting his own wellbeing at risk. Kazantzakis’s Muhammad cares about the weak and the poor, and is indifferent to petty material goods or pragmatic politics. Moreover, Kazantzakis conceived Muhammad as the embodiment of divine intuition and constant fight for the creation of a just world, a visionary exemplifying a synthesis of meditation and action. As this preliminary discussion suggests, this screenplay is important for one more reason. Although never shot, it constitutes a rare case of an artist’s effort to portray Muhammad on film, contributing thus to our knowledge of the ways in which artists and intellectuals have visualized the Muslim Prophet.

The first known initiative to depict Muhammad on screen dates to 1926, when a German film company asked the Turkish playwright and filmmaker Wedad Orfi (1900-1953) to make a film about the Prophet.7 The film would be financed by the Germans and the Turkish state and star the Egyptian actor Youssef Wahbi (1898-1982). Mustafa Kemal Atatiirk’s Turkish Republic and the Istanbul council of ‘ulamas (the Islamic scholars of religious law) approved of this project, but when the plan became known the Sunni clerics of the Al-Azhar University of Cairo issued a fatwa, stipulating that Islam forbids a depiction of the Prophet on screen. King Fuad I of Egypt himself intervened to halt the project, which was indeed abandoned on the basis that the representations of living creatures “within the realm of the sacred were unacceptable.”8 A similar project in Egypt suffered the same fate in 1930, when the Young Men’s Muslim Association (Society of Muslim Youths) protested to the Egyptian Prime Minister and the press against it.9

In his correspondence of 1931 and 1932 with Prevelakis and his companion and future wife, Eleni Samiou, Kazantzakis does not mention the earlier incidents when referring to his screenplay on Muhammad.10 It is likely, however, that he was familiar with them, since he closely followed the developments in world culture. Whatever the case was, Muhammad could not but be a suitable subject for Kazantzakis at a time when he wanted to establish an international career. In fact, he wanted to collaborate with well-known European filmmakers for the implementation of Mohammed; either Walter Ruttmann (1887-1941), the famous German director of Berlin -Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927), who lived in Paris at the time, or, as a second choice, the French director Jean Lods (1903-1974),11 a prominent member of the ciné-clubs movement and brother-in-law of Léon Moussinac (1890-1964) whom Kazantzakis had met in the Soviet Union on the occasion of the tenth jubilee of the 1917 Revolution, which they both attended.

Kazantzakis’s plans started taking shape on February 21, 1932, when Prevelakis met Ruttmann in Paris and gave him Kazantzakis’s Mohammed and Don Quixote to read. According to Prevelakis, the meeting was timely; Ruttmann and the film company for which he worked, Société Générale des Films, was in need of scripts, especially stories for Valerii Inkizhinov (1895-1973), the star of Vsevolod Pudovkin’s (1893-1953) montage classic Potomok Chingis-Khana (The Heir to Genghis Khan, aka Storm over Asia, 1928), who collaborated with the company at the time.12 Kazantzakis was delighted to learn that Inkizhinov might play Muhammad.13 As he wrote to Prevelakis, “The lead actor they have - the one in Tempête sur l’Asie - is an excellent Muhammad. It’s just that his nose needs to be changed. He is passionné, concentré, a perfect Asian. I hope very much they’ll accept Muhammad.”'4 In their second meeting a few days later, Ruttmann assured Prevelakis that he had read half of Mohammed, liked it a lot, and would soon contact him for further discussions.15 Prevelakis, however, found it impossible to see or contact Ruttmann again because Ruttmann left Paris,16 a development that left Kazantzakis worried as the German director took the screenplays with him.17 During March and April 1932, Prevelakis’s discussions and Kazantzakis’s hopes for the production of Mohammed (as well as Don Quixote) were directed to Lods, while help was also expected from the journalist Renaud de Jounevel, a friend of Kazantzakis and Prevelakis,18 again with no result.

Kazantzakis’s interest in a film about Muhammad can be partially explained by the international significance and popularity of its subject. Kazantzakis would most likely have never chosen this topic had it not been for two other factors: his life-long influence from the historian and philosopher Carlyle, who had devoted one chapter of his On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (1841) on Muhammad, considering him an exemplary Hero-Prophet; and his passionate admiration for Eastern civilization.19 Kazantzakis’s attraction to the East embraced a wide spectrum of cultures and nations, ranging from Russia to the Middle East and the Far East.20 It went hand in hand with his deep disappointment with Western civilization and was reinforced by his conviction that he himself was an Easterner, as he was from Crete, an island with Arab and African origins in his view.21 For the Arab and Muslim world, in particular, he expressed his respect through various ways: travels to Arab communities, including Palestine, Lebanon, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jerusalem, Haifa, Egypt, and Mont Sinai; visits to Muslim monuments all over the world; and inspired descriptions and interpretations of the inner spirit of Muslim landmarks in his travel novels and personal correspondence.22 Convinced about his Arab origin, he once called himself “Mohammed-el-Cheitan-ben-Kazan” in a photograph of his23 and expressed his high regard for Muslim qualities, with the following lines, “Europe has nothing to give us. My entire soul faces East, as does the Muslim when he prostrates himself and ”74


A similar image of Muhammad praying in the desert opens Kazantzakis’s screenplay (8).25 The text is divided into 95 non-decoupaged sequences, covering in detail the Muslim Prophet’s life from his middle age to his death.26 In the screenplay’s first sequences, while Muhammad silently prays in the desert, in the Kaaba of Mecca the people worship their pagan gods and the notables, led by the powerful leader of the Quraysh tribe Abu Sufyan, perform rituals only to start gambling and arguing immediately afterward. Kazantzakis’s next sequences create a contrast between the people of Mecca and Bedouin traders on the one hand, drinking and bargaining material goods and humans around the Well of Zamzam, and Muhammad on the other, undergoing the mi'raj (ascension). Kazantzakis illustrates in detail Muhammad’s ascension to the sky on the winged horse, his meetings with Moses on Mount Sinai and Jesus on the Mount of Olives, and his arrival in Paradise, inside an enormous palace of which he sees the mosques of Jerusalem, Delhi, Agra, Cairo, and Córdoba.27 After this transcendental journey, Muhammad returns to his home in Mecca, where in a miraculous dream he sees the Archangel Gabriel ordering him to recite some words written on a sacred ribbon. Although illiterate, Muhammad does read the message, “La illah il Allah Mohammed in resoul Allah” [“There is no God but God, Muhammad is the Prophet of God”], causing his wife, Khadijah, to have immediate belief in this message. From that moment on, by overcoming his initial hesitation, Muhammad starts preaching the existence of one god, gradually attracting not only followers but also the ridicule, hatred, and violence of his opponents. Kazantzakis’s next scenes reconstruct Muhammad’s divine protection from Abu Sufyan’s forces, thanks to a spider and a pigeon, the migration to Medina, and the erection of a mosque and Muhammad’s house at the point where his camel stopped. There follow a conquest of a Meccan trade caravan, his marriage to Aisha, the victory over the Meccans at the battle of Badr, and the arrival of Muslim envoys in Byzantium, Persia, and Abyssinia. Then, as Muhammad grows older, Kazantzakis depicts the procession to Mecca, accompanied by a camel carrying the Quran, the bloodless conquest of Mecca, and the destruction of the idols of the Kaaba. At the screenplay’s end, Muhammad, having accomplished his mission, welcomes his death with the utmost dignity. After giving back to a Bedouin some money he had borrowed from him, making sure that he did not treat anyone badly, freeing his slaves, blessing his wives, and encouraging his followers to fight the infidel and love the poor, the Muslim Prophet sees Gabriel approaching with the winged horse. Muhammad twice cries “I’m coming!” and Abu Bakr’s words “Muhammad is dead, Allah is alive” (31) conclude the text.28 Throughout the screenplay, in parallel to this religious trajectory, Kazantzakis also depicts actual or invented stories of Muhammad’s personal life, including exchanges with Khadijah, Khadijah’s death, and private moments with Aisha.

Kazantzakis borrowed the canvas of Muhammad’s biography from Washington Irving’s book titled Life of Mahomet (1850), which had been translated into Greek in 1930 as Muhammad: His Life and Work.29 From Irving’s book, Kazantzakis must also have conceived of the physical appearance of Muhammad. The screenplay describes him as a man of medium shape with a strong head, large chest, sharply hooked nose, large mouth, large but thin legs and hands, hair covering his neck, black beard, and wellshaped moustaches (12), reminding one of Irving’s description of him.30 Despite his reliance on Life of Mahomet, Kazantzakis characterized this book as “wretched.”31 To understand his judgment, we should take into account Irving’s attitude toward Muhammad. On the one hand, Irving, who was instrumental in the popular re-evaluation of Muhammad in the West,32 emphasized major positive qualities of his, including his dignity, sense of justice, indifference for material goods, simplicity in manners, and concern for the poor and the slaves. On the other hand, Irving presented the Muslim Prophet, particularly after the Hijra, as an ambitious leader and tactician, who resorted to crude violence, pragmatic compromises, and convenient marriages for political gains and pretended to receive divine revelations in order to pass some dubious methods of his. Moreover, for Irving Muhammad was a pious man who earnestly attacked idolatry but, nevertheless, naively and erroneously believed that he was the Prophet of the God.

Kazantzakis retained the good qualities that Irving finds in Muhammad, as this is evident in the screenplay’s closing scenes and other parts. For example, the Greek author presents Muhammad giving his dates to a hungry beggar and his cloak to a mother who has no shroud for her dead son (21), foreseeing a woman’s afterlife in Paradise because she helped a dying dog (23), and teaching his soldiers inner strength while sharing the spoils of the battle at Badr (25). Kazantzakis, though, greatly departed from Irving’s interpretation that ascribes political pragmatism and tactical maneuvers to Muhammad. He also revised or cut Irving’s passages that render Muhammad physically and emotionally weak. Kazantzakis, for example, presents Muhammad’s marriages not as political maneuvers but as a sign of his independence from women, a motif that characterizes most of this writer’s heroic figures. Furthermore, while Irving shows Muhammad having “great difficulty in governing his wives” or separating from Aisha for one month,33 Kazantzakis never presents the women having any power over him and once shows him appeasing Aisha’s jealousy of other women by leading her to his room. The scene in the screenplay stops here, but we can assume he is proving his fondness for her by making love (26).

The most important difference between Irving and Kazantzakis concerns their understanding of Muhammad’s relationship with God. In the screenplay, Muhammad’s revelations do not serve any selfish, opportunistic concerns. They are authentic, painful experiences, deriving from a pitiless, demanding God, similar to the divine power that assigns herculean missions to most of Kazantzakis’s heroes. For example, when Muhammad explains to Gabriel that he cannot read the words on the ribbon, the angel throws himself on Muhammad, grabs him, wraps the ribbon around his neck, squeezes it to suffocate him, and commands him, “Read!” (13). When Mohammed hesitates to assume the role of the Prophet before his idolatrous kinship, Gabriel, holding his flaming sword, emerges furious in Muhammad’s yard (13). Before Muhammad utters his message to the polytheists of the Kaaba, the angel looks at him with contempt and reproach (14). In these cases, Muhammad’s reactions include sweating, shiver, and fear. Kazantza-kis’s Muhammad is not an ambitious pragmatist. He is an exceptional man, who feverishly intuits the existence of one god and undertakes the formidable mission to preach this message against the vast majority, including his kinship, and against his own well-being, since he himself was of the tribe of Quraysh.

The filter through which Kazantzakis revised Irving cannot but be the views of Carlyle, whose On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History Kazantzakis owned having written notes in the margins.34 In his work, Carlyle underlined that one should not look into the faults but the uniqueness of Muhammad. He characterized “lies . . . disgraceful to ourselves only” the views that Muhammad “was a scheming Impostor, a Falsehood incarnate.” Muhammad, according to Carlyle, was “a man of truth and fidelity,” a wise and rounded-off personality, “silent when there was nothing to be said; but pertinent, wise, sincere, when he did speak; always throwing light on the matter. ... A serious, sincere character; yet amiable, cordial, companionable, jocose even; .... A spontaneous, passionate, yet just, true-meaning man!”35

Shaped through the tropes of Orientalism, Carlyle’s Muhammad also emerges as an “uncultured semi-barbarous Son of Nature,” a “wild man of the Desert,”36 who in the “bosom of the Wilderness . . . alone with Nature and his own Thoughts” had seen “into the kernel of the matter” and received “an earnest confused voice from the unknown Deep,” “the great Mystery of Existence.” This mystery was that idolatry is worthless, that there is one God who is great and also Islam, “that we must submit to God.”37 “The word of such a man,” Carlyle declared, “is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart” that left its rude, untutored, but also genuine mark on the Quran, the merit of which, Carlyle believed, is “sincerity.”38 This Hero-Prophet and this truth were worthy of the Arabs, whom Carlyle considered “a gifted noble people” of great qualities and admirable “religiosity.”39 This Hero-Prophet and truth fit also to the Arab landscape, which Carlyle described with words such as the following:

Savage inaccessible rock-mountains, great trim deserts, alternating with beautiful strips of verdure: wherever water is, there is greenness, beauty; odoriferous balm-shrubs, date-trees, frankincense-trees. Consider that wide waste horizon of sand, empty, silent, like a sand-sea, dividing habitable place from habitable. You are all alone there, left alone with the Universe; by day a fierce sun blazing down on it with intolerable radiance; by night the great deep Heaven with its stars. Such a country is fit for a swift-handed, deep-hearted race of men. There is something most agile, active, and yet most meditative, enthusiastic in the Arab character.40

Regarding the accusations that Muhammad propagated his message by the sword, so much criticized by Irving, Carlyle wrote:

The sword indeed: but where will you get your sword! Every new opinion, at its starting, is precisely in a minority of one. In one man’s head alone, there it dwells as yet. One man alone of the whole world believes it; there is one man against all men. That he take a sword, and try to propagate with that, will do little for him. You must first get your sword! On the whole, a thing will propagate itself as it can. . . . I care little about the sword: I will allow a thing to struggle for itself in this world, with any sword or tongue or implement it has, or can lay hold of.41

In Kazantzakis’s worldview, wars and revolutions were unavoidable, if not necessary, for life’s upward movement. Thus, similar to Carlyle Kazant-zakis did not criticize Muhammad’s calls to sacred war; on the contrary, within the context of the screenplay, such calls are presented as appeals for heroic action, essential for spreading the truth. A typical Kazantzakis hero, Muhammad is shown fearlessly fighting at Badr and bursting into a wild dance upon the graves of his dead rivals (27). Moreover, Kazantzakis keeps silent about the battles and skirmishes, in which Muhammad was defeated, thus presenting him as an invincible hero, always moving ahead. Moreover, unlike Irving and similar to Carlyle, Kazantzakis presents Muhammad sincere, spontaneous, and inspired. Like Carlyle, he also gives emphasis on Muhammad’s destruction of the idols of the Kaaba, in a scene that also echoes Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer (1889).

Carlyle’s Orientalist understanding of the Arab character and landscape has also infused the screenplay. In keeping with Carlyle’s stress on the unique qualities of the Arab land, which communicates its hidden message to Muhammad, Kazantzakis stages Muhammad’s prayer in mesmerizing oriental scenery.

The desert, ripples of sand. The sun is rising; a lion slowly returns to his cave; herds of jackals, frightened, run away screaming; the lion stops for a moment, looks at the sun, roars and quietly continues his march. Very far away Mohammed lays his turban on the sand and kneels. Out of the background in the desert a caravan appears; the rider, on a little donkey, plays the flute and sings a monotonous song at the pace of the camels.

More than Carlyle, however, Kazantzakis’s screenplay substantiates, I believe, the ideas of Bergson, the philosopher who most profoundly influenced Kazantzakis.42 Although in his last major work The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion, 1932), Bergson approaches Christian morality, his overall understanding of God and breakthrough theoretical notion, élan-vital, seem crucial in illuminating Kazantzakis’s Mohammed. For Bergson, God is no other than the élan vital, life’s upward creative impulse, grasped and understood by gifted persons through intuition, who then decisively affect their fellow people.43 Such is Kazantzakis’s Muhammad, who is over and over again depicted in a state of intuitional revelation. An inspired man, Muhammad undergoes the mi’raj and witnesses Paradise before his own eyes. He keeps seeing the Archangel Gabriel, from the screenplay’s first sequences until his death; has a mental picture of the dead Khadijah in Paradise; envisions the future of Arabia; and once incites a collective “Arab hallucination” in his followers (e.g., 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 27, and 29).

According to Bergson, one of the basic characteristics of élan vital, which intuition grasps, is the so-called “duration,” the deepest part of our inner life, where past, present, and future merge in a moment of eternity, “the continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advances.”44 Kazantzakis could identify such moments in Muhammad’s biography, and he incorporated them into the screenplay with pictorial richness. For the mi‘raj, he vividly illustrated Muhammad’s ties with the past, through his encounter with Moses and Jesus, and suggested Muhammad’s mental intrusion into the future, through his vision of future mosques all over the world. In the final analysis, the mi‘raj would not but constitute for Kazantzakis a perfect example of Bergsonian duration, where different temporal moments unite, annihilating the mathematically conceived notion of time.

Moreover, in the screenplay, Muhammad is a consistent Bergsonian figure, because by taking inspiration of Muhammad’s life Kazantzakis created a man who supplements spiritual activity with action. Kazantzakis’s Muhammad builds his home in Medina (as he actually did), creates objects with his hands, such as a swing for Aisha, enjoys nature’s offerings (grapes, dates, honey, milk) and women without becoming a slave to them, and fiercely wages wars. At the same time, as a truly pious man, he preaches the existence of one God who is merciful and benevolent, when needed. For Kazantzakis, I believe, the Muslim Prophet himself incarnates the Bergsonian élan vital, as he constantly shifts from action to intuition and vice versa, a supreme synthesis of matter and spirit, of revolt against the old and prophesy for the new.

To give visual form to this synthesis of action and spirit, Kazantzakis used some methods of the Soviet montage cinema that had fascinated him in Russia. When Muhammad imagines himself gathering an ever-growing number of fighters under his flag (27), one cannot but think of the relevant concluding scene of Storm over Asia. In addition, a ritualistic dance in the screenplay (22) alludes to a famous dance in this same film, which also inspired a scene of Kazantzakis’s A Solar Eclipse.45

In Mohammed, these influences - rather external - from Soviet cinema are incorporated into a work that primarily echoes the theories of French film impressionism. At this point, we should bring in mind that the film book that first captivated Kazantzakis was Moussinac’s Birth of Cinema (Naissance du cinéma),46 “which synthesized the primary tenets of Impressionist film theory.”47 In Moussinac’s book, which praises, among others, cinema’s capacity to give external forms to apparitions, poetic images, and the “states of the soul,”48 Kazantzakis obviously found the theoretical basis for illustrating his Bergsonian ideas. That Kazantzakis was attracted to Moussinac’s book, as a disciple of Bergson, is not a surprise. Moussinac himself does not mention Bergson, similar to most filmmakers of impressionism who did not refer directly to this philosopher, as they avoided linking their aesthetics with a particular theory.49 Still, some impressionist filmmakers did mention Bergson50 and film scholarship has associated film impressionism with Bergson’s ideas since the terms and worldview of this movement allude to notions of the French philosopher.51

As Kazantzakis’s screenplay survives in full, it gives us an idea of what a film depicting Muhammad might look like had it been shot. Kazantzakis’s screenplay would most likely be an imaginative and appealing work, showing influences from contemporary avant-garde film movements. At the same time, it would be a personal, idiosyncratic portrayal of Muhammad. However positive, Kazantzakis’s Muhammad would first and foremost be Kazantzakis’s (and of his film collaborators), a creature of his worldview and imagination, as shaped through various texts, ideas, and trends in the early 20th century. As such, Kazantzakis’s Muhammad on screen could not have born the religious weight of the actual Muslim Prophet, to whom millions of people believe. In this sense, we may consider a rather fortunate outcome that this screenplay was never shot and that until today the only narrative films on Muhammad’s life - Moustapha Akkad’s The Message (1976), Majid Majidi’s Muhammad: The Messenger of God (2015), and Richard Rich’s animated Muhammad: The Last Prophet (2002) - only suggest the presence of Muhammad without actually presenting him.


  • 1 For a detailed transcription of this preoccupation in Kazantzakis’s career, based on information from his correspondence, see Georges Anemoyannis, “O Kazantzakis senariographos,” Diavazo 190 (April 27, 1988): 39—43; Georges Anemoyannis, “Kazantzaki Scénariste,” Le Regard crétois 3 (May 1991): 53-61.
  • 2 Peter Bien, “Nikos Kazantzakis’s Novels on Film,” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 18, no. 1 (May 2000): 162. Panayiota Mini, “A Red Handkerchief Made with Soviet Threads: Kazantzakis’s (and Istrati’s) Screenplay on the Greek Revolution of 1821,” Journal of Greek Media and Culture 2, no. 1 (2016): 52-53.

Panayiota Mini, “Plathontas gia ton kinimatographo enan epanastati pro-phiti: To senario ‘Mouchametis’ (1932) tou N. Kazantzaki,” in О Kazantzakis ston 21o aiona, ed. Stamatis N. Philippidis (Iraklion: Crete University Press & School of Letters of the UoC, 2010), 271-290; Panayiota Mini, ‘“Mia ekleipsi iliou’ (1932) tou Kazantzaki: Senario gia enan diethni diagonismo,” in Nikos Kazantzakis (Athens: Aikaterini Laskaridi Foundation, 2011), 159-176; Mini, “Red Handkerchief,” 49-65. In this chapter, I elaborate on ideas presented in Mini, “‘Mouchametis’.” The major points of Mini 2010, 2011, 2016 have been restated in Thanasis Agathos, О Nikos Kazantzakis ston kinimatographo (Athens: Gutenberg, 2017).

Timothy W. Taylor, “Kazantzakis and the Cinema,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 6 (1980): 163-168; Stamatis N. Philippidis, Topoi: Meletimata gia ton aphigimatiko logo epta neoellinon pezographon (Athens: Kastaniotis, 1997); Mini, “Red Handkerchief,” 61-62.

See, for instance, Costica Bradatan and Camil Ungureanu, Religion in Contemporary European Cinema: The Postsecular Constellation (New York: Routledge, 2014); David Shepherd, The Silents of Jesus in the Cinema (1897-1927) (New York: Routledge, 2016).

See, for instance, Evelyn Alsultany, Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation After 9/11 (New York and London: New York University Press, 2012); Kristian Petersen, “Hollywood Muslims in Iraq,” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 29, no. 2 (2017): 87-103.

Roy Armes, Dictionary of African Filmmakers (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008), 105.

Ella Shohat, “Sacred Word, Profane Image: Theologies of Adaptation,” in Cinema and Politics: Turkish Cinema and The New Europe, ed. Deniz Bayrakdar (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), 17; see also Viola Shafik, Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity (Cairo and New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2003), 49.

Jacob M. Landau, Studies in the Arab Theater and Cinema (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1958), 164; Freek L. Bakker, The Challenge of the Silver Screen: An Analysis of the Cinematic Portraits of Jesus, Rama, Buddha and Muhammad (Leiden and Boston: Brill Publication, 2009), 190.

Part of his correspondence has been published in Helen Kazantzakis, Nikos Kazantzakis: A Biography Based on His Letters, trans. Amy Mims (Berkeley: Creative Arts Book Co., 1983); Pantelis Prevelakis, Tetrakosia grammata tou Kazantzaki ston Prevelaki (Athens: Eleni Kazantzaki, 1984); Peter Bien, The Selected Letters of Nikos Kazantzakis (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012).

Prevelakis, Grammata, 290.

Letter of Prevelakis to Kazantzakis, February 22, 1932. Prevelakis’s unpublished letters to Kazantzakis are held at the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum Foundation (at Myrtia, Iraklion, Crete), which I thank for giving me access to them. Prevelakis does not mention the name of the company. I conclude that he refers to Société Générale des Films since he explains that it is the production company of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927) and Carl Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928).

Gerasimos Zoras, “Ena ksehasmeno senario tou Kazantzaki gia ti zoi tou Moameth,” Istoria eikonographimeni 544 (October 2013): 103.

Bien, Selected Letters, 417. Kazantzakis had seen at least twice Storm over Asia in Russia (Bien, Selected Letters, 331).

Letter of Prevelakis to Kazantzakis, February 25, 1932.

Letter of Prevelakis to Kazantzakis, March 6, 1932.

Prevelakis, Grammata, 319.

ibid., 265.

Georges Stassinakis, “Introduction aux relations de Nikos Kazantzaki avec le monde Arabo-Musulman,” Le Regard cretois 19 (July 1999): 19-24.

Kazantzakis’s literary production concerning the Middle East and the Far East has been documented in detail in Giorgos Kechagioglou, “Merikes paratiriseis kai skepseis me aphormi ti mesoasiatiki kai apoanatoliki grammateiaki diastasi ston N. Kazantzaki,” in O Kazantzakis ston 21o aiona, 107-144.

Vrasidas Karalis, O Nikos Kazantzakis kai to palimpsisto tis istorias (Athens: Kanakis, 1994), 94; Stassinakis, “Introduction,” 19-20.

Stassinakis, “Introduction.”

Prevelakis, Grammata, 472.

Bien, Selected Letters, 71.

The screenplay has been published in French: Nikos Kazantzaki, “Mohammed,” Le Regard cretois 15 (July 1997): 8-31. Throughout my chapter plain numbers in parenthesis indicate page numbers in this publication of Mohammed.

As Mohammed is not decoupaged, similar to all his 1932 screenplays, Kazantzakis sometimes characterizes it a “libretto,” most likely choosing the term that was used for detailed stories for the screen in the Soviet Union.

I present the plot in detail because Kazantzakis sometimes rearranges the chronology and changes the locations of the events of Muhammad’s life, or invents some incidents.

All translations from French and Greek sources are mine.

Prevelakis, Grammata, 280-281.

Washington Irving, Life of Mahomet (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1850), 192. Prevelakis, Grammata, 296.

Albert Rolls, “Mahomet and His Successors,” in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God, Vol. 1: A-M, eds. C. Fitzpatric and A.H. Walker (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Publications, 2014), 354-356; Alberto Saviello, “Between ‘Convivencia’ and ‘Reconquista’: The Prophet Muhammad as Arabian Knight in a Spanish Qur’an Translation of 1872,” in The Image of the Prophet Between Ideal and Ideology, eds. Christiane Gruber and Avinoam Shalem (Berlin and Boston: de Gruyter, 2014), 335.

Irving, Mahomet, 123, 175.

Georgia Katsalaki (ed.), I vivliothiki tou Nikon Kazantzaki sto Istoriko Mouseio Kritis (Iraklion: Etairia Kritikon Istorikon Meleton, 1997), 103.

Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911). The quotations derive from pp. 47, 54-55, 56, 57, 59, 68, 69.

ibid., 68, 64.

ibid., 47, 54-55, 57, 64.

ibid., 56, 69.

ibid., 49.

ibid., 49.

ibid., 62-63. Italics in the original.

Peter Bien, Kazantzakis: Politics of the Spirit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), passim.

Henri Bergson, Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2013), 30-51, 221-282.

Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (New York: The Modern Library, 1944), 7.

Mini, “‘Ekleipsi’,” 171-172.

Taylor, “Kazantzakis.”

  • 47 David Bordwell, French Impressionist Cinema: Film Culture, Film Theory and Film Style (New York: Arno Press, 1980), 237.
  • 48 Léon Moussinac, Naissance du cinéma (Paris: J. Povolozky & C’e, 1925), 24.
  • 49 Bordwell, French Impressionist Cinema, 126.
  • 50 Richard Abel, “The Contribution of the French Literary Avant-Garde to Film Theory and Criticism (1907-1924),” Cinema Journal 14, no. 3 (1975): 34; Bordwell, French Impressionist Cinema, 40, 113.
  • 51 Maureen Turim, Flashbacks in Film: Memory and History (New York: Routledge, 1989), chapter 3.


Abel, Richard. 1975. “The Contribution of the French Literary Avant-Garde to Film Theory and Criticism (1907-1924).” Cinema Journal 14, no. 3: 18-40.

Agathos, Thanasis. 2017. О Nikos Kazantzakis ston kinimatographo. Athens: Gutenberg.

Alsultany, Evelyn. 2012. Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11. New York and London: New York University Press.

Anemoyannis, Georges. 1988. “O Kazantzakis senariographos.” Diavazo 190 (April 27): 39^13.

Anemoyannis, Georges. 1991. “Kazantzaki Scénariste.” Le Regard crétois 3 (May): 53-61.

Armes, Roy. 2008. Dictionary of African Filmmakers. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.

Bakker, Freek L. 2009. The Challenge of the Silver Screen: An Analysis of the Cinematic Portraits of Jesus, Rama, Buddha and Muhammad. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

Bergson, Henri. 1944. Creative Evolution. Translated by Arthur Mitchell. New York: The Modern Library.

Bergson, Henri. 2013. Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Bien, Peter. 1989. Kazantzakis: Politics of the Spirit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Bien, Peter. 2000. “Nikos Kazantzakis’s Novels on Film.” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 18, no. 1 (May): 161-169.

Bien, Peter. 2012. The Selected Letters of Nikos Kazantzakis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Bordwell, David. 1980. French Impressionist Cinema: Film Culture, Film Theory and Film Style. New York: Arno Press.

Bradatan, Costica and Camil Ungureanu. 2014. Religion in Contemporary European Cinema: The Postsecular Constellation. New York: Routledge.

Carlyle, Thomas. 1911. On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Irving, Washington. 1850. Life of Mahomet. London: Henry G. Bohn.

Karalis, Vrasidas. 1994. О Nikos Kazantzakis kai to palimpsisto tis istorias. Athens: Kanakis.

Katsalaki, Georgia (ed.). 1997. I vivliothiki tou Nikou Kazantzaki sto Istoriko Mouseio Kritis. Iraklion: Etairia Kritikon Istorikon Meleton.

Kazantzaki, Nikos. 1997. “Mohammed.” Le Regard cretois 15 (July): 8-31.

Kazantzakis, Helen. 1983. Nikos Kazantzakis: A Biography Based on His Letters. Translated by Amy Mims. Berkeley: Creative Arts Book Co.

Kechagioglou, Giorgos. 2010. “Merikes paratiriseis kai skepseis me aphormi ti mesoasiatiki kai apoanatoliki grammateiaki diastasi ston N. Kazantzaki.” In O Kazantzakis ston 21o aiona, edited by Stamatis N. Philippidis, 107-144. Iraklion: Crete University Press & School of Letters of the UoC.

Landau, Jacob M. 1958. Studies in the Arab Theater and Cinema. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Mini, Panayiota. 2010. “Plathontas gia ton kinimatographo enan epanastati pro-phiti: To senario ‘Mouchametis’ (1932) tou N. Kazantzaki.” In O Kazantzakis ston 21 o aiona, edited by Stamatis N. Philippidis, 271-290. Iraklion: Crete University Press & School of Letters of the UoC.

Mini, Panayiota. 2011. ‘“Mia ekleipsi iliou’ (1932) tou Kazantzaki: Senario gia enan diethni diagonismo.” In Nikos Kazantzakis, 159-176. Athens: Aikaterini Laskaridi Foundation.

Mini, Panayiota. 2016. “A Red Handkerchief Made with Soviet Threads: Kazant-zakis’s (and Istrati’s) Screenplay on the Greek Revolution of 1821.” Journal of Greek Media and Culture 2, no. 1: 49-65.

Moussinac, Léon. 1925. Naissance du cinéma. Paris: J. Povolozky & C’e.

Petersen, Kristian. 2017. “Hollywood Muslims in Iraq.” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 29, no. 2: 87-103.

Philippidis, Stamatis N. 1997. Topoi: Meletimata gia ton aphigimatiko logo epta neoellinon pezographon. Athens: Kastaniotis.

Prevelakis, Pantelis. 1932a. Letter to Kazantzakis. February 22,1932. Nikos Kazantzakis Museum Foundation.

Prevelakis, Pantelis. 1932b. Letter to Kazantzakis, February 25, 1932. Nikos Kazantzakis Museum Foundation.

Prevelakis, Pantelis. 1932c. Letter to Kazantzakis. March 6, 1932. Nikos Kazantzakis Museum Foundation.

Prevelakis, Pantelis. 1984. Tetrakosia grammata tou Kazantzaki ston Prevelaki. Athens: Eleni Kazantzaki.

Rolls, Albert. 2014. “Mahomet and His Successors.” In Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God, vol. 1: A-M, edited by C. Fitzpatric and A.H. Walker, 354-356. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Publications.

Saviello, Alberto. 2014. “Between ‘Convivencia’ and ‘Reconquista’.- The Prophet Muhammad as Arabian Knight in a Spanish Qur’an Translation of 1872.” In The Image of the Prophet Between Ideal and Ideology, edited by Christiane Gruber and Avinoam Shalem, 311-335. Berlin and Boston: de Gruyter.

Shafik, Viola. 2003. Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity. Cairo and New York: American University in Cairo Press.

Shepherd, David. 2016. The Silents of Jesus in the Cinema (1897-1927). New York: Routledge.

Shohat, Ella. 2009. “Sacred Word, Profane Image: Theologies of Adaptation.” In Cinema and Politics: Turkish Cinema and The New Europe, edited by Deniz Bay-rakdar, 2-37. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Stassinakis, Georges. 1999. “Introduction aux relations de Nikos Kazantzaki avec le monde Arabo-Musulman.” Le Regard cretois 19 (July): 19-24.

Taylor, Timothy W. 1980. “Kazantzakis and the Cinema.” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 6: 157-168.

Turim, Maureen. 1989. Flashbacks in Film: Memory and History. New York: Routledge.

Zoras, Gerasimos. 2013. “Ena ksehasmeno senario tou Kazantzaki gia ti zoi tou Moameth.” Istoria eikonograpbimeni 544 (October): 100-107.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >