MovieChat Forums > Zorba the Greek (1964) Discussion > Did people of Crete used to loot the dea...

Did people of Crete used to loot the dead and stone widows?


I enjoyed the film a lot, but there's something about those two scenes that didn't sit well with me. Were they realistic or slanderous?

Prog.

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Those scenes intrigued me too - the whole persecution of the widow, the stoning, the looting... I just found them too over-the-top. But the movie is based on a novel by a Greek author; the director is from Cyprus - given the proximity to Crete, they should know the lives of its inhabitants... otherwise, they're terrible stereotpes!

Tu sei la prima donna del primo giorno della creazione.

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Tch tch... people, come on, it's a movie (or a novel if you like, whichever you read/saw first) FICTION. Just because in the movie they kill the widow, doesn't give you the right to judge the people.

"If there is anything that history has taught us....

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Just because in the movie they kill the widow, doesn't give you the right to judge the people.
No offense, but are you serious?

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Yes, indeed, it was true. Only with the "disrespected" and "hookers" and others without (presumed) families (mainly because those families would have jumped on the possessions of the deceased instead).

There and far worse customs are equally prevalent in rural communities throughout the world today. The stoning of Irene Pappas' character, The Widow, for her affair with Alan Bates' character is STILL all too common to any who read the news. Denials to the contrary.

A wonderful film.

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Well being from Crete (as the author of the original book was) I can reassure you that we don't loot people or stone windows on a regular basis:) I would very much encourage you to read the amazing book form Nikos Kazantzakis as well other novels from him like "The last temptation of Christ", "The recrussifiction of christ","Freedom or Death" etc. His work is deeply philosophical and despite them being placed in Crete they are a commentary for humanity and any society. He was just a creatan and he was usually setting them to take place in Crete. However light and pleasant some of his books maybe, they are very profound and with a lot of moral questions being asked. Kazantzakis was a person who had explored almost all the prominent philosophies and ideologies of the 20th century and more. He had passed to be from a communist to a Budhist, to a deeply spiritual Christian and finally to making his own contribution in theology/philosophy with his amazing book called Saviours of God. If you liked this movie I am sure you will love his books.

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Well, I guess very small and conservative communities anywhere in the world are handling "sinful" women like this, concerning the first scene. Or, at least they used to handle them like this in the past. Compare two fairly similar scenes,in Ryan's Daughter and in Malena. These two women were not widows, yet married and unfaithful and, without being killed by the communities to whom they belonged, they underwent strinkingly resembling act of public disgrace(most likely with lifelong traumatic consequences).

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Can I mention 'Scarlet Letter' by Rolland Joeff? Wasn't it worse?

(In that film, the priest does it in the very end of the movie what he should have done in the beginning, of course, that wouldn't have made a movie but then, we would have done without!)

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What was the widow's sin? Exactly, nothing. The stoning was completely irrational, just as she couldn't be blamed for the death of that guy, who was just being an idiot.

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"conservative communities"? You're a douche.

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Thanks a lot. This is not the board for Ryan's Daughter, use spoiler markers for spoilers from other movies so you don't wind up ruining it for views who haven't seen those movies. *beep*

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There is something similar happening in other parts of Europe or the world. It happened until after WWII at least in Europe. It is a movie, Black book, showing WWII resistance and after war scenes somewhere in Holland. But the scene is similar to Malena, as people stated to linch women that they thought went with Nazis.

Unfortunately this practice still exist, in some close religious communities in some parts of the world, where it's even worse.

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Why did they kill the widow? Because the man who desired her all the more because she spat on him, killed himself? I don't understand.

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Well, actually yes. Also because everybody desired her but couldn't have her.

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Family honour is a valuable "commodity" in Crete and generally the Mediteranean countries.Strangely enough, the peasants hated the widow although she kept her dead husband's memory by not taking another man.Normaly they sould have supported her for that, but I guess her looks and manners made them lust after her and if they couldn't have her, then no one would. That is why they kill her. We never stoned people in Crete though, marginalised people would have just been cast away to live in the wild or another area. That is not to say there wasn't honour killing in Crete but it has died out and it mainly reffered to young girls disshonouring their father's name in terms of relations with men. But even in that case it would have to be an extremely violent father because usually they would abused them physicaly or marry them off far away.

Now about looting the dead I can say with certainty that it was, is and will be considered a horrid,horrid thing to do and it was never practiced in Crete. The dead are sacred and highly reverred and to disturb them in any way is just unacceptable. The only thought I can come up with as a reason d'etre of the looting scene, is the moral degradation of the peasants since, as a community, they respect nothing and do not live under any ethical code. It could also bring out Zorba's superiority of character compared to them, even though he is considered a lowlife and a bum.

Sounds logical?

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Yes, because he is shown as basically a very decent, tolerant human being. But the looting scene stayed with me a long time after seeing the film, especially as he mentioned that they wouldn't bury Madame Hortense in a Christian ceremony because, essentially, she was a foreigner and a woman of loose morals. Just to leave that poor body there alone, seemed rather macabre to me.

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Thanks for the informative answer, Chris. Very helpful. Too bad I only found out about it by chance, as IMDB didn't send me any email notification.

Prog.

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When I saw(in 1980) this scene in the film I stopped watching it.It really upset me because I had recently returned from working in Greece.I found the Greeks proud,friendly and eager to philosophise.I couldn't believe what I saw in the film- such savagery.
This year I finally read the book and the murder still puzzles me.In the book she is not killed because of the sex with the narrator.This was unknown to the community.It was only after the "affair" that she felt daring enough to venture out in public and this was when the locals (rather like the scene in Ryan's daughter) turned on her.
In the book the narrator was another Cretan, not an Englishman.
I've spent many anxious hours trying to figure out this book.I now think that the narrator might well be Kazantakis' image of himself and Zorba is this man he'd like to be.I think the widow's death perhaps demonstrate's Kazantakis' hatred of mob ignorance.What's remarkable and bizarre is Zorba's readiness to forgive and forget.Was Kazantakis drunk when he write this or was just a sick joke like burning a monastery(can't remeber if that scene was in the film).Also in the book there is mention of a friend of the narrator's who heaps abuse on the Greeks and teaches his child's first words in Greek to be"I hate the Greeks".He does seem to have a wild and cruel sense of humour.
It seems strange that almost every taverna rings out with "Zorba the Greek" music when much of the book seems to show contempt for Greek conventions.

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Cretans are very peculiar people.They were peculiar back then and they still are.Even the rest of the Greeks can't understund some of their values and "ethics".Kazantzakis was a Cretan and i m sure he knew such insidences.
And for your information Zorba existed.I don't know if all the things in the book rely on trooth facts (i m sure they don't) but Zorba existed and as they say was pretty much the person that Kazantzakis describes.

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First of all, I would like to advice some in here
that half-knowledge is worse than full ignorance.

Secondly , let me give you some historical events:

- Zorba was a true person,and he was a friend with Kazantzakis...

- The story, in the book, is quite different than the movie...
Although they have lots of differences,the meaning of the book
is presented in the movie , but in a more Hollywood-like way.
- The story,especially in the book, lies about 1930.This is after
the first world war , and as you can understand, things were different
back then,people had different beliefs,and they were really poor.

- Cretans do have their own moral code , and sometimes were ready to kill
for that...that does not mean they do it today, and that does not mean
that they killed for no reason.

- Back at those ages , Zorba was a symbol , a misfit....people then, in Greece
and throughout the world, were quite conservative.He was a person who believed
in freedom , broke the conservative beliefs of the church,the stupid beliefs of men , that kept them trapped , that kept them in misery....he was a free man, always in a conflict with himself, because the beliefs and what was told as
"truth" to the others , was not nearly enough for him...

For the end, I will give you a quote, by a letter that Zorba sent to Kazantzakis,after he had left for Serbia,where he married a widow and had children, and was working as a coal miner:

" I found a beautiful stone...come immediately"

Europe was in the urge of World War 2 , so Kazantzakis was upset , and replied:

" The whole world is afraid for the worse and you ask me to come to Serbia just to see a nice stone? "

And Zorba replied :

" Boss, you are kalamara ( the guy that always reads books but does not live his life) . You have the chance to see a nice stone , and you don't want to see it.I sometimes wonder , is there Hell? And i think, that hell must exists for some kalamaras."

Ps : Sorry guys and girls , but in order to appreciate Kazantzakis , you have to read his work

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Very nice comments zazik. Simply put, the behaviour of the villagers is just an antithesis to Zorba´s personality. Do not take it as a strict commentary on a Cretan village. It is a metaphor for the whole world.

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A sidelight to all the above. There's a Kazantzakis Museum in the village of Myrtia, near Heraklion, Crete, in the house of Nikos' father, where you can see a picture and learn all about the real Zorba- he was a Macedonian miner named George Zorbas who during the First World War helped Kazantzakis operate a small lignite mine that he inherited in the Peloponnese.
Equally there really was a Madame Hortense- she was a bath attendant from Provence who worked in the Rethymnon hammam in the early 20th century and claimed to have been the concubine of the four Admirals of the Great Powers (French, Russian, British and Italian) who were constantly patrolling Cretan waters at the time.
When the film was shot in Crete in 1964, the villagers were rather amazed at the plot- Cretans as a rule did not loot the dead or stone widows. As gryspnik said, their actions were a metaphor. It was Kazantkakis' genius to take real people and make them into them into two of the most memorable characters in modern fiction- and make his points at the same time.

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Cretans are very peculiar people.

"All Cretans are liars" - Epimenides the Cretan



I used to want to change the world. Now I just want to leave the room with a little dignity.

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I would like to add a few things for you to ponder as well.

Madame Hortense (Bubalina) was Catholic, which was why she was not buried by the Greek Orthodox community she lived in, at the time there was no tolerance for other faiths ( even today it is constitutionally forbidden/against the law in Greece to proselityze ). Though it is absolutely not the norm to rob the dead, the community had no respect for her as a foreigner, as a loose woman of questionable mental status. My mother saw this movie in Canada with my father shortly before we moved to Greece, naturally he is orthodox and she is pentecostal and as such was terrified that if she died while we lived there, she would not be buried..

We are not from Crete, but my father has told me that they are very fierce people, you have heard the saying "don't be such a cretan! " well, now you know why.

As for the poor widow, she kept herself apart and lived within the moral code, unfortunately the young man that had a crush on her observed the englishman go to her house, and full of despair killed himself-it is his father, seeking to avenge his son's shame that takes it out on the widow...

Completely unrelated to the themes in this film I would mention "300" and Sparta, a region famous for its soldiers. My father told me was true that if a male child was born and found to be crippled/handicapped or in any way unsuitable to military service the child was in fact thrown over a cliff to his death, sons were really taken by the age of 5 to be trained as a soldier.

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I read the book a while back, I remembered what happened to the widow, and so I always avoided watching the movie because of that. Today I watched the movie for the first time but I forwarded that scene. Same for Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

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it's interesting that kazantzakis, a communist turned buddhist (then christian), should present the peasants as degraded, as respecting nothing, as not living under any ethical code. the sympathetic characters are the narrator (clearly a middle class, cosmopolitan intellectual), zorba (from peasant stock, but with a cosmopolitan character and the knowledge of an intellectual), the prostitute (a "worldly" woman who has had relationships with men from various different cultures), and the widow (who may come from a middle-class background). it is as if kazantzakis, when he abandoned communism, also abandoned any sympathy he might have had for the provincial peasant classes.
Jonathan Becker

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sounds to me like evil, pure evil.
making excuses for murderers and thieves is disgusting.

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First, the lady that died.
Yes. They looted her house and everything she owned. Why? Because, you can clearly hear them in the film saying something to the effect "The State will take it. We are poor". They took her belongings instead of letting it go to the state for taxes. When there is no heir, the state gets the belongings.

Second, the guy that was in love with the girl and would do anything for her, even die. Which, he did. He killed himself to prove his love to her.
The towns people felt that she disprected him and caused him to kill himself. Eye for an eye, they killed her out of respect for him.

Anywho, that is how I see it anyways.

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Finally! She was looted because she had no heirs. As you said, they were poor so they took her belongings rather than let the state have them. She was also a foreigner. I did not get the impression they would do that to their own.
It was still a horrible scene though. I half expected them to steal her death bed out from under her. That scene and the murder of the widow will haunt me forever.


Love is never having to say you're sober.

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:D :D
so that makes it all right?

one would think bible would teach evil peasants how to behave - going to church every sunday, but it had a counter effect, they became satanist instead

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I agree with the first poster - I (think) i liked the film - but those two scenes i really didn't like, and kind of disturbed me.

Do you have monkeys in Scotland?
~No, but if we did we'd probably deep fry them!

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My wife, who's own grandfather was from Crete told me that when her grandmother died she literally had to guard her hope chest in order to prevent her ravenous relatives from looting the entire contents of her house.

One of her uncles carried a hammer and went about the house breaking locks and prying drawers open to get to the contents.

I think it stems from a childhood of poverty. Take what you can when you can and screw morality. Sad.

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"First, the lady that died.
Yes. They looted her house and everything she owned. Why? Because, you can clearly hear them in the film saying something to the effect "The State will take it. We are poor". They took her belongings instead of letting it go to the state for taxes. When there is no heir, the state gets the belongings."


I kind of felt that is was more than that. It was some kind of revenge. I haven't seen the movie in a while and maybe I'm wrong, but wasn't she a prostitute who spent at least some of her time there when she was young? I think she was screwing all their husbands back in the day and they couldn't do anything about it. At least they had the decency to take out their revenge on material objects instead of harming anyone.


This is only the first layer. Don't you wanna see how deep I go? -Winifred

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I just did answered this question and several others in my other post:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057831/board/nest/30617813?d=221828611#22 1828611

"The sleeper must be awaken!"

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