Zorba the Greek: The Tragic Layer Underneath Zorba’s Feigned Happy-Go-Lucky Style and Dancing

There is a deeper and more tragic layer to the famous movie Zorba the Greek (1964) with Anthony Quinn as Zorba. It’s not about unalloyed good-natured buffoonery or high spirits alone, as everyone seemed to think.

Zorba makes a tragic and transformative spontaneous confession about his past in a dialog with Basil (Alan Bates the introverted British character with whom he takes up).

Like every soulful human who wishes to stay happy and relaxed in life, Zorba also has his tragic fate on his back. Zorba is no different, he also has a dark past. His crimes and atrocities were endless when he fought for his country against the Turks and Bulgarians.

As he tells Basil that he killed people, burnt villages and raped women. But he puts all this in his tragic past and tries to restore peace in his life. He is married but has left his family behind.

He is trying to some extent to kill his inner pain, just revealed to Basil, through the famous dancing:

Sirtaki or syrtaki (Greek: συρτάκι) is a dance of Greek origin, choreographed for the 1964 film Zorba the Greek. It is a recent Greek folk dance, a mixture of syrtos and the slow and fast rhythms of the hasapiko dance.

The dance and the accompanying music by Mikis Theodorakis are also called Zorba’s dance, the Zorba or “the dance of Zorba.” The dance has become popular in Greece and one that is identified with the Greeks.

The name sirtaki comes from the Greek word syrtos—from σύρω (τον χορό), which means “drag (or lead the dance)”—a common name for a group of traditional Greek dances of so-called “dragging” style, as opposed to pidikhtós (πηδηχτός), a hopping or leaping style. Despite that, sirtaki incorporates both syrtos (in its slower part) and pidikhtós (in its faster part) elements.

Thus Zorba the Greek is a tragic story of a broken man—Zorba—trying to dance himself into an anesthetized state. It’s not about Falstaffian “clowning around.” To a large extent, Zorba is trying to run away from himself or “jump over his own shadow,” so to speak, but this must fail because hyperactivity of his type won’t help him from re-colliding with his life and his past.

Movies as an Education in Global Looting: The Sea Hawk (1940)

Movies and the World as an Arena of Violent Domination and Global Looting

The classic Warner Brothers swashbuckler, The Sea Hawk, from 1940, within its romantic adventures and intricate swordfights (perhaps comparable to the car chases of later movies) is a partly historical, partly fictional version of a world built on imperial struggles and ransacking and despoiling. The hegemonic power in the West (and perhaps worldwide) is Spain. Phillip II the king-emperor wants to own and dominate and rule the whole world. In 1588, his Spanish Armada loses to England. (The British of course want to compare this to the Battle of Britain against the German Luftwaffe.)

Set in 1585, The Sea Hawk opens with King Philip II of Spain plotting world domination, laughing that all world maps will soon read simply “Spain” — once England is out of the way, of course.

The Spanish ambassador departs for England to escort his niece to Queen Elizabeth’s court, but in a spectacular sea battle, the Spanish galley is soundly damaged, boarded, raided and sunk by a group of pirates led by Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, a Sir Walter Raleigh stand-in played by Erroll Flynn. Thorpe rescues the galley slaves — they row the boat — and spares the crew, taking them aboard and delivering them to England. The jewels and other bounty (or a portion thereof) are a gift to the Queen.

His crew is part of a noble privateer coalition — the Sea Hawks — who justify their piracy as reclamation of English goods (and enslaved sailors) from the Spanish behemoth. The political fallout from Thorpe’s abduction of the ambassador forces Elizabeth to outlaw the Sea Hawks, including an official denial (and private approval) of his mission to Panama to steal a shipment of Aztec gold.

Inca gold is also mentioned in the movie as a target of robbing.

Sir John Hawkins (1532–1595), part of this group of global sailor-pirates and master-mariners, was one of the most notable sailors and naval commanders of the sixteenth century.

He is known for his pivotal role in the maritime history of England and the rise of the global slave trade.

John Hawkins, the son of a merchant, was born in Plymouth in 1532. He became a sea captain and in 1562 became the first Englishman to start capturing people in Sierra Leone and selling them as slaves to Spanish settlers in the Caribbean. (Notice that selling slaves does not discriminate against Spaniards even with Phillip II threatening England. Business is business.)

Stealing Aztec gold as part of colonial or imperial plundering and the slave trade were part of the dark side of history, something the standard history books “skate over” dishonestly.

A key scene between the Spanish aristocratic beauty and Captain Thorpe:

Doña María Álvarez de Córdoba: “I’m not in the habit of conversing with thieves. I thought I made that quite clear, Captain Thorpe.”

Captain Geoffrey Thorpe: “Why, yes, all except your definition. Tell me, is a thief an Englishman who steals?”

Doña María Álvarez de Córdoba: “It’s anybody who steals… whether it’s piracy or robbing women.”

Captain Geoffrey Thorpe: “Oh, I see. I’ve been admiring some of the jewels we found in your chest… particularly the wrought gold. It’s Aztec, isn’t it? I wonder just how those Indians were persuaded to part with it.”

The Sea Hawk (1940)

Donald Trump continues this tradition of looting when he says of Iraq’s oil:

“Think of it as our oil under their sand.”

Thus the whole world is an arena where the weak don’t have any property rights: not the oil or gold, not themselves (slavery) and not their country (colonialism).

This exploitative hierarchy and “world-system” is part of “the way of the world” and even a romantic adventure story like 1940’s The Sea Hawk gives you a Hollywoodized glimpse into its roots. Imperial struggles in the West spill over into colonization and ransacking and looting. History books one sees in high school are dishonest and in that sense uninformative or even disinformative.

The popular PBS travel series Rick Steves’ Europe unintentionally gives us a wonderful example of this notion of plunder and looting as a pillar of world history in the show on Venice. Rick Steves is talking about the various statues in Venice’s central St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), and comments “I’d call the style ‘Early Ransack.’”

This Rick Steves quip about ransacking and historical wealth-building is very informative.

Movies as Your Own Informal University

Theodicy is the inquiry into the paradox that a loving God would witness and allow such endless evil as exists in the world.

Movies can be very informative as a parallel university which gives you a visual and story-based entry into such a problem or puzzle or conundrum or dilemma.

Take the Roger Corman classic film (based on the Edgar Allan Poe story):

The Masque of the Red Death from 1964.

Consider the following exchange between Prospero (Vincent Price plays a kind of “evil machine”) from the film:

Prospero: Somewhere in the human mind, my dear Francesca, lies the key to our existence. My ancestors tried to find it. And to open the door that separates us from our Creator.

Francesca: But you need no doors to find God. If you believe…

Prospero: Believe? If you believe, my dear Francesca, you are… gullible. Can you look around this world and believe in the goodness of a god who rules it?

Famine, Pestilence, War, Disease and Death! They rule this world.

Basic Story:

The evil Prince Prospero is riding through the Catania village when he sees that the peasants are dying of the Red Death. Prospero asks to burn down the village and he is offended by the villagers, Gino and his father-in-law Ludovico. He decides to kill them, but Gino’s wife, the young and beautiful Francesca, begs for the lives of her husband and her father and Prospero brings them alive to his castle expecting to corrupt Francesca. Prospero worships Satan and invites his noble friends to stay in his castle which is a shelter of depravity against the plague. When Prospero invites his guests to attend a masked ball, he sees a red-hooded stranger and he believes that Satan himself has attended his party. But soon he learns who his mysterious guest is.

Theodicy and the Explanation of God’s Coexistence with Evil:

Wikipedia informs us:

Theodicy means the vindication of God. It is to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil, thus resolving the issue of the problem of evil. Some theodicies also address the problem of evil “to make the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good or omnibenevolent God consistent with the existence of evil or suffering in the world.” Unlike a defense, which tries to demonstrate that God’s existence is logically possible in the light of evil, a theodicy provides a framework wherein God’s existence is also plausible.

The German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz coined the term “theodicy” in 1710 in his work Théodicée, though various responses to the problem of evil had been previously proposed. The British philosopher John Hick traced the history of moral theodicy in his 1966 work, Evil and the God of Love, identifying three major traditions:

  1. the Plotinian theodicy, named after Plotinus.
  2. the Augustinian theodicy, which Hick based on the writings of Augustine of Hippo.
  3. the Irenaean theodicy, which Hick developed, based on the thinking of St. Irenaeus.

One of life’s educational tricks (a pillar of Meta Intelligence) is to let the off-campusuniversity” of movies give you an on-ramp, if you know how to take it, into formal academe on the campus.

Multiple Searchlights Give You Understanding

Naive views of world events and world history are mono-causal but the world is always “multifactorial.” The Left and the Right keep on pushing these “perfect myopia” analyses:

For example, in the movie masterpiece Reds from 1981, John Reed (played by Warren Beatty) keeps repeating that the cause of World War I is and will be J.P. Morgan’s loans and profits, a variant of “vulgar Marxism.”

We have already seen that one cannot understand World War I and the “winds of war” leading up to it without several layers of analysis including the globalization forces from 1870-1914 and the rise of an integrated Atlantic economy (Professor Jeffrey Williamson book); the rise of the Anglo-German antagonism (described in Paul Kennedy’s excellent book); the flow of loan capital and debts described in Herbert Feis’s classic, re-issued in 1965 and described here:

“This book, published for the Council on Foreign Relations, does not deal directly with the war or with its origins, but it has been included in this category because few books published in recent years have made more substantial contributions to the history of pre-war international relations in the broadest sense.

Feis’s book is the first adequate treatment of international loans in the years from 1870 to 1914, a subject the importance of which has long been recognized but the discussion of which has never got far beyond the stage of loose generalities. The scientific treatment of it involves a thorough command of the extensive literature of pre-war diplomacy as well as an intimate acquaintance with the sources of international finance.

So far as the reviewer can see, Feis has not missed anything of importance. He not only knows the material, but he knows how to use it; he understands the political motives and considerations which lay behind these financial transactions. A large part of the volume is taken up with a pioneer study of the character of British, French and German foreign investments and the general policies followed by the governments towards investments abroad. The remainder is devoted to a review of the major enterprises—the financing of Russia, the Balkan States, Egypt, Morocco, China and some of the less important countries. Other chapters deal with the vexed problems of Balkan and Asiatic railway. In many instances Feis’s treatment is the only adequate one in existence, but even in the larger sense the book is a reliable and thoroughly readable piece of research, one that no student of international relations can afford to overlook.”

(William L. Langer’s review of Europe: the World’s Banker, 1870-1914 by Herbert Feis)

On top of all this, we have the problem of parochial and tribal and personal “sleepwalking,” captured so well by Professor Christopher Clark:

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 is historian Christopher Clark’s riveting account of the explosive beginnings of World War I.

The drastic changes in attitudes, society, values and mentalities is then captured, for post-World War I England, by Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End:

Parade’s End (1924-1928) is a tetralogy of novels by the British novelist and poet Ford Madox Ford (1873–1939). The novels chronicle the life of a member of the English gentry before, during and after World War I.

Only this type of “multifactorial” panorama—what we call “circum-spective intelligence” or “meta-intelligence”—can give you the multiple searchlights you need.

Where the searchlight views intersect is where understanding begins.

Everything else is monomaniacal cartooning à la the “simp” analysis of John Reed in the brilliant movie Reds, from 1981.

Education and the Question of Intuition

An intuition pump is a thought experiment structured to allow the thinker to use his or her intuition to develop an answer to a problem. The phrase was popularized in the 1991 book Consciousness Explained by Tufts philosophy and neuroscience professor, Daniel Dennett.

We argue in this education-completing book, that our intuitions are puzzling in a way that “intuition pump” talk does not cope with at all.

Let’s go immediately to the example of simple versus compound interest in basic finance.

You borrow $100.00 for a year at an annual interest of 100%, without compounding and hence simple. A year passes and you owe the lender the initial $100 plus one hundred percent of this amount (i.e., another hundred). In a year, you owe $200.00, and every year thereafter, if the lender is willing to extend the loan, you owe another hundred to “rent” the initial hundred.

This is written as A+iA, where A is the initial amount (i.e., $100.00) and i is the interest. This can be re-written as A(1+i)n where n is the number of years. Thus, if n=1, you owe: A(1+i), which is 100×2 (i.e., the $200 we just saw). There’s nothing tricky in this.

You then are introduced to compound interest (i.e., where the interest accumulates interest). You can see where compounding by 6 months (semi-annually, or half a year) or 12 months involves dividing the n (the exponent over 1+i) by 12 months, two half-years or 365 days. You could routinely go to days and hours and minutes and seconds and nanoseconds and you could calculate interest payments compounding for each case.

But here is where your intuition falters and fails: suppose you compound continuously?

You get to the number e as growth factor where e=2.71823

Simple algebra does show that at 100% interest, $100 of a loan becomes $100 multiplied by e1 (hundred percent=1) or just e (i.e., you owe $100e).

This gives you $271.82.

So what has happened?

At one hundred percent simple interest you owe $200.00 to the lender. Continuous compounding means you owe $271.82. Instead of owing $100 in interest, you owe $171.82. Your interest bill has gone up by $71.82 or about 72 percent.

Does that seem intuitive? Probably not.

How could one ever apply an “intuition pump” to this arithmetic? We get to the 72% increase in interest by using e which has nothing very intuitive about it. Thus it’s not clear that “intuition pumps” will work here.

You use compound interest arithmetic to get a number which you would never have been able to estimate based on standard intuition since like the 22/7 or 3.14 for π (pi), there’s nothing to “recommend” 2.71823 in and of itself. This means that the link between computational arithmetic understanding and your “gut” or “sixth sense” is feeble at best.

By exploring this way of thinking you could deepen your “meta-intelligence” (i.e., perspective-enhancement). The British economist Pigou (Keynes’s teacher) says that people have a “defective telescopic facility” (i.e., have a poor or even erroneous sense of time-distance).

How one might strengthen one’s sense of time-distance or “far horizons” is not clear.