The Butterfly through the eyes of Zorba the Greek

Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

        The Butterfly

I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the back of a tree just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened; the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath, in vain.

It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today 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 external rhythm.

     ~ Nikos Kazantzakis, from Zorba the Greek

4 Responses to “The Butterfly through the eyes of Zorba the Greek”

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  1. Gary says:

    That’s a sad tale. I too have butterfly fatalities resting heavy on my conscience. As a young kid growing up in New Guinea, my brother and I went through this phase where we were keen on butterfly collecting. So each day we’d venture forth with home-made nets, catching butterflies and putting them into small cages made from cardboard boxes. The creatures quickly died of course, after which we’d pin them onto boards for display. The thought appalls me even as I write this. My only excuse: we were young then. But why didn’t our parents put us straight?

  2. Patrick says:

    Mmmmmm…. I sometimes have the same thought about all the frogs legs I had my mother cook up for me.

    We were young. And it took us more than a single episode to learn this lesson.

    While it’s sad that a single butterfly had to die for Zorba to learn his lesson, it’s perhaps worthwhile in the order of things. Afterall, Zorba learned an appreciation for, well, The Dao (The Way, literally translated), in that moment. In the Daoist way of thinking, maybe this was the one way Zorba could learn the lesson, making the entire experience part of The Dao.

    What’s truly sad is how many butterflies have died without any lessons being learned. But, then, that’s the way of the Dao too.

  3. Karen Moonen says:

    Hmmm, I’m presuming you are meaning “butterflies” as in life experiences as well?? (I hope i’m on the right track here) Lots of things die i.e. faith, hope, love, dignity, just to name a few, without lessons being learned. So often it’s easier for people to say “Oh well, sh*t happens” without having regard to the consequences of their actions, thoughts or deeds. It’s sad. I know that as a kid, if ever my brother or myself treated anyone/anything badly, we were made to sit and think about what we had done and made to make amends accordingly. So Gary, my parents did actually instil that sense of “do unto others” into me and I try to live by that rule always

  4. Patrick says:

    Karen, actually, I didn’t . . . at least not intentionally. But the metaphor does work. :)

    Love the Golden Rule. Any law or rule which abrogates or offends this rule is a poor one to live by, and a worse one to enforce.

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