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Basil, an introverted English writer, comes to Greece to work on a lignite mine he has inherited from his Greek father. He meets an exuberant Greek peasant, Zorba, who persuades Basil to hire him to help work on the mine. They arrive on Crete and take up lodging in a hotel owned by Madame Hortense, an old French courtesan. Zorba courts Madame Hortense and persuades Basil to court another woman, a beautiful widow. Zorba goes to the city for a spree and leaves Basil to take care of Madame Hortense. Basil's shyness is overcome, and he visits the widow again. This time he makes love to her, and when her suitor, Pavlo, hears a rumor of this, he commits suicide. The townspeople turn against the widow and brutally murder her. Madame Hortense becomes ill; and while she is dying, the peasants of the village strip her of all her belongings. Work on the mine is finally completed, but a crucial cable line is destroyed as the operation begins. Basil is upset by his bad fortune, but Zorba teaches him to dance and be joyful in accepting what life has to offer.