On the morning we arrived in Agios Kyrikos some colorful posters caught our eye.
The text says “Teatro Skion – Sokratis Kotsores; we will eat, we will drink, and fasting we will sleep.” All Greek to me (as they say), but Andreas immediately recognized the character in the illustrations as Karagiozis, star of Greek folklore and shadow puppet tradition.
There is a good website that covers the history of Karagiozis shadow puppet theater here (you’ll need Flash Player). I’ll summarize what I learned: Greek Karagiozis has its deepest roots in southeast Asia. The Arabs brought shadow puppetry along trade routes to North Africa in the Middle Ages. The tradition spread to the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s, and by the 1700s there were Turkish shadow puppet stories about “Karagöz.” From the Muslim Turks the form was gradually assimilated and adapted by the Greeks. In Greece, Karagiozis has been a poor but wily Greek since the early 1800s, a trickster who tries to take advantage of the wealthier ruling class Turks and Albanians. If you want to know more about the formulaic stories and traditional stock characters used in Karagiozis puppetry, this Wikipedia article is informative.
Karagiozis shows were hugely popular in Greece until after World War II when movies and other modern entertainments started to take over. The skills and stories are passed from master to apprentice, and there are still a handful of puppeteers like Sokratis Kotsores who carry on the tradition. Kotsores’s mother is Ikarian and he visits the island every spring to put on a show for the kids. I feel very lucky to have seen it.