Karagiozis

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.

About lornaofarabia

I am a teacher from Medford, Oregon. I currently live and work in Cairo, Egypt.
This entry was posted in Greece, Ikaria, Theatre and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Karagiozis

  1. albertoenriquez1 says:

    Hmmm… the big-nosed character in Tyrolean garb seems to be a Jewish caricature? The name isn’t quite legible, but is it Μωϋσῆς, or Greek for Moses? Seems like even on a seemingly idyllic island, the myth of the pastoral must remain just a myth. Bigotry and human conflict enter in everywhere. Was there a line in Homer about the inescapability of contention? Or am I thinking of a later philosopher?

    ________________________________

    • I wondered the same thing myself when I saw this character. After looking into it, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. This character is named Morfonios, which is a Greek surname but not a Jewish one – it means “pretty boy”. He is described by one source as “a silly character who thinks he is handsome and brags about his looks. He is greedy and self-deluded, and enjoys teasing the success of others. He believes everyone else to be stupid and ugly. He is constantly in love, and singing about love.” Another source says he is “a European bred softie; he is very ugly with a huge head with an extremely large nose; however, he considers himself to be handsome and keeps falling in love. He often exclaims a sound like ‘whit!'” I suppose he is meant to be German or French, despite his Greek name.
      There is, however, a different character named Solomon described as “a wealthy Jewish merchant and Karaghiozis’ landlord. He appears in comedies and is law-abiding, peaceful and cajoles others” and “a usually rich Jew from Thessaloniki, one of the less known characters, he speaks in his own fashion, sometimes uttering a very fast repeating sound often compared to a Gatling gun, earning him, by Karagiozis, the nickname “heavy arms”, despite his frail build. His personality can vary, but usually plays minor roles.”
      I won’t say that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist in Greece; sadly, it seems to be on the rise worldwide. But until World War II there was a large Jewish population that for the most part lived comfortably alongside Christian Greeks. Thessaloniki was a Jewish majority city. The German occupation of Greece during WWII changed all that, as Jews were forced out and sent to concentration camps. 90% of the Jewish population of Thessaloniki was killed. Few who survived returned after the war and now there are only about 8,000 Jews in all of Greece.
      But your point about bigotry and human conflict entering in everywhere is well taken. I spent a little time working in a Syrian refugee camp on a different idyllic Greek island and while most local residents were sympathetic and welcoming, others felt threatened and defensive. Why do some people fear the other, while some don’t?

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