Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing on the Antipodean Odyssey

I’m really excited to have been interviewed by Liz Hale of the Antipodean Odyssey about Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing. The Antipodean Odyssey is a blog about the way classical myths are used today in children’s literature. Classical myths are still doing their job, entertaining, amusing, inspiring and educating us and our children. Pop over to read the rest of this interview. Take your time and peruse what’s on offer – graphic novels, kid’s novels, Disney…

I think puppetry is the most exciting way to interpret and present mythology and fairy tales. There is inherent magic in the way mythology can teach …

Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing

Interview with Karagiozis Puppeteer, Anastasios Kouzis of the Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros

With Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing YouTube premiere, I offer you this interview with master puppeteer, Anastasios Kouzis of the Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros. My questions were posed in English, translated into Greek, and then translated back into English.

This interview is repeated in Greek mid-way through the post with Anastasios’ original answers.

Anastasios Kouzis of the Ergastirio_Skiwn Kouzaros, chief puppeteer.

Karagiozis is the most recognizable clown of the Modern Greek era. The principal character of the Greek shadow puppet stage his history stretches back in time through the Ottoman Period. Originally a political-satirical, slapstick form of live storytelling with an adult audience in mind, under the onslaught of western pop culture the Karagiozis puppet theatre is now aimed at children.

Anastasios Kouzis heads the well-established, well beloved Ergasitirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros or Theatrical Workshop of Kouzaros. Once dubbed, the Youngest Karagiozis Puppeteer, Anastasios learnt his trade in the traditional way – through his father, the Athenian puppeteer, Spyros Kouzaros.

The Kouzis’ family love for the Karagiozis puppet theatre began around 1923, when Spyros attended performances by puppeteer Dino Theodoropoulon and Harilaos Petropoulos. In 1934 he began performing with the great puppeteer Manolaro at the Theatre of Daka in Kifisia, Athens.

Historic poster from the Kouzaros history with performing Karagiozis

Spyros’ talent ranged from designing the shadows and writing scripts to performing with his considerable vocal dexterity. Later in life he worked towards the preservation of Karagiozis shadow puppetry with the Museum of People’s Trades.

Over the course of 35 years, Anastasios, who has also studied the classics, has continued his father’s work promoting Greek shadow puppetry from the perde (shadow screen) to Youtube and the greater world. It is a love that he has passed to his three children.


Anastasios, thank you for allowing me to interview you.

I warmly thank you for the opportunity to converse with you over the particular questions you pose and respond with my answers.

  1. You worked closely with your father from an early age, what was he like as a boss?

I was blessed to be born to an affectionate father and a good mother who brought me into the world, 30th June, 1959. At the time my father was performing Karagiozis at the theatre of Theodorou Theodoropoulou at Petralona and when I got older he would proudly say to me, “You were born Taso on Theodoroulou’s theater, “and he was happy because at that time he was the only one of his peers to have a son to pass on his craft as a successor.

My father never played the big boss with his concerns. He was firstly a good parent, an excellent master-craftsman, an honoured work colleague and a great teacher. He was pedantic, first with himself, and then with the rest of us. He taught by example.

He worked arduously and was industrious. He began at daybreak, drawing the figures, the posters, the scenery and would go on fashioning new tools even though he would be reciting scenes in the night’s performance.

Consistent with the observance of Karagiozi puppeteers’ tradition, he had a deep and immediately accessible recall: during a performance he would transform seamlessly between various characters.

Historic Kouzaros Karagiozis poster.

If you dared slip with the movement in a “Heroic” or “Metaphysical” performance, or the way you held the figure, or you didn’t recite the lines of a character with their appropriate colour or air, just his severe glance was worse than any admonishment.

He always lay his hand to caress, heal and console.

“Tasos,” he would say, “look at the whole, that’s what matters.”

He was the dynamic power of everything to do with the perde.

2.Your career has spanned four decades, has the Karagiozis Shadow Theatre changed? Has its audience?

The Shadow Puppet stage, like all other endeavours of the soul or art, follows the dictates of the community and the progress of history. And Karagiozis Puppeteers as, “inheritors of their era are nourished by its banquet,” – to paraphrase the poet, Seferis – cannot but follow the progress of the developing modern state and offer the necessary changes in their repertoire, and similarly in the plots of their performances, the characters they show on the screen, the phrases they use e.g., Karagiozis from a secretary evolved into a telegraphist, a telephonist, and these days, a teacher.

Historic poster of the Kouzaros Karagiozis and his sons

In the last 40 years there has been an overwhelming influence specifically from cinema, television, video, and today, the internet. Performances have lost their broader adult appeal and have become perfectly suited to children since whatever was offered in the past is offered today in a better way that is more immediate and diverting.

Unavoidably the plots spread thin and became watered down in performances adapted to the shallow current digital visual representations, e.g., Karagiozis Masterchef” or “Karagiozis in Greece has Talent.”

Certainly, the separation of the patriotic spirit and the practice of honouring it by the craft due to the force of globalization of art has marginalised the heroic performances which are now only rarely seen at national days of remembrance. While, whichever plays had strong religious content or were deemed to have “undesirable topics” for Greek society were neglected in the name modernization and plays with a more serious spirit were unavoidably forgotten.

The absence of a permanent shadow puppet stage with a box office, tied to the current playing of Karagiozis chiefly in summer has resulted in the loss of independence of the Shadow Puppet theatre and today it entreats a welcome from child care centres, schools, council amphitheatres and to all types of public spaces or to popular televised shows, the grants authority, committees and other institutions, submitting to “where the wind blows” in the season and to the dictates of the audience.

3. Today, when literature is discussed there is a lot of talk about the depiction of minority groups, has this effected this form of theatre that traditionally depends for its laughter on satirising stock characters (stereotypes)?

The Vizier’s Albanian guard, Veligekas or Dervenagas

From the beginning of the Common Era (CE/AD) and before, a variety of geo-ethnic groups of lower socio-economic standing and others of a similar purview spilled out of poor neighbourhoods, the amphitheatres and hippodromes of the larger cities, to celebrate pagan festivals around the changing of the seasons, the death and rebirth of nature and the complete cycle of the sun. And for all of its opposition to these festivals the Church managed to place them, “outside the law,” but it didn’t manage to extinguish them totally, neither their spirit nor their protagonists, their mimes, mimics, every marginalised type around, queer in body and soul, the fallen good-natured type and even sinful verses.

The echoes of these ancient festivals reaches us today in the Orthodox Church’s Triodion hymn and in a different variation runs through Mardi Gras celebrations.

Stand-out social characteristics created the representative figures of the shadow stage: mimes, all sorts of marginalized, physically or mentally disabled, fallen nobles, even criminal elements. forceful type as representing society’s margins, the femme-fatale, the overeducated man and many more. These cemented themselves as types from the ethnically diverse and multicultural states of Rome, Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire.

Stavros aka Stavrakas in his idiosyncratic and unusual dress.

On a closer view additions were made by individual puppeteers now and again, which offered a first class product for the satire of the Karagiozis Theatre, but also built richer plots. The strange dress, the odd behaviours, the different ethics and values, the various ways of speaking, the dialects, but also the different languages, became for the perde the origin of offence and clashes, which usually lead to slapstick from the lead character, Karagiozis, who was unsurpassed in embroidering matters. Yet, with his slippery and seasoned punning he provoked unending laughter.

4. I have to ask about Karagiozis’ arm. Do you have any idea where it came from?

Many scholars hastened to attribute the long arm of the Modern Greek Karagiozis to a forced evolution, of the phallus of the older figures of the time of the ottoman or soultanic, obscene Karagiozis.

Karagiozis featuring his outstretched arm.

They haven’t succeeded however, in their endeavour as there exists instances of figures e.g., from Syria, who have a long arm and a long phallus.

Lovers of Ancient Greek culture have asked whether the answer lies in Ancient Attic Comedy and the ancient phallus-bearers, the Silenii and the satyrs, who were a part of Dionysius retinue.

For us the only practical basis for analysis of the question is the actual physical representation of Karagiozis himself. What does he offer us? A hunchback with a long right arm and a short left one (as the audience views him).

For this to be, logic tells us that his spine is slanted to the left. Meaning, that his body is not balanced in the centre but twisted towards the left. Contorted in this way his body forces his one side to hang as well as his arm, despite the other being raised. It is not serendipitous that the Zakynthian Dionysios calls Karagiozis, “thrice hunched.” And this is not the only disfigurement that Karagiozis has: he only has one eye, just as the equally unlucky Fasoulis the Konitsioti has: opposing legs and he declares that, “one is the bakers and the other is the grocers”; that he has a disproportionately big mouth (like a soldier’s oven); a head like a watermelon; a nose like an eggplant from Argos.

Karagiozis the hunchback

What is Karagiozis in his entirety: he is “an incorrigible sinner” meaning, “a complete catastrophe” to remember Aesop. And don’t imagine that the ugly man Karagiozis existed uniquely. There existed many in the course of history who were black-eyed “beauties” in the East with similar traumatised body images, crude characters in the canon with initial mentions in Homer’s Thersites (Illiad B’216) and in Aesop and the famous Curdish Vizier of Aegyptou Kourakous (fl1160-1169 CE) the uncle of Saladin. And from this all-encompassing ugliness and weakness wells up all of Karagiozis’ cunning, cleverness and goodwill.

5. In the past when slapstick was the fashion for comedy, the arm was used as a slapstick. Today, with concerns over depictions of violence in front of children, can it still be used as a slapstick?

In reality, in the older performances, from the beginning of the Modern Greek Shadow Screen, two things defined it: song and slapstick. Chief users of the stick were Veligekas on one side, Barba-Yiorgos on the other, and Karagiozis in the middle, who with his long arm smacked Hatziavatis, his children and all of his unlucky friends.

Today, when the majority of the work happens around kid’s concerns, does it have a place? E.g., When a father smacks his kids or the kids smack their father we feign belief that this behaviour is disturbing, a “so-called” bad example of Violent Karagiozis before children.

Plainly we theorise that the seldom “few short moments of violence” within the rare and comical environment of a performance which progresses through a long established, historic, canonical framework and that lasts an hour at most – children don’t last sitting still much longer- when all day and all night we bombard their digital screens with images of horrible blood and violence from social, political, criminal or war altercations!!! I won’t talk about moving pictures, videos, digital or internet series. “What can anyone say for moving pictures?”

Of the opposing screams and the stormy noises from those who compose much, we will say, one general which won’t result in violence is in “Child’s language.” What happens, indeed, under the other naïve forms e.g., cartoons with relentless corresponding clashes, hidden by their kind-natured sayings or their soft cheerful colours?

Karagiozis puppeteers of today generally avoid violence on their screens, and a simple push towards one of Karagiozis children from his long arm, when they misbehave, results in the child audience cracking up with laughter.

And this unfortunately happens because people are unique where they laugh when one of their own is so laden.

6.The traditional depiction of the Vizieropoula (the noble Vizier’s daughter) she is a very busty woman. Have you had to modify her appearance for your younger audiences or to address feminist concerns?

Traditional depiction of the Vizieropoula

The lead actress of the Perde is the Vezieropoula. Of course, there are other female forms who owe their descent from the beautiful mimes of the Roman and Byzantine Hippodrome where they seduced with their provocative ways the good-natured youths, with the characteristic example, the Emperor Justinian who fell in love with the absolutely beautiful Theodora, daughter of a bear trainer.

Images of provocative ladies continue to exist, fully restored in the Modern era by the important Karagiozis puppeteer and artist of the 20th Century, Kosta Mano, when his performances demanded it. In their career they have progressed as today there are many effective female presentations within a performance that are seductive.

The compelling moral traits of Karagiozis impresses with the figure of the Vizieropoula, who is no longer a Turkish songbird Zene (which means woman), but a European woman dressed conservatively with the latest word on fashion, in this way, however, she doesn’t omit to show off her body’s charm.

The Vezieropoula will always be the object of desire for the cardboard heroes.

Fatme, the Vizieropoula

Anastasios and his Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros have honoured me in taking on my script, Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing, to produce on their Youtube channel.

Συνέντευξη με τον καλλιτέχνη θεάτρου σκιών, Αναστάσιο Κούζη από το Εργαστήριο Σκιών Κούζαρος

Anastasios Kouzis surrounded by his puppets

Ο Καραγκιόζης είναι ο πιο αναγνωρίσιμος κλόουν της νεοελληνικής εποχής. Ο κύριος χαρακτήρας της ελληνικής σκηνής του θεάτρου σκιών έρχεται από το παρελθόν κατά την Οθωμανική περίοδο. Η βάση του, αποτελεί μια πολιτική-σατιρική, χτυπητή μορφή ζωντανής αφήγησης σε ενήλικες ακροατές, και πλέον μετά την επίθεση της δυτικής ποπ κουλτούρας, το θέατρο του Καραγκιόζη απευθύνεται τώρα στα παιδιά.

Ο Αναστάσιος Κούζης είναι ο επικεφαλής του καθιερωμένου, αγαπημένου Εργαστηρίου Σκιών Κούζαρος ή του Θεατρικού Εργαστηρίου Κούζαρου. Όταν ονομάστηκε ως ο νεότερος Καραγκιοζοπαίκτης, ο Αναστάσιος έμαθε την τέχνη με τον παραδοσιακό τρόπο – μέσω του πατέρα του, του Αθηναίου Καραγκιοζοπαίκτη, του Σπύρου Κουζάρου.

Η αγάπη της οικογένειας Κούζη για το θέατρο σκιών ξεκίνησε γύρω στο 1923, όταν ο Σπύρος παρακολούθησε παραστάσεις του Καραγκιοζοπαίκτη Ντίνου Θεοδωρόπουλου και του Χαρίλαου Πετρόπουλου. Το 1934 άρχισε να παίζει με τον σπουδαίο Καραγκιοζοπαίκτη Μανώλαρο στο Θέατρο της Ντάκας στην Κηφισιά.

Το ταλέντο του Σπύρου κυμαινόταν από το σχεδιασμό των φιγούρων και τη συγγραφή σεναρίων παραστάσεων έως και την εκτέλεση τους με τη μεγάλη φωνητική επιδεξιότητά του. Αργότερα στη ζωή του εργάστηκε για τη διατήρηση της της τέχνης του Θεάτρου Σκιών συνεργαζόμενος με το Μουσείο Λαϊκής Τέχνης.

Στη διάρκεια των 35 ετών, ο Αναστάσιος, ο οποίος έχει επίσης σπουδάσει φιλολογία, συνέχισε το έργο του πατέρα του, προωθώντας το ελληνικό θέατρο σκιών από τον μπερντέ στο Youtube και στον ευρύτερο κόσμο. Είναι μια αγάπη που έχει περάσει και στα τρία παιδιά του.

Αναστάσιε, σας ευχαριστώ για την άδεια σας να κάνουμε την παρούσα συνέντευξη.

Σας ευχαριστώ θερμά για την ευκαιρία που μού δίνετε να επικοινωνήσω τόσο μαζί σας, όσο και με το εκλεκτό σας κοινό, απαντώντας στα ερωτήματα που θέτετε.

  • Υπήρξες σε στενή συνεργασία με τον πατέρα σου από μικρή ηλικία, πώς ήταν σαν “αφεντικό”;
The Shadow Puppets of the Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros

Είχα την ευτυχία να γεννηθώ από ένα στοργικό πατέρα και μια καλή μητέρα που με έφεραν στον κόσμο στις 30 του Ιούνη του 1959. Τότε ο πατέρας μου, έπαιζε Καραγκιόζη στο θέατρο του Θεόδωρου Θεοδωρόπουλου στα Πετράλωνα και με υπερηφάνεια μου έλεγε, όταν μεγάλωσα, ότι: «γεννήθηκες, Τάσο, στο πάλκο του Θεοδωρόπουλου», κι ήταν χαρούμενος, γιατί έτυχε στο συνάφι του, εκείνο τον καιρό, αυτός μόνο να έχει αρσενικό παιδί, άρα διάδοχο και συνεχιστή της τέχνης του. Ο πατέρας μου, ποτέ δεν έπαιξε το ρόλο του αφεντικού, με την κυριολεκτική έννοια του όρου. Υπήρξε πρωτίστως καλός γονιός, εξαιρετικός μάστορας, πολύτιμος συνεργάτης και μεγάλος δάσκαλος. Ήταν πολύ απαιτητικός πρώτα με τον εαυτό του και μετά μ’ όλους μας, δίδασκε με τον παραδειγματισμό. Δουλεύοντας με θέρμη και ένταση, ξεκινούσε απ’ τα χαράματα να ζωγραφίζει τις φιγούρες, τις ρεκλάμες, τα σκηνικά και στη συνέχεια να σκαλίζει κανούργια εργαλεία, ενώ απάγγελε  αποσπάσματα της βραδυνής παράστασης. Συνεπής στην τήρηση της παράδοσης, καθώς τη γνώριζε βαθειά και διαθέτοντας τεράστια μνήμη, «μεταμορφωνόταν» αδιάκοπα την ώρα της παράστασης ενσαρκώνοντας τους ποικίλους ρόλους. Και πού να τολμήσεις να κάνεις λάθος κίνηση στις «Ηρωικές» ή «Μεταφυσικές» παραστάσεις, να μην κρατήσεις σωστά τη φιγούρα ή να μην απαγγείλεις με χρώμα και το ανάλογο ύφος τα λόγια σου, το βλέμμα του το αυστηρό και μόνο, ήταν η χειρότερη για μένα τιμωρία. Το χέρι του το άπλωνε πάντα για να χαιδέψει, να ενθαρρύνει και να παρηγορήσει, «Τάσο, έλεγε, να κοιτάς το όλον, αυτό έχει σημασία», ήταν η κινητήρια δύναμη των πάντων στο μπερντέ. Στα τριάντα χρόνια που έζησα κοντά του, διδάχθηκα την τέχνη μας, και όχι μόνο, στην ολότητά της  μέσα απ’ το ζωντανό του παράδειγμα.

  • Η ενασχόληση σου με τον Καραγκιόζη έχει βρεθεί ανάμεσα σε 4 δεκαετίες, έχει αλλάξει κάτι στο Θέατρο Σκιών με την πάροδο του χρόνου και στο κοινό του;

Το «Θέατρο Σκιών», όπως και κάθε άλλη πνευματική ή καλλιτεχνική δημιουργία, υπακούει στους νόμους της κοινωνικής και ιστορικής εξέλιξης. Και οι Καραγκιοζοπαίκτες ως «κληρωτοί της εποχής τους και τρεφόμενοι από την καραβάνα της» – για να παραφράσουμε και τον ποιητή Σεφέρη – δεν μπορούν παρά να παρακολουθούν τις εξελίξεις και διαχρονικά να επιφέρουν τις αναγκαίες αλλαγές στο ρεπερτόριό τους, στο ίδιο το περιεχόμενο των παραστάσεών τους, στους χαρακτήρες που εμφανίζουν στο πανί, στη φρασεολογία τους. Π.χ ο Καραγκιόζης από Γραμματικός, μετεξελίχθηκε σε Τηλεγραφητή, Τηλεφωνητή και στις μέρες μας σε Δάσκαλο. Τα τελευταία σαράντα χρόνια υπήρξαν καταλυτικά, λόγω της συντριπτικής επιρροής του κινηματογράφου, της τηλεόρασης, των video και σήμερα του διαδικτύου. Οι παραστάσεις έχασαν το ενήλικο κοινό τους, κι έγιναν κατάλληλες μόνο για παιδάκια, αφού ό,τι πρόσφεραν εκείνες στο παρελθόν το προσφέρουν σήμερα πολύ καλύτερα και αμεσότερα άλλα ψυχαγωγικά μέσα. Μοιραία, η θεματολογία συρρικνώθηκε και υποβαθμίστηκε σε παραστάσεις προσαρμοσμένες στη ρηχή τηλεοπτική επικαιρότητα π.χ, «Ο Καραγκιόζης master chef» ή «Ο Καραγκιόζης στο Ελλάδα έχεις ταλέντο». Η υποχώρηση μάλιστα του Πατριωτικού πνεύματος και της Ευσέβειας, εξαιτίας του «Κοσμοπολιτισμού» και της «Παγκοσμιοποίησης», έθεσε στο περιθώριο τις Ηρωικές παραστάσεις, που μόνο στις Εθνικές Επετείους αναβιώνουν κάποιες. Ενώ, όσες είχαν έντονο το θρησκευτικό περιεχόμενο ή έθιγαν τα «κακώς κείμενα» της ελληνικής κοινωνίας, στο όνομα του μοντερνισμού και του ανάλαφρου πνεύματος, μοιραία ξεχάστηκαν. Η απουσία των μονίμων Θεάτρων Σκιών με εισιτήριο, κυρίως των καλοκαιρινών, υπήρξε κομβική, καθώς πλέον ο Καραγκιόζης απώλεσε ως θέαμα την ανεξαρτησία του και εκλιπαρεί σήμερα να φιλοξενηθεί σε παιδικούς σταθμούς, σχολεία, δημοτικά αμφιθέατρα και σε άλλους χώρους πολιτισμού ή και σε δημοφιλή τηλεοπτικά Σόου, με τη χορηγία Δήμων, Συλλόγων και άλλων ιδρυμάτων,υποτασσόμενος στον «καθωσπρεπισμό» του καιρού μας και στις απαιτήσεις των πελατών.

  • Σήμερα, όταν συζητείται η λογοτεχνία, γίνεται πολύς λόγος γύρω από την απεικόνιση των ομάδων μειονότητας, έχει επηρεάσει αυτή τη μορφή θεάτρου που εξαρτάται παραδοσιακά από το γέλιο του από σατιριστικούς χαρακτήρες (στερεότυπα);

Από την εποχή της Ύστερης Αρχαιότητας αλλά και παλαιότερα, οι ποικίλες και ετερόκλιτες κοινωνικές ομάδες, της κατώτερης στάθμης ή και του περιθωρίου, ξεχύνονταν απ’ τις φτωχογειτονιές, τα αμφιθέατρα και τους ιπποδρόμους των μεγαλουπόλεων, για να εορτάσουν τις ειδωλολατρικές εορτές, γύρω από την εναλλαγή των εποχών, το θάνατο και την αναγέννηση της φύσης και την τελική κυριαρχία του «ανίκητου Ήλιου». Κι όσο κι αν πολέμησε η Εκκλησία αυτούς τους εορτασμούς και κατάφερε να τους θέσει «εκτός νόμου», δεν κατάφερε να εξαφανίσει εντελώς, ούτε το πνεύμα ούτε και τους πρωταγωνιστές τους: μίμους, μιμάδες, κάθε είδους περιθωριακούς, σωματικά ή πνευματικά αναπήρους, ξεπεσμένους ευγενείς, ακόμη και εγκληματικά στοιχεία. Ο απόηχος αυτών των πανάρχαιων εορτασμών φθάνει ως τις μέρες μας κατά το Τριώδιο και τα ποικίλα κατά τόπους δρώμενα στις Αποκριές.

Αποτύπωμα αυτών των Κοινωνικών Χαρακτήρων αποτελούν και οι αντιπροσωπευτικές φιγούρες του Θεάτρου Σκιών: ο σπαγγοραμένος γέρος, ο ξεπεσμένος ευγενής, ο ερωτύλος νέος, ο παράνομος ή ημιπαράνομος βίαιος τύπος ως εκπρόσωπος του κοινωνικού περιθωρίου, η ξελογιάστρα γυναίκα, ο σωματικά παραμορφωμένος και τόσοι άλλοι. Αυτοί συμπληρώθηκαν από τύπους των ποικίλων εθνοτήτων των πολυεθνικών και αλληλοδιαδόχων αυτοκρατοριών, της Ρωμαïκής, Βυζαντινής και Οθωμανικής. Από κοντά προστέθηκαν και οι εκπρόσωποι τόσων και τόσων επαγγελμάτων, προσφέροντας ένα πρώτης τάξεως υλικό για τη σάτιρα του Καραγκιοζοπαίκτη, αλλά και για να κτίσει ένα πλήθος υποθέσεων. Το παράξενο ντύσιμο, οι αλλιώτικες συμπεριφορές, τα διαφορετικά ήθη και έθιμα, οι ποικίλες λαλιές, οι διάλεκτοι, αλλά και οι διαφορετικές γλώσσες, έγιναν στο μπερντέ αφετηρία παρεξηγήσεων και συγκρούσεων, που οδηγούσαν συνήθως σε ξυλοδαρμό, με πρωταγωνιστή πάντα τον Καραγκιόζη, ο οποίος ήταν μοναδικός στο να μπλέκει τα πράγματα, ενώ με τα ευφυή και πιπεράτα λογοπαίγνιά του προκαλούσε ακατάπαυστο το γέλιο.

  • Πρέπει να σε ρωτήσω για το χέρι του Καραγκιόζη. Γνωρίζεις από πού προήλθε?
Karagiozis and THAT arm

Πολλοί μελετητές έσπευσαν να αποδώσουν το μακρύ χέρι του Νεοελληνικού Καραγκιόζη σε μία αναγκαστική μετεξέλιξη «επί τω κοσμιοτέρω» των φαλλών που έφεραν οι παλαιότερες φιγούρες του «Σουλτανικού» ή Οθωμανικού άσεμνου Καραγκιόζη. Δεν έλαβαν, όμως, υπόψη τους ότι υπάρχουν παραδείγματα φιγουρών, όπως π.χ του Συριακού Θ.Σ, που οι φιγούρες φέρουν και μακρύ χέρι και μεγάλο φαλλό! Οι αρχαιολάτρες αναζήτησαν την απάντηση στην Αρχαία Αττική κωμωδία και στους αρχαιότερους φαλλοφόρους Σειληνούς και Σατύρους, τους οπαδούς του Διονύσου.

Για εμάς η μόνη πραγματιστική βάση ερμηνείας του ζητήματος είναι αυτός ο ίδιος ο σωματότυπος του Καραγκιόζη! Τι μας παρουσιάζει;  Ένα σώμα καμπουριασμένο με το δεξιό, όπως το βλέπει ο θεατής, χέρι μακρύ και το αριστερό κοντό. Για να συμβαίνει αυτό, λογικό είναι η στρέβλωση της σπονδυλικής στήλης να έχει αριστερή ροπή. Δηλαδή, το σώμα δεν είναι κυρτωμένο στο μέσο του, αλλά, στρεβλωμένο προς τα αριστερά. ΄Ετσι, ζαρωμένο καθώς είναι το σώμα κάνει το ένα του μέρος να κρέμεται, άρα και το χέρι, ενώ το άλλο να είναι ανυψωμένο. Δεν είναι τυχαίο που ο Ζακυνθινός Διονύσιος  αποκαλεί τον Καραγκιόζη «τρικάμπουρο»!Και δεν είναι αυτή η μόνη αναπηρία του Καραγκιόζη, έχει μόνο ένα μάτι, όπως και ο αντίστοιχος Φασουλής του Κονιτσιώτη, έχει τα πόδια του παράταιρα, καθώς, όπως ισχυρίζεται, «το’ να είναι το φούρναρη και τ’ άλλο του μπακάλη», έχει δυσανάλογα μεγάλο στόμα (σαν στρατιωτικό φούρνο), κεφάλι (σαν νεροκολόκυθο), μύτη (σαν μελιτζάνα Αργίτικη)….

Τι είναι ο Καραγκιόζης στο συνολό του; Είναι ένα «προσημένον αμάρτημα» μια, δηλαδή, «ολοκληρωτική καταστροφή»,για να θυμηθούμε και τον Αίσωπο! Και μη φανταστείτε πως ο Ασχημάντρας Καραγκιόζης υπήρξε ένας και μοναδικός. Υπήρξαν πολλοί στο διάβα της Ιστορίας Μαυρομμάτηδες, «Όμορφοι» δηλαδή κατά τα γούστα της Ανατολής, με παρόμοιο εκτρωματικό σωματότυπο,χυδαίο κατά κανόνα χαρακτήρα,αλλά και πρωτοφανή ευφυία, από τον Ομηρικό Θερσίτη (Ιλάδα Β’ 216 κ.ε) και τον Αίσωπο,ως και τον περιβόητο Κούρδο Βεζύρη της Αιγύπτου Κουρακούς(1160-1169 μ. Χ.), τον θείο του Σαλαδίνου. Κι απ’ αυτή την απόλυτη Σωματική Ασχήμια και Αδυναμία πηγάζει αντιρροπικά όλη η πονηριά, εξυπνάδα και η ευφυία του Καραγκιόζη.

  • Στο παρελθόν, όταν το χτύπημα ήταν η μόδα για την κωμωδία, όπου ο βραχίονας χρησιμοποιούνταν ως ξύλο. Σήμερα, με τις ανησυχίες για τις απεικονίσεις βίας μπροστά σε παιδιά, μπορεί ακόμα να χρησιμοποιηθεί ως χαστούκι;
Barba-Yiorgos, feared for his strong arm

Πράγματι, στις παλαιότερες παραστάσεις, ήδη απ’ τις απαρχές του Νεοελληνικού Θεάτρου Σκιών, δύο ήταν τα κύρια γνωρίσματα, το τραγούδι και το ανελέητο ξύλο. Κύριοι εκφραστές του, ο Βεληγκέκας απ’ τη μια, ο Μπάρμπα-Γιώργος απ’ την άλλη κι ο Καραγκιόζης στη μέση, που με το «μακρύ του χέρι» έδερνε αλύπητα τον Χατζηαβάτη, τα κολλητήρια του και όλους τους άλλους άτυχους φίλους του.

Σήμερα, που πλέον κατέστη ο Καραγκιόζης «παιδικό θέαμα», έχει θέση το ξύλο; π.χ ο πατέρας να κτυπήσει τα παιδιά του ή και τα παιδιά τον πατέρα; Πιστεύουμε πως υποκριτικά ανησυχούμε για το «δήθεν» κακό παράδειγμα του Βίαιου Καραγκιόζη προς τα παιδιά, καθώς θεωρούμε ότι βλάπτουν τα «λίγα λεπτά βίας» μέσα σ’ ένα ευτράπελο και κωμικό κλίμα μιάς παράστασης, που κινείται σε συγκεκριμένο ιστορικοκοινωνικό πλαίσιο και που διαρκεί το πολύ μια ώρα – δεν αντέχουν και περισσότερο καθηλωμένα τα παιδιά- τη στιγμή που ολημερίς κι ολονυχτίς βομβαρδιζόμαστε από σκηνές φρικτές αίματος και βίας κοινωνικών, πολιτικών, εγκληματικών ή πολεμικών συγκρούσεων!!! Δεν θα μιλήσω για τις κινηματογραφικές ταινίες, τις τηλεοπτικές ή ιντερνετικές σειρές. Τι να πει κανείς για τα «κινούμενα σχέδια»! Οι άναρθρες κραυγές και τα καταιγιστικά ηχητικά εφέ που συνθέτουν πλέον, θα λέγαμε, μια διεθνή κοινή «παιδική γλώσσα», δεν αποτελούν μορφή βίας; Τι γίνεται μάλιστα με τις κατά τα άλλα αθώες μορφές των Καρτούνς που αλληλοσυγκρούονται αδυσώπητα, καλυπτόμενες απ’ τις καλοκάγαθες εκφράσεις τους ή τα απαλά ,χαριτωμένα χρώματά τους;

Οι σύγχρονοι Καραγκιοζοπαίκτες πάντως, αποφεύγουν τη βία στη σκηνή τους, κι ένα απλό σκούντημα του κολλητηριού, που ατακτεί, απ’ το μακρύ χέρι του Καραγκιόζη αρκεί, για να ξεσπάσουν σε γέλια τα παιδιά. Κι αυτό, δυστυχώς, συμβαίνει, γιατί ο Άνθρωπος είναι το μοναδικό ον που γελά, όταν υποφέρει ο όμοιός του!

  • Η παραδοσιακή απεικόνιση της Βεζυροπούλας (της ευγενικής κόρης του Πασά) ήταν μιας πολύ προκλητικής γυναίκας. Χρειάστηκε να τροποποιήσετε την εμφάνισή της για το νεότερο κοινό σας ή για να αντιμετωπίσετε τις φεμινιστικές ανησυχίες;
Fatme surrounded with her beau

Η πρωταγωνίστρια του μπερντέ, η Βεζυροπούλα, καθώς και άλλες γυναικείες μορφές, ανάγουν την καταγωγή τους στις πανέμορφες Μιμάδες των Ρωμαικών και Βυζαντινών Ιπποδρόμων που ξελόγιαζαν με τα κάλλη τους τους ευγενείς νέους, με χαρακτηριστικότερο παράδειγμα, τον Αυτοκράτορα Ιουστινιανό που ερωτεύθηκε την πανέμορφη Θεοδώρα, κόρη Αρκτοτρόφου. Οι προκλητικές γυναικείες μορφές εξακολουθούσαν να υπάρχουν – αποδομένες άριστα από το σπουδαίο Καραγκιοζοπαίκτη και ζωγράφο του 20ου αι. Κώστα Μάνο – εφ’ όσον το απαιτούσε η υπόθεση της παραστάσεως. Σταδιακά, όμως, υποχώρησαν, γιατί πλέον υπάρχουν άλλα πολλά και αποτελεσματικότερα μέσα παρουσίασης της γυναικείας προκλητικότητος. Η επελθούσα σταδιακά ηθικοποίηση του Καραγκιόζη αποτυπώθηκε και με τη φιγούρα της Βεζυροπούλας, που πλέον δεν είναι καν μία Τούρκισσα Ζενέ (ένα γύναιο εκ της κλητικής γύναι< η γυνή), αλλά μια Ευρωπαία ντυμένη σεμνά με την τελευταία λέξη της μόδας, με τέτοιο ,όμως, τρόπο που δεν παραλείπει να αναδεικνύει και το σωματικό της κάλλος. Εξ άλλου, πάντα θα είναι η Βεζυροπούλα το αντικείμενο του πόθου για τους χάρτινους ήρωες.

Meet the Cast – Hadjiavatis

Hadjiavatis, the town crier, suspects Karagiozis, the town ne’er-do-well, has the goats tucked away somewhere… but where? He daren’t risk a bonk over the head to ask.


Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing

Hadjiavatis the town crier in his role serving the Ottoman regime as the town crier.

Hadjiavatis is one of the oldest characters in the repertoire. He may have come to Greece via Constantinople and Piraeus in 1852 with the puppeteer, Giannis Brachalis.

He is an essential character in the Turkish Karagoz shadow puppet theatre which is often referred to as ‘Karagoz and Hacivat’ and features animated verbal exchange between these two beloved characters.

In the Greek tradition of Karagiozis Hadjiavatis, or Hatziavatis, is distinct by the grasp he takes of his own beard. He is the only character to be so represented. Whereas Karagiozis’ long arm may be seen on Barba-Yiorgo, or his son, Kolotiri, no other character that I have ever come across within the Greek or Turkish traditional shadow stage represents a character pulling his own beard. As a town crier, Hadjiavatis performs a role similar to the Ancient Greek messenger – could he be a vestige of a popular theatre form that survived the religious cleanses of the Byzantines and Ottomans, surviving through an eventual transformation on the shadow stage? ( I’ve discussed this on my various posts, When Hadjiavatis pulls his beard, will Menander reappear?Part one; Part Two; and Part Three)

Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros’ Hadjiavatis on the perde walking towards Karagiozis’ hovel from the Seray

Hadjiavatis is the town crier and go-between the townsfolk and their Turkish overseers. He calls out the news from the Seray, beginning the quest of the play and inspiring Karagiozis’ hijinx.

Traditionally he wears a turban and may wear Turkish garb. He is Karagiozis foil in that his personality my change depending on the storyline – he may be cunning or naive.

He is Karagiozis peer, who unlike Karagiozis doesn’t need to resort to trickery to get a meal. He is often imbroiled in Karagiozis’ plots and gets caught up with him.

See how Hadjiavatis fares in Karagiozis and the Golden Fleecing premiering this Sunday on the Ergastirio_Skiwn_Kouzaros YouTube channel.

Athens 12 noon

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New Zealand 11pm

USA and Canada 2am and 5am -coast to coast

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Ioannina, Belisarius and Fort Ioannina

Belisarius the beggar? What’s going on? Wasn’t he the last great Roman General- the first great Byzantine General? Didn’t he amass riches from the spoils of war and retire comfortably on his estate, Rufinianae, Chalcedon? What are these 18th Century Neoclassicist painters on about? What medieval rumour that Justinian blinded and beggared him before restoring him to his good graces?

Belisarius, a Byzantine general reduced to begging on the street, recognized by a Roman soldier,Francois-Andre Vincent, 1776
Belisarius, a Byzantine general reduced to begging on the street, recognized by a Roman soldier, Francois-Andre Vincent, 1776, Public Domain

When rumours persist for centuries I can’t help thinking that there is a kernel of truth that has sprouted into a tree camouflaging it. Apparently nothing concrete survives to prove the tale. Wikipedia tells us that in 562 CE – 3 years before his death – Belisarius was trialed by a man called Procopius in Constantinople for conspiring against Justinian. His judge could well have been his former legal secretary. Belisarius would be found guilty, imprisoned, pardoned and restored to Imperial favour. The details are missing from my source – Wikipedia – perhaps they are missing from history. The rise and fall of his fortunes in this incident echo the tempestuous nature of Justinian’s opinion of Belisarius.

Jean Francois Pierre Peyron's Belisarius receiving hospitality from a peasont who served under him, 1779
Jean Francois Pierre Peyron’s Belisarius receiving hospitality from a peasont who served under him, 1779, Public Domain

There is much that we know and much that we don’t about Belisarius. A period in his biography intrigues me, from 548-9CE until 559CE. Apparently he was retired from field duty. Early in this period he returned to service in Justinian’s personal guard – according to Wikipedia. What I can’t digest is that he could stand around immobile, a beefeater in court, while battles were being waged on the field. To hear and not participate? How?

Mattia Preti, Belisarius receiving Alms, 1660-1665
Mattia Preti, Belisarius receiving Alms, 1660-1665. Public Domain

Was he injured in his last campaign? Did the re-emergence of the plague catch up with him and weaken him? Did Justinian beggar him in reality? What happened to his buccellari – his personal cavalry?

In his scuttlebutt of a Secret History, Procopius recounts Belisarius’ failure to shield his only daughter, Ioannina, from the vagrancies of loss of reputation. Apparently, while Belisarius and Antonina were away in Italy fighting Justinian’s wars, Theodora took it upon herself to marry her grandson, Anastasius to Ioannina. She did this out of avarice – to ensure Belisarius’ fortune reverted in some way to the crown. Procopius intimates it was the only way she found of bringing Belisarius abundant spoils from Africa and Italy into her control.

A mash up of two different mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna – from left to right Belisarius, Emperor Justinian, Empress Theodora, Antonina and Ioannina using Public Domain images

Antonina saw through Theodora’s motives and railed against the marriage, pursuing a divorce/separation for her daughter. Splitting up the couple, who it seems had co-habited, would ruin Ioannina’s reputation and therefore her chances of remarrying and having children – and for Belisarius, grandchildren. When called upon to give his opinion on the matter, Belisarius sided against Theodora – his apparent benefactor- and his daughter’s future, to support Antonina.

Coupling this story with the building of a fort, known as Ioannina about 200km west of the Empire’s soon-to-be second city, Thessaloniki, sout-west of Belisarius’ birthplace, Germania, modern day Bulgaria, and far enough away from the jealousy/paranoia-stricken Justinian’s capital, casts a beam of light into my conjectures on how Belisarius could have calmly rested in his suburban estate in the eastern outreaches of Constantinople when there was so much activity in the field. He didn’t.

What if Belisarius retired to the country near the Bulgars’ playground during his retirement from field duty?

Maps made with Scribble Maps utilising data from Google maps.

Procopius doesn’t name the fortress Ioannina but describes the site of the present day ruins on Lake Pamvotis (Pamvotida) in his De Aedficius IV.1.39-42:

“There was a certain ancient city in this region, abundantly supplied with water and endowed with a name worthy of the place; for it was called Euroea from ancient times. Not far from this Euroea a lake spreads out with an island. In its midst upon which rises a hill. And a break is left in the lake just large enough so that a kind of approach to the island remains. The Emperor moved the inhabitants of Euroa to the island to this place, built a very strong city and put a wall about it.”


To date, the fortress of Ioannina on the bank of Lake Pamvotida in Epirus hasn’t verified with relics, nor have other textual references verified, a Byzantine habitation for Justinian’s time. Ancient Greek civilization, yes. A textual reference from Basil II in the 10th Century, yes. Norman occupation by Bohemond of Taranto in the 11th Century- yes. A strong Ottoman history, yes. Justinian’s time – No.

The island in Lake Pamvotida (Pamvotis) just across from Fortress Ioannina, Photo credit:https://pixabay.com/images/id-1040298/Image by Ελευθέριος Μπέτσης from pixabay.com

Rereading the above quote, I have to ask, could it be that archaeologists have misunderstood the location of Justinian’s fort? To me, it seems that they should be looking on the island in the lake, not the fort on the lakeside. The island may not have a land approach today, but it seems as if it did in the 6th Century CE. Strategically, the lake forms a natural moat. I could imagine Belisarius retiring there as easily as I could imagine Theodora naming the new fort for the girl she was enticing to marry her grandson.

In any case, I know where I would be unpacking my metal detector if I happened to visit Ioannina. After a short ferry ride, of course.

Hagia Sophia – Museum No More

Hagia Sophia is a magical place. Religion, history, art and politics have defined its existence since its foundations were first laid. If it was a smaller edifice – who knows, it could have been moved to the British Museum and put on display. But it’s not a small building. It’s an architectural icon of Byzantium, the crowning glory of the Eastern Roman Empire, that no longer has a Belisarius to defend it, as it did when it was first built.

The passageway to the gallery is not quite a stairwell.
The “Rampwell” – nothing brings home the age of the Hagia Sophia more than the ancient rampway up to the gallery. Why did I expect stairs?

Hagia Sophia was designed for Emperor Justinian by Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus and built in under 6 years in the 530s CE. It’s an incredible building for its time. Its architects were faced with fitting a square peg in a round hole. The answer was to innovate and their solution was to fit a round peg snuggly into a square hole. They suspended its dome-on-a-drum onto a square floorplan and created an enclosed, extensive, uninterrupted space. A sprawling basilica for its time.

Under Hagia Sophia’s dome with the Seraphim slowly uncovering their faces on the triangular pendentives and the Islamic prayers in calligraphy in the summit.
Seraphim, dome and half domes with Islamic prayer discs

It was part of the Emperor Justinian’s rebuilding programme after the destruction caused in Constantinople by the Nika riots. It is the greatest cathedral built in the Byzantine Empire and served as a Christian Church until the fall of Constantinople to Mehmet II in 1453 – over 900 years.

Mehmet was determined to turn it into a mosque and to this purpose he set up the Grand Bazaar in Constantinople to raise funds to build the minarets that now mark its Muslim history. After the Ottoman Empire was thrown off, it was converted into a museum that displays both its Christian and Muslim heritage, in 1935.

In 2014, this then UNESCO World Heritage site was being restored. The mosaics that had been painted over during its time as a mosque were being restored. Islamic prayers that graced the dome and discs were added near to the pendentives supporting the dome. Mosaics had been uncovered showing Emperors and Empresses making offerings to Christ. In the rear of the building Mehmet’s family lie in state in the family mausoleum with its ornate calligraphy and gorgeous Iznik tiles.

As a museum, the building served a humanist purpose. It’s architecture and art could be admired. Unfinished in its restoration, its original glory could be guessed at. Grand as it is – traces of a grander resplendent past were left to be puzzled over.

By building it, Emperor Justinian aimed to be remembered. Ironically, no uncovered mosaic on its walls depicted Justinian. For that mosaic, we have to visit the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. San Vitale was completed decades after the Hagia Sophia and in its colourful opulence we can begin to imagine what the Hagia Sofia once presented.

The decision by the Turkish government to convert the building to a mosque is unnecessary. The Blue Mosque is a far bigger structure that sits in all of its splendour across the piazza from the Hagia Sophia. The Blue Mosque is situated bankside and majestically dominates the cityscape. When the call to prayer is made at the Blue Mosque, it can be heard at the Hagia Sophia.

For all of the restoration and archaeological work that could be done and won’t be – in the building and in the tunnels under it – it’s an injustice to the understanding of history. So many questions unanswered are posed by its silent masonry.

After friday’s decision, the Hagia Sophia will have to keep her mysteries hidden indefinitely.

Historical Notes – The General and the Showgirl

When I first imagined writing a monologue for Antonina, I wanted her to have her say – to answer the character assassination she suffers at the hand of contemporary historian, Procopius, her husband’s legal secretary. I believed she was being exploited, a scapegoat. I wanted to redeem her.

If a woman in the ancient world owned her sexuality and didn’t hide it away, enjoyed the effect her allure had on men and used it to gain her favours over the target male’s more rational denial of them, then she must be a witch. If a woman broke the stereotype that bound her sex to society’s strictures and demonstrated her intellect and cunning, then, of course she was a witch.

Procopius references Aristophanes several times in the telling of the portion of his Secret History that has been called The Tyranny of Women. He is known for his emulation of Homer. In his treatment of Antonina could it then follow that he owed much to Euripides and his Medea?

To fill out her character I consulted her Wikipedia page and hit a road block. Apparently Procopius wasn’t alone in his treatment of her memory. Two other historian’s related details of the death of Pope Silverius that implicate her.

 I had to rethink Procopius’ account.

Procopius knew her. He spent time with her as well as her husband. He may not have been privy to the private thoughts of Antonina and Belisarius but he was close enough to observe them and the officers and soldiers who reported to Belisarius.

Detail of Empress Theodora and her Court ladies from the mosaics in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna
Detail of Empress Theodora, Antonina and Court ladies from the mosaics in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna. Public Domain

My new understanding of her was as a manipulator. A woman capable of great evil given her proximity to the Empress Theodora. As Theodora’s right hand she played the spy and facilitator of Theodora’s calculated manoeuvrings.

But that’s not all she was.

Pertinent facts about Antonina’s life can be debated that once clarified would shed light on her relationship with Belisarius, Theodora and Procopius.

We are led to believe that she married Belisarius after his bountiful but not exactly successful raids into Persarmenia in 527CE. About that time Belisarius was promoted to General – possibly less than 25 years of age. In light of her common origins with the Empress, did Antonina’s marriage to Belisarius expedite his promotion?

When that promotion came to the young soldier, from the Latin-speaking areas of the Western Balkans, was Procopius assigned to him because he couldn’t speak Greek? Why else would he need a secretary in the Greek speaking East? No other Byzantine General of the time had a Procopius. What if Antonina, whose son from a previous marriage, Photius, had a Greek name could speak Greek? Would Procopius’ services be needed so close to the General?

Belisarius respected his wife’s word. He took her on campaign with him where she performed tasks for him including assuring his ship had an uncontaminated water supply on the way to Africa. Alongside Procopius she was tasked with raising a fleet at Naples to ferry supplies to her husband and his soldiers locked down in a siege in Rome. Did the respect Belisarius showed her rile the misogynistic Procopius?

Procopius revels in his sordid retelling of Antonina and Theodosius’ affair, but how much of it is true?

 According to Procopius, out of spite towards the commander Constantine who warned Belisarius about his wife’s antics, she stoked Belisarius’ anger until he had Constantine killed. Procopius relates that the servant girl, Macedonia’s tongue was cut out for informing on Antonina and Theodosius and that the girl and two other servants were put to death over the incident – she had their bodies carved into little bits, bagged and thrown into the sea.


Procopius’ copious scuttlebutt

Wherever he can Procopius blackens her character. When he relates the baptism of Theodosius, he describes a youth that Belisarius lifted out of the water. Orthodox baptism happens when a child is still a baby in most cases today. The lifting out of the water invites the Orthodox faithful reading this scuttlebutt to imagine a very young boy. Apparently the boy was baptised on the eve of the voyage to Africa where the affair commenced. Was she supposed to be taken as a corrupter of innocents?

Knowing that Emperor Justinian was persecuting non-Orthodox Christians and pagans alike, and that to ensure their lives many converted, we can see that Theodosius was probably baptised at a much later age – where his size wouldn’t allow him to be lifted out of the water. Was the youth actually a young man in the thrall of an alpha female?

For Antonina to have been the reason that her husband was disrespected by his officers we have to inquire about her motives or at least about how she felt about him. Did she hate him? He loved her. Was she angry? I pose the question and delve into why.

She grew up in and around the Hippodrome as Empress Theodora did. When Belisarius quelled the Nika Riots with the massacre in the Hippodrome – did her family and friends perish – how many of them? Did Theodora arrange her marriage to Belisarius so that the palace had a well disguised spy next to their most talented general? When Theodora wanted the Pope to be assassinated was she really expecting Antonina to do the job? By doing the deed did she accomplish what Belisarius could not? Did Belisarius inhibit Antonina’s ambition by refusing to take the throne in Carthage, Italy or Constantinople when there were openings for him to do so? Was Belisarius’ religious piety too much for her more sensual nature?

Belisarius refusing the crown of Italy from the Goths – woodcut- public domain

I’ve set Antonina’s monologue at that point in time where Belisarius has returned from conquering Italy; the plague has not reached Asia Minor where Belisarius has been reassigned; and Antonina has foiled a plot to oust Justinian and place Belisarius on the imperial throne in Constantinople. Having heard about his wife’s affair, Belisarius sends his stepson, Photius to spirit away Theodosius and bring Antonina to the Persian front to account for herself. It’s interested to note that after placing her under arrest and returning to Constantinople, the Empress commands Belisarius to reconcile with his wife. He does so and then goes on to fight for Justinian once more in Italy before going into early retirement. Apparently, Antonina refused to go back to the Eastern front where Belisarius had treated her so shabbily, and he would not go off to war without her.

Antonina’s monologue, The General and the Showgirl can be read here.

2. WTFR- The General and the Showgirl

Antonina Speaks – a fiction

A dramatic monologue for an older actress. I meant to capture Antonina in a 10 minute performance but she is such a rich character that I kept going. There are a lot of beat changes and I hope to have written a vehicle to show off an actress’ range from high status to low as well as the breadth of experience of this fascinating woman’s life – burlesque dancer/wanton, patrician, mother, schemer, murderess, lover, indispensable wife and adulteress.

As a performance piece it can go over a minimum of 10, 15 or 20 minutes but stopping at these points. Of course, to realize this in live performance an actress adept at using silence together with the natural process of transferring the written word to the stage, may see the piece run longer. The time estimates are based on my own audio rendition of it which are placed in italics through the text at the closest natural finish.

Historical notes to follow in a separate blog post.


William Etty's, Candaules, King of Lydia shews his wife of as she goes to bed to Gyges, one of His Ministers, 1830, Public Domain.
William Etty’s, Candaules, King of Lydia shews his wife of as she goes to bed to Gyges, one of His Ministers, 1830, Public Domain.

Theodosius, you take my breath away. You know, you do. You know you are unique, don’t you? Unique and precious and indispensable. Dear, dear boy. Tell me again, how I drive you wild with the wanting of me, all of me, all of my luxurious, ample, self – how my breasts were made to be cupped in your palms and my round, ripe, bottom the soft, easy, handle of the stirrup for your ride. Ride and ride and ride. This is why I invite you to my bath. I can’t get enough of you – your energy, your boldness, your vitality, your desire to please me, pleasure me: come for me, relish in my experience. Let me teach you the fringe benefits I learnt in burlesque.

Theodosius, what a fitting name – God’s gift. Yes, you are. God’s gift to me. Come suckle at my breast once again.

Theodosius? Why do you shrink away? Who frightens you? Come back!

Hello. Hello. Who approaches? Who dares?

Lucia! I said we were not to be disturbed. Who? Soldiers? Flavio? Here? Now? He is supposed to be with his army in the East.

Perfume! Now. Strong perfume! Hurry! And Lucia, do not let him in here until I am ready to receive him. Go, quickly.

He mustn’t suspect.

The fool.

What is he doing back so early? I sent missives that I would be heading out at month’s end. Someone has been in his ear. It couldn’t be Constantine this time. Silencing him was a trifling afternoon well spent. The egotist, thinking he could besmirch me, to Flavio. If I could bring down the Pope with a little diplomatic entanglement what challenge was a boy masquerading as a Byzantine General?

Hmm. Perhaps it was one of the bond-slaves, but who? After the example I made of poor, timid, little Macedonia? May the snitch spend eternity searching for her tongue in Hell.

Breathe, Antonina, breathe. Flavio worships you. When have you failed at turning the head of that simpleton? I should have suspected the softness of what that armour enclosed. I thought I was marrying a god, a famous general, a champion of the people – victorious in the East – rich in the plunders of war – baron of his own making. And what did I get? The armour of a warrior hiding a simpering soul, abject, apologetic, forgiving, god-fearing servant of Christ ready to run back at my beck and call.

Sh! Listen. Can you hear it? Footsteps. A weighted tread. Still in armour?

Photi! Is your step-father here too?

 No? Flavio couldn’t get away?

Oh, what a shame.

But you did. Just look at you. Were you in such haste to see me that you left the battlefield fully armed? Photi? Is there a coup going on in the capital and no one’s told me?

Smile. I’m teasing you. Why so dour? Aren’t you pleased to see your Mama? Come here and take my hands. Put that spear down, you could poke an eye out with it.

My eye. I hope that’s not your point? My darling son, is it?

Of course, not. My boy, how I’ve missed you.

What? Where’s Theodosius? Why he’s here, in Constantinople. I’m not privy to his every movement. Why do you ask? You’ll see him soon I’m sure.

Now, I will not have you wearing armour in the house. Not in the capital

You need a bath. The water hasn’t gone cold. I’ll leave you to it and see you in the dining hall. We’ll have a suckling pig to celebrate your arrival. Ioannina will be so excited to see her big brother and hear all your news.

Now really, you must bathe. I’ll not have you… Photius where are you going?

I told you Theodosius isn’t here. Come back. Stop banging doors. What do you mean he has to answer to Flavio?

In what way, in God’s Name, has Theodosius offended Flavio? Don’t look at me with  accusing eyes. What have I done to offend? Well, speak up. Out with it. Tell me my sin. Blasphemy? In God’s Name… Really? Again? You’ve travelled a thousand stades to tell me to watch my tongue?

Oh, Flavio wills me to return with you to the East at the end of the week? First you have business with Theodosius?

Well, he’s not here. Whatever you are holding against him, resolve it before dinner. I’ll not have you ruining your welcoming feast.

On second thoughts, go. Go and wash in the Bath of Zeuxippus. I’ll not have you muddy my water. May the waters of Zeus cleanse your ungrateful, sanctimonious soul.

Mosaic of Justinian and court in the Church of San Vitale Ravenna
Mosaic of Justinian and court in the Church of San Vitale Ravenna. Belisarius stands to our left of Justinian with the eunuch Narses on between Justinian and the Bishop of Ravenna, Maximianus Public Domain.

Devil take them both – father and step-son – traitor son. He’s my boy. Flavio had no part in his making but he’s made the boy his creature. Treats him like his own. Favours and shields him on the battlefront. He’s making him soft in his own image. A true believer. The boy disdains his own mother in favour of Flavio the faithful, the warrior, the benevolent, the pious soft cock.

Flavio actually believes all that religious tripe he spouts, “The alliance of God follows those who put justice forward.” He doesn’t just pray before a battle, he fasts and he expects the men to follow his example.

What? No alcohol! Try telling that to his Huns! The fool did, and then had to kill a couple of them for insubordination. Ha!  How Christianly is that? Ok, so manslaughter amongst the ranks can’t go unpunished – but really, that’s what Huns do – get drunk and kill each other. If he doesn’t like it then hire different mercenaries – surely they aren’t the only warriors to handle a bow on the back of a horse?

Some …may blame me. But I’m not the cause of his officer’s insubordination. He knew what I was when he married me … and forgave me, as good Christians do.

He never asked if I wanted to be forgiven.

No, I’m not to blame for the paucity of his officers’ respect. I know the temperature of his men, personally. Have I not followed him into every theatre of war, thus far? He should look to his strictures over them. The fool prohibits his men their due – plunder should always follow victory. Emperor Justinian tarries with their salaries, and then Flavio reprimands their plundering. Hasn’t someone told him that that is what soldiers do after a siege – sack the city, take its riches, humble it!

He’ll need an act of God to prevent them raiding for their spoils in Persia. Persia’s no small theatre of war bounded by sea nor hemmed intro a strip by desert. Am I to be accused of sleeping with every Roman soldier that faces Khusro?

(c. 10 mins)

But Flavio is the Great Belisarius, the protector of the people – the shepherd who has brought Carthage and Italy back into the fold – resurrecting the Roman Empire of old, the Catholic West rejoining the Byzantine East. He could be more than a mere general but he denies his ambition.

Don’t think he hasn’t any. Why else did he sup on Vittigis’ table, sitting in Vittigis’ throne and wearing his barbarian crown? Vittigis saw it, as I did and as did the men. He sat there. The sceptre was on his table. His highly effective fighting militia flanked him at the feast – taking their places like noblemen, unable to claim a permanent seat. Those spoils were for Justinian to mete out. Where was the victory for them? Instead, the great and honourable Belisarius denied them and like a monk retreating from the world denied himself and denied me, my due.

Theodora and her court ladies and chaplain/eunuchs
Theodora and her court ladies and chaplain/eunuchs from the mosaic in San Vitale Ravenna. Antonina is said to be on our right of the Empress. Edisonblus / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

You see, I deserve to be Empress. I’d be a great Empress. A brave Empress. The crown would finish my coiffure just as well – no, better than hers! My eyes would twinkle like living jewels between the crown’s tresses of pearls that would frame my face? And my face – so more deserving of the honour than Theodora’s clumsy nose and owlish eyes. How can she do those gems justice when my face would draw a better picture ensconced in that crown?

A pity she hooked Justinian before I did -that whitewashed palace-boy, timid of his own shadow. Who would have thought he could survive as Emperor? He should have gone down in the riots. Who is he but the nephew of a usurping pig-farmer peasant-emperor? Poor Hypatius was the rightful heir.

He was relegated to the role of diplomat, couldn’t control an army in his dreams, shivers at the thought of combat – I should know – he talked in his sleep.

Justinian thanked God for his mercy during the riots – but really he should have lit a candle to Belisarius’ perversity – who wouldn’t take the crown when it’s there for the taking? His army in the capital raring to go – so close to the palace. The people were rising and the Emperor was preparing a ship to slink away in defeat.

No. My husband swore an oath of loyalty to his Emperor before his God.

What about his loyalty to me? He would save the people of the former empire but would massacre our own in the Hippodrome. My people – my city- my confederates – my family -in my Hippodrome. Were not my father and grandfather the best charioteers in the city? Did my brother not compete? Did I not learn to dance alongside Theodora there? Did the great Belisarius have to massacre all of the trapped rioters – all of my people whose life the Hippodrome defined? He wasn’t husband enough to save them.

He wasn’t husband enough to give me the crown I deserve. Theodora should be kissing the hem of my robes, yet here I am subject to her bidding. Theodora – too squeamish to carry out her own commands. She could never do what I have done.

Detail of Empress Theodora and her Court ladies from the mosaics in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna
Detail of Empress Theodora and her Court ladies from the mosaics in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna. Antonina is directly next to the Empress and her Ioannina, the daughter of Antonina and Belisarius is next to her.
Edisonblus / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Did I not dispose of Silverius, the Vicar of Christ? Theodora charged us with this duty for the protection she offers Flavio. “Get rid of that priest, “she commanded, “He offers impediments to my Justinian’s vision.” Flavio was mortified. He could not believe that she would go so far.

Not Silverius. Not the Pope. Sacrilege.

Flavio would defend the Church to the point of stupidity, weakening his forces, fragmenting his army marching north, compromising his strength to answer the call for aid from every insignificant priest who appealed to him. There was no way that he could bring about the death of the Pontif. Not even to unite the Church.

No, the shirker, the weakling, false man. Even the eunuch Narses has more balls.

He left the Pope to me.

I had to keep us in Justinian’s good graces.

I had to order the men to find witnesses to accuse Silverius of betraying our forces to the Goths.

I manoeuvred Silverius to stand trial.

When the wind blew in Silverius’ favour, I was the one to poison his cup. So simple, so difficult for Flavio.

He couldn’t choose his emperor over his god. The coward. He couldn’t put his immortal soul on the line but he didn’t mind if his wife did.

 And I did.

I sacrificed my soul.

(15-16 mins)

Let me go to perdition, then how would he survive? He thanked me for it afterwards but what are a few clumsy kisses from a man positioned to be Emperor who can’t even seize the day when it’s handed to him? He took Sicily and Naples in his stride on the way to the Pincian Palace in Rome where he ran the campaign for a year and then he was handed Ravenna with the Gothic crown… and he grasped it with both hands… and gave it to Justinian.

Such an exasperating fool. And I pandered to him…

Shall I prepare for your triumph Flavio? Shall I make ready for a feast? Flavio? No? What? Chastised and sent to fight the Persians?

Don’t go Flavio. The atmosphere is torpid in the capital. It will only change when a fresh gust surges through the palace. A gust that will blow away the discontent and leave a new emperor on the throne. They are calling for you. Byzantium needs a strong military man on the throne. One who has seen the extent of the empire and knows its people and their needs. A hero who will be respected – who reunited the empire with his own sweat. My hero. My husband. My lover. My king.

No, No you’re not a simple soldier. Don’t make me laugh. You, are a great tactician. The way you sum up the enemy on the battlefield you can sum up the senate just the same.

No? Then let me tell you how it will go. We will have the support of the people – they worship you and despise Justinian and his taxes and his laws, and the support of the Patricians – John the Treasurer is preparing to fund a revolution – why let it be someone else when it could be you? You have the alliance of God.

Flavio? Where are you going? Sheath your sword. Justinian can wait. He’s no fool. He won’t think you are behind any of this, I will see to it. Go face Khusro’s army, far away from the city. When you are deep in battle I will take care of matters. No one will ever think you were involved in any coup. I will tell Theodora. We will set a trap for the treasurer. Justinian will never suspect you. Leave me in the capital to manage matters.

Come away East and don’t get involved? Really, Flavio, I think it better if I stayed. I could be of better use to you here.

The East is safe enough away from the capital? Yes, but…

Is there another reason why I don’t want to come with you?

Truth be told, I’m tired, Flavio.

I’m tired of sieges and living on horseback and eating dust – dragging my children from one end of the empire to the other. They are not all like my Photi to follow in your footsteps. Ioannina will need a husband. Your godson, Theodosius, is too fragile for life in the saddle, too sensitive for the rumours of your men – their innuendo. It’s hurtful – too dreadful to think about. The accusations, the jeering behind his back. It hurts me Flavio. Am I not a faithful wife? Have I not stood through all of your campaigns the sounding board of your most private thoughts? Have I not organised and ordered your water and supplies? Have I not spoken for you, of your concerns to Theodora?

And now you don’t trust me to stay in the Capital.

No, no, I’m not crying. You don’t understand me. Of course I am not as young as you are. You don’t understand. But you will never understand, never having children, how a woman’s body is ravaged by child birth. I haven’t the will to go east another time. I can’t do it right now. Please Flavio, take pity on my situation, my health

Yes, maybe I’ll feel better if I tarry in the Capital. Have therapeutic baths, wait on Theodora in the Palace. I’ll see about finding Ioannina a most suitable husband.

What did you say?

Find a bride for Theodosius?

He is old enough to form a marital alliance.

Release him from our household? Oh, but I couldn’t right now, he relieves my wilted spirit. He is such a comfort to me. Take Photius. Leave young Theodosius with me. We will follow in a few weeks when I am feeling rejuvenated.


But why does he send me Photius, now? What’s Flavio’s envious little shadow up to? Why has he left his father’s side? Why does he seek Theodosius?

Has Flavio woken up?

Will I be reduced to begging his mercy?

No, I think not.

Perhaps… Procopius is right. Perhaps, I really am a witch.

(over 21 mins)

History, Biography, Hagiography and Fiction

Have you ever read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall? Come on now, this book is Modern literature, a prize winner – sure to be a classic and define historic literature for its age.

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall

I’ve tried.

Several times. I love the way she writes. It’s gorgeous.

The opening scene of the novel is probably the most harrowingly engaging introductions to any novel I have ever read. In fact, I’ve read that opening several times. You see, I am intrigued by the subject matter, who wouldn’t be – Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s love-lust for her, Thomas Cromwell, the birth of the Church of England and Sir Thomas More. But I get lost in the woods trying to follow it. It’s the way she changes the point of view of the narrator without a qualifier – I am constantly asking, who am I following? It’s a puzzle that becomes so frustrating to the point that, no matter how much I’ve enjoyed the actual flow of words, I just can’t read backwards another time to find myself. I’ve taken comfort in the idea that it just wasn’t written for me. I tell myself it was written for English teachers and literati and mollify myself into thinking that perhaps I will manage it one day (therefore the number of times I’ve reread the opening).

So having persevered with the toing and froing I finally got to meet Sir Thomas More and he was horrible. This man, a saint of the Catholic Church, and he was diabolical. Is that right? Could the point of view of the author be colouring history? The English still have issues with Catholics I’m told. Would it be a different story if it were told by a devout Catholic?

Timothy Barnes’ Constantine:Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire

Another book comes to mind, Timothy Barnes’, Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire. This is a different book altogether. It’s a factual history, biography, defence of the scholarship that has gone before it and an argument against conflicting research. It’s not a fiction but a scholar’s account of his research and an attempt to redeem Constantine to some degree.

To rehabilitate Constantine’s memory is a task and a half. How do you whitewash a man who has compounded murders to gain control of an Empire that he was already a Caesar of; who killed his son to consolidate his hold on his Empire; murdered his wife and step-mother of the aforementioned son after blaming her for inciting his decision; and rewrote his own history and that of the Empire to serve his own needs?

Why should Constantine’s image be cleaned up? Apparently he repented of his sins and finally took Holy Communion on his deathbed. That’s what my Church has told me. He was sainted. He gave legitimacy to Christianity and institutionalised it within the Empire. In a big way he is responsible for its survival. Does it negate how he lived his life?

The greater the power and autonomy we have the greater the pitfalls – on a micro scale then, aren’t we all the same? And given the supreme power of the head of one of the most powerful empires the world has ever known – wouldn’t we abuse it?

Timothy Barnes’ book offers a different story to the one of the icon of Constantine and his mother I grew up with. It offers a whole world of arguments for and against the devotion of Constantine to Christianity. When did he really convert? Was it at the battle of Milvian Bridge? Did he never convert but used Christianity as a political expediency?

St Constantine and Helen –

Does it even matter? Christianity has lost its sway over the West (and Christian East) that it once had. That Christians can question their religion and satirise it has a lot to do with its central doctrine of forgiveness combined with a history of freedoms gained with fire and angst. That someone can freely stand up and say they are agnostic or atheist owes to this tradition.

So who was the real Constantine? Who was the real Thomas More? They change with the voice of the narrator.

How is history told and who should be the narrator?

Now, a history text can be dry and tedious. I much prefer an account told in fiction – where motivations are fleshed out – where I can go on an emotional journey – where I can laugh, cry, hate and love within the safe confines of a book. But how true would the accounting be?

How coloured by the writer’s perspective?

It seems everything we write is coloured by perspective and bias whether it’s factual, overtly a hagiography, a biography, or clearly a historic fiction – something set in a clearly defined time period with the manipulation of fictional characters.

With romance on my mind I thought I’d take a crack at historical fiction. I have my sights on a few short stories with historical characters whose lives have gaps that I want to fill with motivations that make sense to me. I hope you enjoy them. They will be prefixed with WTFR (interpret as you will, or take my suggestion) – When the Facts are Stranger than Romance – of course, it’s fact according to my vision. I will link them back to this page once they are up. I hope you will enjoy…

1. WTFR – The Emperor and the Bride Show

2. WTFR – The General and the Showgirl

3. WTFR – The Courtship of Sir Thomas Phillipp’s Daughter

4. WTFR – The Empress and the Prison Rat

5. WTFR – The Earl and the Bed Trick

6. WTFR – Who the Governor left Behind

Musical instruments in Ancient Ceramics

Askaulos, aulos and drum?

Were women truly the only people to play percussion instruments in Ancient Greece? Did the hoplites really go to war without the beat of the drum? Did you know that Plato had a musical code? I didn’t. Nor that they invented the organ… in the 3rd Century B.C.E.

I’ve recently had a lot of fun researching Ancient Greek and Roman musical instruments for Classical Wisdom. I’m so thrilled to have my articles published in their March magazine, Classical Wisdom Litterae: On Music alongside easy to read and understand articles from knowledgeable writers about music in Ancient Greek society; the mythology (and astronomy) of the Muses; the poet Sappho; the muse, Calliope; the Orphic mysteries; Homer and Plato.

Epitaph of Seikilos

Although some musical instruments have survived, and others have been written about by ancient writers we can only guess at what music sounded like. The Epitaph of Seikilos is a complete tract of musical notations – a memorial by the composer to the memory of his deceased wife. It is the oldest surviving complete song in existence. It has been interpreted in various ways here, here, here, here and here. I’d like to think that these musicians have come close.There is a big disparity from the first which includes strumming to the rest which are plucked strings. What the musical notes don’t tell us is pace and tempo – we can assume a dourness because it’s a funerary composition. But what if we didn’t know why it was composed? Similarities between it and Manos Hadjidakis’, Never on a Sunday have been noted – he is said to have been inspired by the Epitaph for this song. The tempo, pace and attitude of the modern composition give a very different impression than the interpretations of the Epitaph.

There are so many lacunae in our knowledge. Looking through ceramic images of instruments described in words, I faced a problem of locating an askaulos – a bagpipe. The bag, being the stomach of a big animal or the entire hide of a gutted smaller animal, had small chances of surviving to the present. It was described as retaining the fur of the animal and in instances having a foot pump. That had to be the looped fur instrument seen in many musical representations like the one above.

The bowl in front of the aulos player is another mystery? It would be tempting to think of it as a drum but all descriptions of drums were hand held. Did the Ancient Greeks play a big drum? And if it is a drum – where is its stand? Surely with a rounded base it couldn’t be freestanding. Then there is the complication of modern prejudice. Would a woman have played a big, freestanding drum? If it isn’t a drum then what is it?

Ancient Greek music is fascinating.

This month Classical Wisdom have a wonderful offer. In the words of Classical Wisdom’s founder and director, Anya Leonard:

Classical Wisdom Members will learn all about the world of ancient Greeks music in this month’s Classical Wisdom Magazine, coming out TODAY. 

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Now, we do not normally offer a Completely Free trial for Gold Membership. However, we hope this can be another way that we here at Classical Wisdom we can help everyone enjoy the wisdom and perspective of the ancients during this difficult time. 

Because the classics are now more important than ever… 

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Ancient Art, Education, Stencils and Ceramics

I recently researched my first article for Classical Wisdom Weekly. True to form, I experienced difficultly in keeping under the word limit and the article was published in 2 parts. What was so fascinating I couldn’t stop gushing about it? Ancient Greek vases, actually, more accurately ceramic tableware – there were ancient mugs, jugs, goblets and perfume bottles in the mix.

You can read Part One and Part Two of the article, The Marvellous Avengers, Ancient Greek Style on these links. 

This Mycenaean Krater was found in Cyprus in an Enkomi tomb and is illustrated with two griffins on one side and two sphinxes on the other, 13th-12th C BCE

As I read, questions kept needling me. Looking at the devolvement of style from the Mycenaean period with their cartoonlike depictions of soldiers, sea creatures and mythological creatures, into the endless patterning of the Geometric period associated with the Dorians, before re-emerging with the Orientalising style in Corinth, I had to question the oft repeated assertion that the Orientalising style came from the East. I have to ask why it’s stated so confidently, when the Mycenaeans also painted their ceramics with similar themes and, Corinth is the gateway into Mycenaean territory? Is it generally assumed that the Mycenaeans disappeared with the coming of the Dorians – that they were there for a time, and simply dematerialised? Couldn’t they have remained, devolved to the level of the incoming people from the north but retained visual access to the tableware that was created in the land around them, by their own, in centuries past?

 Black figure jug with ibex, lion and other animals. Probably Corinthian, c. 600 BC. Archaeological Museum of Syracuse.

Zde [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Another one has me stumped. Leaving the Mycenaeans and looking at the progression of styles from the Dorian Geometric period down to the black figured painting I kept asking myself, when did they become conscious of the fact that they were creating art? Lots of black ceramics have survived from ancient times. Ceramics without decoration – ceramics with a strictly utile purpose – to store grain or liquid for the table, the temple or the grave. The ones that make the art books are the illustrated examples and are fewer in number. With that in mind I wonder whether the potter and the painter were two separate craftsmen/women?

 Frieze detail, Dipylon Amphora, c. 755-750 B.C.E.
Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/profzucker/12797622963/

Looking at the naiveté of the geometric designs, it’s easy to imagine the potter fulfilling the role of the painter as well. The designs don’t require the skillset of the artist. The pottery, when illustrated served a public function, in funerary rites during this early period. However, once progress is made into the black figure style and the function of the ceramics broadens to use in symposiums and more secular settings I have to question whether they became conscious that they were creating art. This is when the illustrations became more lifelike.

terracotta Panathenaic prize Amphora c.530BCE, created by the Euphiletos Painter http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en By Creator:Euphiletos Painter - This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Terracotta Panathenaic prize Amphora c.530BCE, created by the Euphiletos Painter http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en By Creator:Euphiletos Painter – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 Once they became conscious of creating art, did they begin employing artists to in the potter’s workshops to decorate the pots? It’s said that mural painting influences vase painting with its themes, presentation and perspective. Where artists employed by workshops to work with the potters as they glazed and refired their vases? Didn’t these artist get in the way, unless they were the potters themselves?

What if the artists and potters were two specialised occupations? Did they have the same level of education? How could ceramic decoration fall from the heights of the Hellenistic Period to the naivete of the Byzantine middle ages? What prompts these specific questions?The writing on the vases for one, and the idea that both Hellenistic and Byzantine ceramics were created in a process of firing, glazing and refiring, but regardless, the Byzantine examples show an incapability of producing the same draughtsmanship and precise detail of the earlier Age.

Byzantine sportswoman playing Erasmus' globorum?

Byzantine sportswoman playing Erasmus’ globorum?


On some vases the ancient labelling is written backwards, sometimes forwards, and sometimes there are examples of forwards writing and backwards on the same vase. It got me to thinking that the potters weren’t the artists. That the artists were better educated than the potters and were more capable of reading. That the artists perhaps used some kind of vellum/parchment or papyrus to design the illustrations and get them perfect and then traced them onto a hardy, translucent stencil – of vellum perhaps which was used by the potter to transfer the design onto the pot at the exact time it was needed in the firing and refiring process. I imagine that the figures were incised straight onto the vase through the stencil and then the potter could paint within the outlines and discard the stencil.

Okay, so this isn’t how we are told it happened. We are told the black figured ceramics were influenced by the techniques of metalwork.

I just can’t help wondering. If the potters weren’t as educated as their artist designers, it would account for the backward writing, if the stencils were placed back-to-front on the vase when the tracing/incising happened.

Perhaps the Byzantines weren’t using stencils and had to incise their illustrations quickly into a fast drying slip? Could stencils be the answer?