When Bettany Hughes, historian and media personality, needed an expert to discuss Socrates for the BBC documentary series “Genius of the Ancient World,” she reached out to Michael Cosmopoulos, The Hellenic Government-Karakas Foundation Chair of Greek Studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
As a historian and archaeologist excavating in Greece and a National Geographic Society Explorer, Cosmopoulos is uniquely qualified to answer questions about Hellenic culture.
In the documentary, Hughes gives an account of Socrates sitting among the crowd in the theater of Dionysius and watching “The Clouds,” a play by the dramatist Aristophanes in which Socrates finds himself parodied. Curious as to how Socrates would have felt in the face of public ridicule, she asks Cosmopoulos for his insights.
“I think he must have been amused,” Cosmopoulos said on the documentary. “There is this anecdote of Socrates actually standing up in the seats of the theater, so those who didn’t know him knew who he was and what he looked like as his character was being ridiculed on stage. I think Socrates was detached from all these standard norms of society.”
Beyond appearing in a segment of “Genius of the Ancient World,” Cosmopoulos has authored 16 books. Among his most recent efforts, both “The Sanctuary of Demeter at Eleusis: The Bronze Age” and the forthcoming “Iklaina I. The Archaeological Survey” present full technical accounts of finds from over a century of excavation. In contrast, “Origins of the Eleusinian Mysteries,” which was published by Cambridge University Press, focuses on the issue of ancient Greek mystery cults and is intended for a wider audience.
Whether through meticulous scientific accounts, historical reconstruction or narrative, Cosmopoulos is committed to preserving ancient civilizations and gaining understanding that is valuable to the modern-day world.
“Our culture in 21st-century America is not disconnected from past cultures in time and space,” Cosmopoulos said. “We are part of the same cultural continuum, the most recent link in a long chain of human development. How can we understand our society and our culture if we don’t know what its parts are and how they came to exist?”
Click here or below to view the “Genius of the Ancient World” segment featuring Cosmopoulos.