Greek Studies Professor Michael Cosmopoulos elected to Royal Society of Canada

Michael Cosmopoulos

Michael Cosmopoulos never imagined his work in archaeology would win him acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

“When you’re young and you’re starting out, you don’t think in those terms,” said Cosmopoulos, the Hellenic Government-Karakas Foundation Professor of Greek Studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “You just do what you find exciting, and archaeology is exciting to me. It’s my passion.”

But others have taken notice and recognized his contributions to the study of ancient Greek civilization in a career that now has spanned more than 30 years.

This month, the Royal Society of Canada became the latest group to do so when it elected him a fellow. He will receivewhat is said to be the highest honor a scholar can achieve in the arts, humanities and sciences in that country.

“Michael B. Cosmopoulos is an internationally known archaeologist and classicist whose pioneering and multi-disciplinary approaches have impacted deeply our knowledge of the Classical world,” read a press release from the Royal Society of Canada. “Through his sophisticated theoretical models and important archaeological excavations, he has developed new ways of understanding Greek religion (especially the origins of ancient mystery cults) and political history (especially the emergence of states and social complexity).”

Cosmopoulos’ election comes on the heels of his induction, last winter, to the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.

“After this has happened, I’m very excited about it,” he said. “But it wasn’t part of the picture in the beginning.”

There was also surprise about his most recent honor because, though his first professorship after completing his PhD was at the University of Manitoba, he’s lived in the United States for the past 16 years.

“I look upon those years with nostalgia,” said Cosmopoulos, who was born and raised in Athens and first came to North America to pursue his doctorate at Washington University in St. Louis in 1985. “Canadians are wonderful, very warm and hospitable. Winnipeg was a great city – the snow aside.”

He has maintained connections in America’s northern neighbor, evaluating applications for Canadian funding agencies, assessing articles for Canadian scholarly publications and training Canadian students in the field.

Cosmopoulos directs the Iklaina Archaeological Project, which is funded through UMSL’s Greek professorship as well as through major grants from the National Endowment for the HumanitiesNational Science Foundation and National Geographic Society. He also teaches Greek history, culture, religion, technology, archaeology, art, language and mythology and organizes the activities of the Greek professorship.

The Iklaina site is a palace that dates to the time of the Trojan War, between 1500 B.C. and 1200 B.C. It’s believed to be one of the sites mentioned in Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad, as one of the capitals of the Greek kings who fought in the war.

At Iklaina Cosmopoulos studies the processes of state formation in the western world.

“It’s an exciting case of mythology overlapping with history and archaeology,” Cosmopoulos said.

The discoveries that have been made there have transformed what had previously been believed about ancient Greek history. Cosmopoulos’ work has been featured prominently in the national and international press, including on PBSand the National Geographic Channel.

“I can’t say enough about the work that Michael’s done,” said colleague Patti Wright, associate professor of anthropology at UMSL. “We’ve had a number of students who have gone to his field school in the summer, and they love the experience. He’s also a prolific writer, who’s becoming really well known internationally and bolstering the name of our university in Europe and now in Canada.”

Cosmopoulos will be inducted, along with the other new fellows, at the Royal Society of Canada’s Induction and Awards Ceremony on Nov. 24 at the Fairmont Winnipeg Hotel.

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