By Austin C. Hayes, Staff Writer
On October 30, the Sixth Annual Dr. Nicholas Matsakis Memorial Lecture was held in Century Room A of the Millennium Student Center, the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The lecture was on, “The Impact of Thermopylae on our Modern World.”
A pre-lecture reception began at 7 p.m. with a catered dinner. The lecture started at 7:30 p.m. and was presented by Dr. Nicholas Matsakis’ son, Elias Matsakis, with introduction from the Hellenic Government-Karakas Foundation Chair of Greek Studies Michael Cosmopoulos.
“Tonight is a special occasion, because our speaker is none other than his [referencing Dr. Matsakis] son, Mr. Elias Matsakis. And, of course, we all know the Matsakis Family,” Professor Cosmopoulos said as he introduced Matsakis.
Matsakis is an accomplished lawyer who, along with his siblings, honors his father Dr. Matsakis with these memorial lectures established back in 2012. Monday’s lecture, “Mycenae Rich in Gold,” became the first lecture given by a child of Dr. Matsakis. The son spoke regarding The Battle of Thermopylae, a battle confirmed to have taken place 2500 years ago.
“Three hundred people can make a complete difference against absolute power,” Matsakis stated Monday, referencing the three hundred spartan warriors that stood against Persia at Thermopylae during the time of ancient Greece.
Dr. Matsakis was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1914 to Greek immigrants. Dr. Matsakis and his wife, Theodora Matsakis, were pillars for the St. Louis Greek Community. Dr. Matsakis, a dentist, who achieved the rank of Major in World War Two, endowed the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a founding donation for the creation of Greek Studies.
“Before I was a lawyer, I was a son, and my father did not read me “Midnight Moon,” he did not read me “The Nursing Tale.” He told me about the glory of Achilles, Aeschylus, Perseus, and the Greek heroes,” Matsakis recollected.
A description of the Spartan warriors inspired Greeks when Hitler’s paratroopers’ invaded Greece—where Greek soldiers rose as citizens to fight the paratroopers.
“I thought he made a really good connection with ancient Greece, Leonidas, Thermopyles, and the transition to modern Greece with how we see heroes in the past and how we see them now. It is just that they didn’t care about living or dying for their country. They will try and do what is right,” said Angelos Kokkinis, sophomore, electrical engineering. Kokinnis was born in Thessaloniki, Greece.
The lecture concluded with applause, followed by a question and answer section directed by Matsakis. American freedom and its relation to Greek Democracy was a topic of interest among the audience.
“Greece is not disconnected from us as a place. It is not a culture that is irrelevant. It is a culture that is very much relevant, because we are part of the same continuum. We are the latest link in the same chain and if we want to understand our society, and our world, we don’t have a choice, but to look at the Greeks,” Cosmopoulos concluded.
Future events, open discussions, and an immersion in Greek cultural history can be found at The Nicholas and Theodora Matsakis Hellenic Culture Center in Lucas Hall 210. The center is open every day for scholars, students, and community members.