Louis A. Ruprecht Jr. doesn’t just know the Greek classics; he understands how to apply their timeless lessons to timely debates, dusting off bits of wisdom from near the Acropolis and injecting them today’s public square.
For his work bringing that ancient ideas to modern-day scholars through the Georgia State University Center for Hellenic Studies, Dr. Ruprecht has been granted Greece’s order of merit, the Gold Cross of the Order of the Phoenix.
The president of Greece announced the honor during a series of decorations around Greece’s bicentennial of independence in 2021, but the in-person ceremony in Athens was postponed by the pandemic.
Ambassador Alexandra Papadopoulou visited Atlanta to finally present the cross to Dr. Ruprecht on March 6 at the Metro Atlanta Chamber. The order of merit is given to Greeks who embody the country’s values or non-Greeks that make significant contributions to the promotion of Greek culture, art or language.
“It’s challenging, especially in today’s world, to make people understand how important the classics are and how they affect our lives, and how they can be used to interpret the challenges of our lives,” Ms. Papadopoulou said during an interview held, ironically, in the chamber’s Phoenix Room, a light-filled conference area near the executive offices.
The essential nature of ethics, she said, has only heightened with technological advances and the emergence of new tools like artificial intelligence.
“Sometimes we tend to believe that our challenges today are unique today, but they’re recurrent. It’s what it means to be human, that fragility, or the fact that human nature is finite,” the ambassador added.
Dr. Ruprecht, who has led the center since 2012, said Hellenic studies does include a good bit of archaeology and antiquarianism, but it’s breathing the messages of these finds to life in the current day, and reinterpreting them in new contexts, that now animates his work.
“I’m really touched by this and touched by the fact that the ambassador would come,” he told Global Atlanta before accepting the award that evening. “Most of my work is designed to show contemporary implications of the classics or or how classical tropes have been adapted during the modern period.”
Democracy would be touched upon later in the evening, but themes like psychology, sexuality, art and faith are also ever-present in the center’s work.
Dr. Ruprecht, who is also W.M. Suttles Chair in Religious Studies at GSU, says the Hellenic center has enjoyed many accomplishments over the years, but perhaps none as impactful as being selected to host the biennial Modern Greek Studies Association conference, which brought in 150 scholars as well as hundreds of panels and lectures widely attended by Atlanta’s Greek community.
“The (Michael C.) Carlos family doubled our endowment after that, so that kind of put us on the map, and put us on the map in modern Greek studies, so that was pretty big,” Dr. Ruprecht said.
Watch “A Decade of Growth and Transformation,”
a lyrical reflection by the Hellenic center about its 10 years in operation:
Ambassador: Greece lives its values in Ukraine war
In the interview, Ms. Papadopoulou said that Greece’s symbol is the phoenix because it has been able to reinvent itself over the millennia, as well as recently through the trials of the euro crisis a decade and COVID-19, which devastated the tourism sector. (Atlanta is known by the mythical bird as well for its rising from the ashes of America’s Civil War.)
One area where Greece has defied expectations perhaps is in its strong condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and coordination with NATO allies to counter it, she said.
While some, including Russia, may have expected that close cultural and religious ties through the orthodox church would preclude a firm response, Ms. Papadopoulou said Greece had to stay consistent with its values as a European democracy.
“They expected this kind of reaction from Poland or from the Baltics, but never from Greece. But for us, it was very simple. It was a matter of principle,” she said.
That view was informed as much by modern views of international law as Greece’s 3,000-year history being the subject of invasions, she said.
“You might have many disagreements against your neighbors, you may have as many grievances about whatever, but invading a country is a red red, red line,” she said. “Using force and in order to solve your problems or find answers to your problems — that is against any rule of law that we can imagine. So we had to live by what we preach. And for us the choice in the Ukrainian case was obvious, easy and fast.”
The U.S. partnership
Having arrived in Washington amid the pandemic in 2020, Ms. Papadopoulou has seen evidence of the “unbreakable bond” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis referred to in a speech last May during a joint session of Congress.
“It’s a very strong partnership. It is not transactional; it is values based,” the ambassador said, noting that the relationship has had its rocky periods, but that she has realized “if it’s values based, it will stand the test of time.”
During her trip to Atlanta, the ambassador met with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, addressed the state legislature and lectured at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech.
Theodoros Dimopoulos, consul of Greece in Atlanta, hosted her visit.
Read more about the Hellenic Center in this 2019 Global Atlanta story: From Classical to Modern, Georgia State’s Hellenic Center Maintains a Global View