Skip to main content
Northwestern University

Face to Face with Socrates

The philosopher’s timeless ideas are made relevant to a modern audience in Socrates Now

Most people know Socrates only through texts such as Plato’s dialogues and Aristophanes' Clouds. But what would it have been like to have seen the great philosopher in action?

More than 350 people packed Northwestern University’s Josephine Louis Theater on Dec. 5 to find out, as Emmy-award winner Yannis Simonides performed the Elliniko Theatro's production of Socrates Now. The theatrical recreation of Socrates’ defense speech at his trial has toured 15 countries around the world.    

The diverse audience included Northwestern undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as visitors from area high schools, the Illinois Humanities Council's Odyssey Project and the greater Evanston/Chicago community.

"We could not have hoped for a better turnout,” said Francesca Tataranni, a senior lecturer in the Department of Classics and a co-organizer of the event, along with Sara Monoson, a professor of political science and classics and an academic adviser to the Elliniko Theatro. 

“It is amazing how Yannis Simonides was able to capture and hold the attention of such a diverse audience by bringing to life a text that was written 2400 years ago. People responded with both laughter and tears and left the theater with a fresh — and yet very classical — perspective on the human condition."

Based on the text of Plato's Apology of Socrates, the one-man show displayed the philosopher's humanity — his humor, wit and arrogance, as well as his intellect and ideals. In a lively post-performance discussion led by Simonides, Socrates’ arguments about virtue, justice, civic duty, love of life and hope in death were powerfully brought to bear on issues of today, from the economic collapse in Europe to political dysfunction in the United States to the personal costs endured by activists such as Nelson Mandela.

“I loved the way (Simonides) gracefully engaged the audience from beginning to end,” audience member Sarah Muir Ferrer said. “During the Q&A after the show, it became clear that he is not just an actor, but also an activist, using his art form to engage people and promote social justice.  It was truly inspiring.”  

The free performance of Socrates Now was the first installment of a two-part series showcasing the contemporary relevance of ancient sources. The second event in the series will be a student-led marathon reading of Homer's Iliad on the Northwestern University lakefront on May 23, 2014.

The major sponsor of both events is The Alumnae of Northwestern University. Additional sponsors include the Northwestern University departments of classics, political science and philosophy, as well as the Brady Scholars Program in Ethics and Civic Life, the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and the Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies.

For more information, contact Greg Jue at the Northwestern University Department of Classics.

Back to top