In postwar Iraq, Colonel Matthew Bogdanos is in charge of tracking down the treasures that were looted from Iraq’s national museum, leading military-style raids to retrieve priceless antiquities and using his classics background to identify some of civilisation’s earliest artefacts.
Mr Bogdanos makes his way through postwar Baghdad quoting everyone from Cicero to samurais. Returning from a raid, he drops to the ground to do three sets of push-ups, 135 in all, before answering questions – out of breath from the exertion – from the steady stream of journalists turning up at the museum gates.
Matthew Bogdanos’s family owned a Greek restaurant in New York’s lower Manhattan. From age seven, he and his twin brother worked there, taking turns waiting tables and doing school work.
Today he practices law before judges and among attorneys who knew him when he was a boy. He never thought he’d be one of them. “A lawyer was the guy who came in, ordered steak and didn’t leave a good tip,” he said.
He attributes his lifelong interest in the classics to his parents, who had him reading Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey at 12. But despite his parents’ emphasis on education, Mr Bogdanos never planned to go to university. He dreamed of becoming a professional boxer. His three brothers followed their father’s footsteps into the restaurant business, and Mr Bogdanos figured he would do the same. “The marine corps changed that,” he says.
The marine recruiter persuaded him to apply to Columbia University, where Mr Bogdanos completed a bachelors degree in classical studies with a masters in the same field, and a law degree.
In law school, he undertook an internship with the late Harold Rothwax, a New York judge renowned for his sharp tongue and tough sentences. “From the moment I stepped in his courtroom, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Mr Bogdanos said. “You would have to take me out kicking and screaming.”
After two years as a marine lawyer, he left active duty in 1988. He joined the district attorney’s office the same day. While remaining in the marine reserves, he had prosecuted subway muggers and teenage killers, but no case attracted as much attention as Sean “P Diddy” Combs’ 14-month trial after a 1999 nightclub shooting. The rap impresario was acquitted of weapons and bribery charges.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mr Bogdanos was called up to join the forces hunting for al-Qaida and Taliban suspects. “I lost a lot of friends that day,” he said.