The period of Greek history in Classical Antiquity is referred to as the ancient Greek period. It has witnessed the emergence of many talented people who brought forth several new concepts in various fields and laid the foundation of social and political reform as well as scientific developments. Here, we look at some of the famous people from ancient Greece, who enlightened the world by expanding the knowledge of various domains such as art, literature, science, law, and medicine.
Famous Ancient Greeks
This ancient Greek playwright was the father of tragedy. He was born in 525 BC. He worked at a vineyard until one night when god Dionysus, through a dream, asked him to pursue the art of tragedy. Thereafter, he began to write tragedies. Out of the seventy or more plays that he is believed to have written, only seven have survived. According to Aristotle, Aeschylus was the first to bring multiple characters in plays and allow their interaction unlike the earlier plays which involved the characters' interaction only with the chorus. His plays gave importance to morals and religion, and narrated stories of Gods. He is credited with introducing scene-decoration to plays. The actors in his plays wore boots and a thought was given to their costumes, thus enhancing their appearance on stage. Aeschylus' works have been a great influence on Greek art and culture. Apart from his contribution to art, he is also remembered for his participation in the Battle of Marathon.
Credited with the very famous Aesop's Fables, he was an ancient Greek storyteller born in 620 BC. Little is known about his life and there is a debate over his existence. Ancient texts say that his appearance and voice were a topic of ridicule. Some believe that he had an African origin. The anonymously authored The Aesop Romance describes him as an ugly slave who was clever and who became the adviser of the kings. He has been depicted in art and literature. The date of his death is unknown. His tales have animals and other non-living things that speak and can solve problems. His stories have been read and told since ages. This storyteller continues to live through his famous fables.
Alexander the Great
Born in 356 BC, in Pella Macedonia, he was one of the greatest military geniuses of all time. His father was Philip II of Macedon, an excellent Army General and his mother Olympias was the princess of Epirus. After the death of his father, Alexander began to rule Macedon. He overthrew the Achaemenid Persian Empire and emerged successful in extending the boundaries of his empires. He included many foreigners in his army and continued with his military campaigning. Owing to his conquests, Greek settlements and their cultural influences are seen in many parts of the world. He died on June 11, 323 BC in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon at around 33 years of age. Some believe that he was poisoned by the sons of Antipater while some sources state malaria as the cause of his death.
Born in 287 BC, in Sicily, Archimedes of Syracuse was a Greek mathematician, physicist and engineer. He was also an inventor and astronomer. One of his most important discoveries is the method to determine the volume of an irregularly shaped object, also well-known for his exclamation, "Eureka!" He used the method of exhaustion to calculate the area under the arc of a parabola using the summation of infinite series and calculated an accurate value of Pi. According to recent research, Archimedes was also instrumental in designing machines that can lift ships out of water and in devising a method to set ships on fire using mirrors. He died in 212 BC. Archimedes is considered as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. His works continue to inspire many.
Aristarchus of Samos
This ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician was born in 310 BC and died in 230 BC. He is credited with presenting the first known model of a solar system in which the Sun was placed in the center with planets including the Earth, revolving around it. He estimated the length of a month and that of a year. In his On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and Moon, Aristarchus has made estimations of the distances between the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon. He has also estimated their relative sizes.
Born in 446 BC, Aristophanes was a comic playwright. The still-existent eleven plays written by him are a part of Old Comedy. His works criticized many influential people of his time. Apart from his plays that often met with controversy, he was also recognized for his poetic works. He is acknowledged for his role in developing comedy in literature and bringing it to the new age. He was known as the Father of Comedy and the Prince of Ancient Comedy. He died in 386 BC in Delphi.
Born in 384 BC, Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and scientist. He studied at the Plato's Academy and was Plato's student. Following Plato's death, Aristotle shifted from Platonism to empiricism. His writings span subjects such as science, logic, poetry, music, and politics. Muslims of the medieval period respected him as the First Teacher. He served as the head of the royal academy of Macedon, where he taught Alexander the Great and some other future kings. Many of his works are believed to belong to the period between 335 and 323 BC. Encyclopedia Britannica says that he was the first genuine scientist in history and that every scientist is in his debt. Modern principles in physics, biology, and even psychology and philosophy derive a lot from Plato's work in these fields. He died in 322 BC aged 62.
Born in 384 BC, Demosthenes grew up to become an excellent orator and a Greek statesman. There is a debate over who his teachers were. Aristotle, Plato, and Isocrates are believed to be some of them. He improved his oratory skills and pursued a career in law. For a brief period, he worked as a speech-writer and a lawyer. His speeches reflected the political and cultural scenario of ancient Greece. Throughout life, he worked towards preserving the freedom of Athens. He even led a revolt against Alexander the Great. He died in 322 BC. He is recognized as the perfect orator and the Alexandrian Canon enlists him among the ten greatest Attic orators and logographers.
Known for his relentless laws, from which the word draconian derives itself, Draco was the first legislator in Ancient Greece. He was born in 650 BC and died in 600 BC. He stayed in Athens, of which he was also the legislator. Not much is known about his life. Draco's written law replaced the then prevalent systems of oral law and blood feud (a fight for revenge between two individuals or parties, namely, the wronged and the guilty).
Known as the Father of Geometry, Euclid was a Greek mathematician. He was born sometime during the mid-4th century BC and died sometime in the mid-3rd century BC. Very little is known about his life. He is believed to have lived during the time of Ptolemy I. His most famous work is the Elements which is still used in teaching geometry. Deriving from many earlier works in mathematics, Elements is a compilation of everything that Geometry is. It also includes the number theory. Euclid is also credited with notable contributions to conics, reasoning, and mechanics.
He was the youngest of the three great tragedians of classical Athens (Aeschylus and Sophocles were the others). Having written over ninety plays, he made a noteworthy contribution to drama. Born in 480 BC, he stayed with his parents in a village near Athens. He obtained education in fields like athletics, philosophy, and painting. What made his works different was his portrayal of mythical heroes as ordinary people. He rejected the orthodox norms of his time and the characters of his plays often portrayed what was considered unconventional at that time. Euripides had a great influence on theater of the modern times. He was often associated with Socrates. He is said to have had two unsuccessful marriages, after which he lived in isolation in a cave in Salamis. He died in 406 BC.
The Hippocratic Oath, whereby medical professionals commit themselves to honest medical practice, has been named after this ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. It is believed that he wrote it. He was born sometime in 460 BC. Early records say that he learned medicine from his grandfather and father, who was also a physician. Perhaps, he was the first one to believe that medicine and religion should be separate and that health conditions are not a result of God's punishments but are rather caused naturally. He brought out the fact that factors such as the environment and one's eating habits and lifestyle can cause disease and that complete knowledge of human anatomy is essential for correct diagnosis and treatment. The seeds of professionalism in medicine were sown at the time of Hippocrates. In Hippocratic medicine, emphasis was laid on the hygiene and conduct of physicians and attention was given to patient care and progress of the disease in the patient's body, so as to decide the right time and type of treatment. Hippocrates was the first documented chest surgeon and his medicine was successful in describing diseases of the rectum in much detail. His work in medicine helped establish it as a separate field and he came to be rightly known as the Father of Western Medicine.
Homer was an ancient Greek epic poet. He is famous for his poetic works, the Iliad and the Odyssey. There are controversies about the original creator of these epic poems but they are largely attributed to Homer himself. Some theories believe that he belongs to 850 BC while others consider him as living during the period of the Trojan War. Except for what the literary works of different ancient writers reveal, there is not much known about Homer. Poems like Little Iliad, the Nostoi, the Cypria, and other poems on the Trojan War are believed to be Homer's literary works. The initial influence of his works is considered to have led to the development of the ancient Greek culture.
This famous Greek statesman, orator, and general was born in 495 BC in a wealthy family. He studied music and philosophy and pursued a career in politics, which began around 470 BC. He was the general of Athens during the Golden Age. He was a proponent of democracy. When leading Athens between 461 and 429 BC, he brought many reforms to the city and played a major role in making it an educational and cultural center of the time. He was the brain behind the construction of the Acropolis of Athens. His influence on Athens was such that he came to be called its first citizen.
Born somewhere between 428 and 423 BC in Athens, not much is known about his early life and education. He is believed to have belonged to a wealthy family. Sources say that he excelled in academics and was tutored by some of the very good teachers of his time. He was a student of Socrates. Socratic dialogues, one of Plato's most famous literary works has been used in teaching subjects such as philosophy, logic, ethics, mathematics, and religion. This philosopher and mathematician has made a notable contribution to Western philosophy and science. He founded the Academy (Platonic Academy) in Athens, of which Aristotle was a student. Plato's Theory of Forms or Theory of Ideas is among his other notable works. It led to Platonism. Plato died in 348 or 347 BC at the age of 80. Some accounts state that he died while asleep while others say that he died at a wedding feast.
Born between 580 and 572 BC, Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek mathematician. The very well-known Pythagorean theorem derives its name from this famous mathematician of ancient Greece. Pythagoras was the founder of Pythagoreanism, a religious movement based on religious teaching, common meals, exercise, reading and the study of philosophy. He was instrumental in discovering that music was based on proportional intervals of the numbers from one to four. He was pioneering in the discovery of the squares of numbers. He was the first one to think that the earth is round and that planets rotate along an axis. He called moon, the counter-Earth, believing it to be a planet and proclaimed that all the planets revolve around a central 'fire', which was later to be discovered as the Sun. The Father of Numbers, as he is called, died sometime between 500 and 490 BC.
Born in or a little earlier than 620 BC, Sappho was a Greek lyric poet. Ancient texts and parts of Sappho's own poetry refer to Cleis as her mother. Some sources say that Sappho had a daughter by the same name. She is believed to have had three brothers. According to Suda, a 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia, Sappho was married to a rich man called Cercylas. The Parian Chronicle says that Sappho spent some time between 604 BC and 594 BC in exile in Sicily and returned to her birthplace Lesbos where she spent the rest of her life. Her poetry was based on subjects like passion, romance, and love, unlike other contemporary works based on politics. Interestingly, the word lesbian traces its roots to Lesbos where Sappho was born. And her name originates from sapphic, both words that are today associated with homosexuality.
He was a classical Greek philosopher born in 496 BC. He is considered as one of the founders of Western philosophy. The famous concepts of Socratic irony and the Socrates Method are named after him. The Socratic Method, also known as Elenchus, is a form of philosophical inquiry used to analyze the implications of others' position in order to boost rational thinking and enlighten ideas. Socrates is well-known for his contributions to the field of ethics but he has also made valuable contributions to epistemology and logic. Socrates mentored Plato who taught Aristotle. Plato's famous works bear a large influence of Socrates' ideas. His principle clashed with the Athenian politics. He took great efforts to improve the Athenians' sense of justice and continued being loyal to his society. His clashes with the Athenian views of those times, might have led them to execute him.
He was a lawmaker, poet, and statesman from Athens. It is said that he helped resolve the battle between Athens and Megara over the Salamis Island. He is said to have traveled to Egypt and discussed philosophy with two priests there. His travel is said to have included visits to Cyprus and Lydia. He is enlisted among the Seven Sages of Greece. Born around 638 BC, he died at the age of 80. He is recognized for his role in laying the foundation of democracy in Athens. He brought several reforms to the Constitution, took steps towards improving the economy by encouraging agriculture and trade. Through his poetry, he sought to bring reform in society. He wrote about politics and portrayed the society of his time.
He was the second of the three greatest tragedians of ancient Greece (Aeschylus and Euripides being the other two). He wrote over hundred plays, only seven of which have survived. Born in 497 or 496 BC, Sophocles grew up in a wealthy family. He served as a treasurer of Athena and then with the armed forces. In a theater competition in 468 BC, where Aeschylus was also competing, Sophocles won the first prize. This was his first achievement in the field. He won several such competitions after that. His main contributions to theater include, the introduction of a third actor, deeper character development, and scenery-painting. He died in 406 or 405 BC aged ninety or ninety-one.
These were some of the most prominent names among the many famous people in ancient Greece. These names have been written in golden letters and shall always be remembered with respect and gratitude.