The history of the Greeks goes way, way back, back to the time of the ancients, thousands of years, thousands of Great Greeks, how do you choose only thirty of them?
The esteemed Greek philosophers alone cover more than thirty.
The Greeks Who Made Us Who We Are, gave us civilization, they were the father’s of democracy, mathematics, history, healing and much more, and they’re still at it, taking the world by storm.
It was a formidable task, choosing only thirty, but here is my list of great Greeks.
As the Olympian Gods were treated equally, they count as one, as with the wise, old philosophers, Is any one of them, better than the others?
In no particular order.
Here’s where it all started, atop Mount Olympus, home of the twelve Greek Olympian Gods;
Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite,
Hephaestus, Hermes, Hestia. (Or Dionysus).
Ancient Greeks worshipped the twelve Gods equally, and were terrified, that if they angered the gods, or caused them jealousy, through favouring one over another, they would be punished, and so, all twelve Gods had separate temples dedicated to them.
Many of these sacred temples, stood the test of time, and can still be seen, dotted all around Greece.
By the way, do you have The blue blood of the Greek Gods ?
“Inspirational” quotes, which we hear and read today (Facebook loves them!) can all, in some way, be traced back to the wise words of Greek Philosophers.
It's all been said before;
The Greeks said it first!
The Greeks said it first!
Here’s a trick to remember who came before whom, with the most famous three, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, just remember the word Spa; Socrates taught Plato, Plato taught Aristotle!
Homer is the name given by the ancient Greeks to the legendary author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, two epic poems which are the central works of Greek literature.
There are many accounts of Homer's life, the most popular being that he was a blind, strolling minstrel from Ionia, a region of central coastal Anatolia in present-day Turkey.
Herodotus was a Greek historian, widely referred to as "The Father of History", born in Halicarnassus, Caria (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey) and lived in the fifth century BC (c. 484–c. 425 BC).
Homer is thought to have only ever had a one hit wonder, but what a wonder: The Histories , a record of his inquisitiveness over the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars, which includes geographical and ethnographical information.
Some of his stories were fanciful and others inaccurate; but, he states, he was reporting only what he was told.
The goings on though, noted down in Herodotos’ “The Histories", have been confirmed by historians and archaeologists.
My attention was first brought to this book, while watching one of my top ten films, “The English Patient”, Ralph Fiennes read this book, the whole way through the film!
620 – 564 BCE
Aesop was an Ancient Greek story teller, who had a number of fables attributed to him, sadly, none of which survive, most of us surely remember The Classic Aesop's Fables .
What wonderful tales they are, never without a moral to them, which help teach children about the consequences of their actions.
Philostratus (A teacher in ancient Greece) describes a painting of Aesop surrounded by the animals of his fables. (None of these images have survived) and, according to Philostratus;
“The Fables are gathering about Aesop, being fond of him because he devotes himself to them. For... he checks greed and rebukes insolence and deceit, and in this some entire animal is his mouthpiece — a lion or a fox or a horse... and not even the tortoise is dumb — that through them children may learn the business of life.”
The first printed version of Aesop's Fables in English was published on March 26, 1484, by William Caxton, many others, followed over the centuries.
In 2002 a translation by Laura Gibbs titled “Aesop's Fables” was published by Oxford World's Classics, including 359 fables, and has selections from all the major Greek and Latin sources.
Alexander III of Macedon (20/21 July 356 BC – 10/11 June 323 BC
Alexander the Great, a pupil of Aristotle, by the age of thirty had created the largest Empire in the ancient world, he was never defeated in battle, and was one of the greatest military commanders the world has ever known.
Died 11 August 480 BC
In August 480 BC, Leonidas led his men out of Sparta, to meet the mighty Persian army, where in great Greek style, with only three hundred men, against thousands, the Spartans showed what they were made of; This is Greece This is Sparta
Not to be daunted, the Spartans, when ordered by the Persians to lay down their weapons, replied, with the famous words “Come and get them”, and proceeded to defeat the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae.
Reign 51 – 12 August 30 BC (21 years)
Have I confused you?
The Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, may have been born in Egypt, but, she was Greek through and through.
Her family originated from Macedonian Greece, and Ptolemy I, one of Alexander the Great’s generals.
Ptolemy ruled Egypt after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., and launched a dynasty of Greek-speaking rulers that lasted for nearly three centuries.
December 2, 1923 – September 16, 1977
Maria Callas, one of the best known opera singers of the 20th century, also known for her passionate love affair with Aristotle Onassis, which is said to have carried on even after he married Jackie Kennedy.
18 October 1920 – 6 March 1994
Passionate (Well she was Greek!), Greek actress (The Film “Never on a Sunday” to name but one), singer and Politician, right up until her death, she never stopped trying to have the Parthenon Marbles, stolen by Lord Elgin, and now residing in The British Museum, returned to their rightful place; Greece.
3 September 1926
Another wonderful Greek actress, a strong-minded, Greek woman, known for her parts in the ancient Greek comedies and tragedies, she has given many excellent performances at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus.
January 21, 1922 – January 22, 1994)
Although Telly Savalas has had parts in some great films;
Battle of the Bulge (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Scalp hunters (1968), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), Kelly's Heroes (1970), Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971), Inside Out (1975), and Escape to Athena (1979),
he’s best known in the seventies for his role as Kojak, the lollipop-sucking detective, with his catch phrase’ “Who loves you baby”, with his side kick, Stavros, who, in real life, happened to be his brother.
October 13, 1934
Nana Mouskouri, an international singer, is one of the best selling artists in the world, with more than 200 best-selling albums, in over ten languages, to her name.
Nana came to fame with her song ‘’The White Rose of Athens” in 1969, her first record to sell over a million copies.
29 July 1925
Mikis Theodorakis, a songwriter and composer who has written over 1000 songs.
He is most famous for the music for the films Zorba the Greek (1964), (1969), and Serpico (1973), and is Greece's best-known living composer.
18 February 1883 – 26 October 1957)
Well-loved Greek author, with works including Zorba the Greek,1946,, Christ Recrucified 1948, Captain Michalis 1950, translated 'Freedom or Death), and The Last Temptation of Christ, 1955.
He also wrote plays, travel books, memoirs and philosophical essays such as The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises.
A fictional character, from the above Nikos Kazantzakis, but how could I leave him out?
Zorba the Greek is known and loved all over the world, a larger than life persona, who lives life to the full.
This is also the only book I have read, from beginning to end, in Greek!
Born Elias Kazantzoglou, September 7, 1909 – September 28, 2003. Istanbul, Turkey.
A Greek-American director, producer, writer and actor, described by The New York Times as "one of the most honored and influential directors in Broadway and Hollywood history".
Elia Kazan’s iconic films include; A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, On the Waterfront, and America America.
1541 – 7 April 1614
Born Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco was a painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance.
Doménikos Theotokópoulos was nicknamed "El Greco" ("The Greek") owing to his Greek origin.
Born in Chania, Crete, El Greco, after studying art in Crete, moved to Europe, as did most artists of his time, first to Italy, and later to Spain, where he lived until his death.
15 June 1946 – 25 January 2015
A Greek singer who had international hit records as a solo performer in the 1970s, after having been a member of Aphrodite's Child, a progressive Greek rock group that also included Vangelis (Evangelos Papathanassiou).
Remembered, not only for his international hits, such as “For Ever and Ever”, "My Friend the Wind", "Lovely Lady of Arcadia", and his first UK hit in 1975, "Happy to Be on an Island in the Sun", Demis Roussos was also remembered for his kaftans and rather large figure.
29 March 1943, known professionally as Vangelis.
Vangelis is a composer of electronic, progressive, ambient, jazz, and orchestral music.
He is best known for his Academy Award-winning score for the film Chariots of Fire, composing scores for the films Blade Runner, Missing, Antarctica, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and Alexander.
18 January 1915 – 18 January 1984
Vassilis Tsitsanis was a Greek songwriter and bouzouki player.
Tsitsanis was a leading Greek composer of his time who is regarded as one of the founders of modern REBETIKO and Laiko music.
Tsitsanis wrote more than 500 songs and is still remembered as an extraordinary composer and bouzouki player.
In 1938, he moved to Thessaloniki, served his military time, and stayed there throughout the German occupation, keeping up the Greek moral, with his ever popular songs.
There, in Thessaloniki, Tsitsanis opened an ouzeri, married and wrote many of his best songs, which were recorded after the end of the War.
By the time the Germans had shut down the record company’s occupation in 1941, he had already recorded about 100 of his own songs and played on many recordings of other composers.
Heroes and Patriots
In May 30, 1941, Apostolos Santas, nineteen, and Manolis Glezos, eighteen, tore down a Nazi flag, erected on the Acropolis, Athens, during the German occupation of Greece in World War II.
The Gestapo declared that the two young Greeks would be executed if caught, but their identities remained a secret until after the war.
It was one of the first resistance acts that inspired Greeks, to resist against the occupation, and established both Santas and Gletzos as anti-Nazi heroes.
I was about to say, “The brave men of Crete who helped Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor”, (11 February 1915 – 10 June 2011, a British author, and soldier who played a prominent role behind the lines in the Cretan resistance during the Second World War), but I rather think it was the other way round, the Cretans helped Fermor.
The Cretan resistance was a movement against the occupying forces of Nazi Germany and Italy by the residents of Crete during World War II.
Part of the larger Greek Resistance, it lasted from May 20, 1941, when the Germans invaded the island in the Battle of Crete, until the autumn of 1945 when they surrendered to the British.
For the first time during World War II, German forces faced resistance from the local population.
Cretan civilians shot down paratroopers or attacked them with knives, axes, scythes, even with bare hands.
As a result, many casualties were inflicted upon the invading German paratroopers during the battle.
The Evzones, or Evzoni, is the name of several historical elite light infantry and mountain units of the Greek Army.
Today, it refers to the Presidential Guard.
At the time of the Balkan Wars, there were eight Evzone battalions.
They stood out for their fighting spirit, and the terrible casualties they suffered, especially among officers.
Subsequently the Evzone units were increased to five regiments, which fought with distinction as elite shock troops in the First World War, the Asia Minor Campaign and the Greco-Italian War.
During the many wars Greece has endured; The Balkan wars, The War of Independence, WWI, and WII, and then the Greek Civil War, Greek women kept the home fires burning, kept the family together, despite the everyday hardships they faced.
In many cases, they fought the enemy, along with their men.
Greek women are truly a force to be reckoned with; Greek women roar !
20 January 1906 – 15 March 1975
Ari Onassis was a Greek shipping magnate, with the world's largest privately owned shipping fleet and one of the world's richest and most famous men.
He was known for his business know-how, his wealth and his personal life, including his marriage to Athina Mary Livanos, daughter of shipping tycoon Stavros G. Livanos, his affair with opera singer Maria Callas and his marriage in 1968 to Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of late American President John F. Kennedy.
Onassis was born in Smyrna, but fled, with his family, to Greece in 1922 during the Greco-Turkish War.
He moved to Argentina in 1923, where he set himself up himself as a tobacco trader and later, during the Second World War, a ship owner.
Onassis was the founder of Olympic Airways in 1957.
3 July 1909 – 16 April 1996
Stavros Niarchos was a multi-billionaire Greek shipping tycoon, who, after 1952 had the the world's biggest supertankers built for his fleet.
Set in motion by the Suez Crisis and an increasing demand for oil, he and his rival Aristotle Onassis became giants in global petroleum shipping.
Niarchos married five times, two of his wives were daughters of shipping magnate Stavros G. Livanos; Eugenia Livanos in 1947, and Athina Livanos Onassis, his third wife Eugenia's sister and first wife of his rival, Onassis, in 1971.
Both sisters died from overdoses, Eugenia in 1970, and Athina in 1974.
Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, born in Athens, Greece, 14 February 1967, is a British entrepreneur of Greek origin.
He comes from a wealthy ship owning family, and is known for easyJet, a low-cost airline and the Stelmar shipping line, which he established with funds of £30 million, provided by his father.
easyJet, founded in 1995 marked the beginning of a series of ventures marketed under the "easy" brand, managed by easyGroup and run by Stelios Haji-Ioannou .
13 May 1883 – 19 February 1962
Georgios Papanikolaou was a Greek pioneer in cytopathology and early cancer detection, and inventor of the "Pap smear".
He discovered that uterine cancer could be diagnosed by means of a vaginal smear in 1928, but the significance of his work was not recognized until the publication, (with Herbert Frederick Traut) of “Diagnosis of Uterine Cancer by the Vaginal Smear” in 1943.
He became known for his invention of the Papanikolaou test; the Pap smear or Pap test, which is used worldwide for the detection and prevention of cervical cancer.
Papanikolaou received the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research in 1950.
Papanikolaou's portrait appeared on the Greek 10,000 drachma banknote of 1995–2001.
In 1978 his work was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a 13-cent stamp for early cancer detection.
12 January 1873 – 26 March 1940
Spiros Louis, a water-carrier, shot to fame, and became a national hero, after winning the first modern-day Olympic marathon at the 1896 Summer Olympics.
The Marathon consisted of thirteen athletes from Greece and four from other nations.
During the marathon, Spiros made a stop at an inn for a glass of wine, while there, he declared he would overtake all contestants before the end, and win.
Such was his confidence!
Back In the stadium, the spectators were on tenterhooks, the atmosphere was tense, and as word spread that it was a Greek in front, the cry "Hellene, Hellene!" was shouted out by thousands.
When Louiswas the first to arrive, the stadium went into an uproar, two Greek princes; Crown Prince Constantine and Prince George, ran to meet him and accompanied him on his final lap for a finishing time of 2:58:50.
It is said the king offered Louis any gift his heart desired, all good old Louis could think of was a donkey-drawn carriage to help him in his water-carrying business.
In 1926, Louis was arrested on charges of falsifying military documents and was sent to prison
After spending more than a year in jail, he was found not guilty, and was acquitted, I suspect there must have been quite a to do about that!
His last public appearance came in 1936, when he was invited to be a guest of honour at the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin.
. After bearing the flag of the Greek team during the opening ceremonies, he was received by Adolf Hitler and offered him an olive branch from Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, as a symbol of peace.
Four years before he died, Louis recalled the moments after his victory:
"That hour was something unimaginable and it still appears to me in my memory like a dream … Twigs and flowers were raining down on me. Everybody was calling out my name and throwing their hats in the air"
These are my top thirty Great Greeks, what do you think, who have I missed?
I’m sure, as soon as I publish this post, I shall think of more, I can feel a “Part two” coming on, be warned!
See more "Great Greek Stuff" below;
40 things I've learnt about the Greeks in 40 years
21 Weird Greek Superstitions
Top Ten Greek New Year's Customs and Traditions
40 things I've learnt about the Greeks in 40 years
21 Weird Greek Superstitions
Top Ten Greek New Year's Customs and Traditions