Who is the most famous Greek ever? This the perennial question that often occurs among Greeks, philhellenes and historians.
Of course there is no one answer to this question. There are many famous Greeks who lived in the past 2,500 years and one can easily name one who may be living still.
In Plato’s Apology, Pythia at Delphi bore such testimony when she gave Chaerephon the famous response: “Of all men living Socrates is the most wise.”
However, there are no such absolutes. That was Plato’s opinion of his teacher, Socrates. We may have similar opinions of people we admire, but this is a personal one.
It also depends on the field that a Greek person became known for. For instance, Socrates is considered by many the greatest philosopher ever.
Or one can name Pythagoras as the most famous mathematician, or Leonidas as the greatest warrior who ever fought.
In the 21st century, a person who is into basketball may say that most famous Greek is Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA MVP.
Someone who is into the arts, or poetry, for instance, may say it was El Greco, or Odysseas Elytis respectively.
When Greek Reporter posted this very question on Facebook, we received hundreds of answers to the question that ultimately cannot be answered definitievely.
Nevertheless, based on the answers we received, we found some famous Greeks who stand out amongst them all.
The best-known Greek philosophers
The names of philosophers appeared in most readers’ comments. The first that stood out was that of Socrates, who lived from 470-399 BC, the philosopher who most profoundly influenced Western thought.
Socrates’ way of life, character, and thought made his students and fellow Athenians admire his great insight, integrity, self-mastery, and argumentative skill.
Plato, who lived from c. 428–348 BC, comes second among most famous Greeks. A student of Socrates and later teacher of Aristotle (384–322 BC), he founded the Academy.
For Plato, the soul was that which gave us life. He is best known as the author of philosophical works of unparalleled influence. He wrote on ethics, epistemology, justice, politics and a range of other subjects.
For many, Plato’s influence on western thought and civilization is even more important than that of his teacher.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a philosopher and a scientist as well. He was the author of a philosophical and scientific system that became the framework for both Christian Scholasticism and medieval Islamic philosophy.
His writings in ethics and political theory as well as in metaphysics and the philosophy of science continue to be studied today.
Pythagoras (c. 570-c. 500-490 BC) was a philosopher and mathematician who influenced Plato and Aristotle. He contributed to the development of mathematics and Western rational philosophy.
Everyone who studied math in school knows the Pythagorean Theorem. He is generally credited with the theory of the functional significance of numbers in the objective world and in music.
The greatest general and warrior
Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was the King of Macedonia and one of the greatest generals in history, leading his army to conquer a large part of the known world of his time.
His accomplishments at such a young age had many people — even in the lands that he conquered — believing that he was a god.
Definitely one of the top names for the most famous Greek to ever have lived, Alexander’s legacy is still alive, as his tomb is the holy grail for archaeologists and historians while he has been immortalized in literature and film.
Another great name is that of Leonidas, the Spartan king who became legend with his 300 warriors who fought at Thermopylae.
Synonymous with bravery, determination, patriotism, and complete self-sacrifice, the name of Leonidas is synonymous with Greek warriors. He of course has also been immortalized in film and literature.
Other famous Greeks
Regarding the many varied fields of expertise of famous Greeks, more names appeared on the list — some expected, others not expected at all.
Like for instance, the name of doctor George Nicholas Papanicolaou (1883-1962), the man known for the “Pap test”, who was a pioneer in elucidating the physiology and cytologic characteristics of the female reproductive system.
The Papanicolaou test revolutionized the early detection of cervical cancer, a painless type of cancer that can spread quickly if undetected. For this great service to mankind, the Greek doctor was recognized by the U.S. government with a postal stamp with his name and likeness.
Mikis Theodorakis, who was mourned throughout the world when he passed last year, was also mentioned by Greek Reporter’s friends and followers. The great composer is considered one of the best in the world, while his lifelong political activism made him a true hero in Greece.
Nana Mouskouri, who was born in 1934), is a famous Greek singer who sang in 12 languages and sold 300 million records worldwide in her illustrious career.
The name of poet Odysseas Elytis, Nobel Prize in Literature laureate (1979), also appears frequently on the list of Greek luminaries.
Shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis was probably the most famous Greek in the 1960s and 1970s. He was one of the richest men in the world, had a long affair with opera diva Maria Callas and later married Jackie Kennedy.
Of course there was a humorous side on how some Greek Reporter’s friends responded to the question of who was the most famous Greek?
Some nominated Telly Savalas, who portrayed the beloved lollipop-sucking police detective “Kojak” in the popular American television series that aired from 1973 to 1978 in several countries.
Someone even mentioned Pavlos Polakis and Adonis Georgiadis, two rival politicians who constantly bicker at each other in the Greek Parliament.
So, the question of who is the most famous Greek is quite subjective. And can be food for thought. Or just fun.