Selecting the most innovative Greeks from ancient times to modernity is not an easy task. From Plato to Eleftherios Venizelos, Greek history is filled with people who thought and acted differently than their contemporaries.
Thanos Veremis, a leading Greek historian had the difficult task of selecting the innovative giants of thought that shaped Western civilization and molded modern Greece into what it is today.
The Professor of Political history at the University of Athens revealed his top choices in a recent podcast, explaining in detail why he chose the following people as the most innovative Greeks.
Innovative Greeks in ancient times
Plato (428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC)
Plato founded the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning on the European continent.
The Republic (c. 375 BCE), featuring Plato’s teacher, Socrates, in dialogue with several friends, is unquestionably central to Plato’s thought.
There are few subjects that Plato’s masterpiece does not touch or play on, but political theory, education, myth, psychology, ethics, epistemology, cultural criticism, drama, and comedy are all themes of his literary work.
It comes as little surprise then that The Republic continues to be claimed by people with the most diverse convictions and agendas.
The Nazis pointed to the text’s seeming advocacy of eugenics. Yet, Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated The Republic as the one book he would have taken to a deserted island alongside the Bible.
Aristotle (384–322 BC)
Taught by Plato, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West, and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.
Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to his time. It was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry.
As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West, and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.
Thucydides (c. 460 – c. 400 BC)
Thucydides has been dubbed the father of “scientific history” by those who accept his claims to have applied strict standards of impartiality, evidence-gathering, and analysis of cause and effect without reference to intervention by the gods, as outlined in his introduction to his work.
He has also been called the father of the school of political realism, which views the political behavior of individuals and the subsequent outcomes of relations between states as ultimately mediated and constructed upon by fear and self-interest.
His History of the Peloponnesian War, which recounts the fifth-century BC war between Sparta and Athens until the year 411 BC is regarded even today as a historical masterpiece.
Alexander the Great (20/21 July 356 BC – 10/11 June 323 BC)
The “Basileus of Macedon,” the “Hegemon of the Hellenic League,” the “Shahanshah” of Persia, the “Pharaoh” of Egypt, and the “Lord of Asia”—better known as Alexander the Great—was one of the most significant figures in human history.
Alexander, taught by Aristotle, spent most of his ruling years conducting a lengthy military campaign throughout Western Asia and Egypt.
By the age of thirty, he had created one of the largest empires in history, stretching from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered to be one of history’s greatest and most successful military commanders.
Constantine Paparrigopoulos (1815 – April 14, 1891)
Paparrigopoulos was a Greek historian who is characterized by modern historians as the “father” of Greek historiography. He was the founder of the concept of the historical continuity of Greece from antiquity to the present day.
He sought to negate the prevailing views at the time that the Byzantine Empire was a period of decline and degeneration that was not recognized as part of Greek history. It is believed that he laid the foundations for the formation of the national identity of modern Greek society.
Ioannis Kapodistrias (February 11, 1776 – October 9, 1831)
Kapodistrias was a Greek statesman who served as the Foreign Minister of the Russian Empire and was one of the most distinguished politicians and diplomats of Europe.
After a long and distinguished career in European politics and diplomacy, he was elected as the first head of state of independent Greece (1827–31). He is considered the founder of the modern Greek state and the architect of Greek independence.
Kapodistrias was assassinated in Nafplio in 1831. His murder robbed the country of the chance to become a modern state sooner.
Charilaos Trikoupis (July 11, 1832 – March 30, 1896)
Charilaos Trikoupis, who served as Prime Minister of Greece seven times from 1875 until 1895, was an admirer of parliamentary politics and introduced democratic checks and balances in the country.
He is best remembered for introducing the vote of confidence in the Greek constitution as well as proposing and funding such ambitious and modern projects as the construction of the Corinth Canal. However, he also eventually led the country to bankruptcy. Nowadays, he is commonly considered one of the greatest Greek Prime Ministers to have ever served.
Eleftherios Venizelos (August 23, 1864 – March 18, 1936)
Venizelos was the Greek statesman under whose leadership Greece doubled in size. As the leader of the Liberal Party, he held office as prime minister of Greece for over twelve years, spanning eight terms between 1910 and 1933.
Venizelos had such a profound influence on the internal and external affairs of Greece that he is credited with being “The Maker of Modern Greece.” He is still widely known as the “Ethnarch” (leader of the nation).
George Papanicolaou (May 13, 1883 – February 19, 1962)
George Papanicolaou, the Greek doctor who invented the Pap smear in 1928, has saved the lives of countless women.
The Pap smear has become a cornerstone of early cancer detection, allowing physicians to detect signs of cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in women, and other illnesses at a treatable stage.
Routine Pap testing has prevented the suffering and death of millions of women worldwide. He is rightly in the list of the most innovative Greeks.