A group of designers, engineers, and scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Media Lab has just named the 100 most famous people on the planet’s historical map and, not surprisingly, Greeks have topped the prestigious list.
The team undertook the challenge of working collaboratively to quantify, measure, and analyse data from 4,000 BCE to 2010, mapping cultural production and creating the Pantheon Project.
Ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato topped the list of the most famous people on the planet at number one and two respectively, followed by Jesus Christ, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Homer, Pythagoras, and Archimedes.
“Our Greek ancestors introduced the concept of critical thinking to Greece and the rest of the world. The fact that their contribution is once again being recognised on a global scale fills us with pride,” says Professor Mihalis Tsianikas, Director of LOGOS (Australian Centre for Hellenic Language and Culture) at Flinders University in South Australia.
“The Greek philosophers managed, through their theories and concepts, to demonstrate to the rest of the world how to consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably and empathetically in a critical manner,” says Tsianikas.
Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way.
“Everything was questioned back then and, in essence, to this day, that is the core of our existence and the most essential tool, if we wish to witness humanity moving forward. We need to accept that questioning, researching, and trying to find answers is the substance and foundation of Hellenism and the most valuable contribution Greeks have made to the world.”
If one delves into how societies have evolved over the centuries, they will find the roots in Ancient Greece, starting with the Ionian Philosophers who created the idea of the αγορά: an open, public space where people would go and freely exchange ideas and thoughts without the fear of being prosecuted or killed for expressing their beliefs.
Ancient Greeks spoke about the essence of the soul, the importance of applied science, and the complex formulation of societies whilst they also focused on the role of metaphysics and the universe, excluding the idea of divine intervention in the creation and challenging the then ‘status quo’.
The process of replacing the notion of a supernatural explanation with the concept of a universe that is governed by laws of nature begins in Ionia, where Thales of Miletus (600 BCE), first developed the idea that the world can be explained without resorting to supernatural explanations.
Plato and Aristotle, on the other hand, were instrumental in how Athens and the global thinking was shaped. They were two philosophers who moved away from cosmological theories and focused on the person and the human existence, raising questions about ethos, love and relationships, as two new concepts were introduced.
“The concept of reality and ideas define a person’s life. One cannot exist without the other. Each idea remains elusive reality, since it can be tangible, but ceases to be present. For example, the idea of democracy, a concept which we as people will never be able to fully comprehend and conquer is viewed as the ultimate objective to living a life in freedom,” continues Tsianikas.
According to historians, Platonic influence also contributed to undervalue inference and experimentation; Plato’s philosophy considered the world to be only an imperfect representation of the ideal truth, sitting in a world of ideas.
Aristotle tried to move away from the idealism of Plato and to speak more specifically by questioning and looking at things from an objective standpoint and it is no coincidence that both spring up after the long period of the Middle Ages and his ideas are the first great lights of regeneration pouring in throughout Europe.
Aristotle also explored the nature of ethical conduct, arguing that an ethical life involves achieving happiness and that happiness is best achieved through rational thought and contemplation.
With regards to politics, Aristotle argued that humans are, by nature, political animals. This means that humans are also social animals and that any understanding of human behaviour and human needs must include social considerations. He also investigated the merits of various kinds of political systems, describing their different virtues and vices. His classification system of monarchies, oligarchies, tyrannies, democracies, and republics is still used today.
It is evident from all this that the miracle of Athens literally ran through the backbone of European philosophy and to this day influences the world. Nevertheless, these are not the only contributions that Greeks offered humanity.
According to Professor Tsianikas, the second miracle of Athens, which to this day cannot be fully comprehended or explained by historians or researchers, is reflected in science and art which also made their appearance in ancient times.
“Ancient Greeks took their entertainment very seriously and created theatre and arts, an intriguing, mystical path which guided them into discovering what it really meant to be human and live in organised societies,” explains Tsianikas.
“The three genres of drama were comedy, satyr plays, and the most important of all, tragedy. Ancient Greeks gave to the rest of the world the opportunity to explore and create more art which flourished and flooded Europe, giving people the opportunity to indulge into what Aristotle once described as a soul cleansing experience, which he aptly named Catharsis.
“This proves once again the significant contribution the Ancient Greeks have made and raises questions such as: ‘Where would English theatre and Shakespeare be in the absence of Greek drama?’.
“We must always stop, reflect and appreciate the immense amount of work our ancestors bestowed upon us so that everyone today can express themselves freely and realise that the contribution of Greece to Western philosophy, is Western philosophy itself.
“It is our duty as Greeks to acknowledge and promote our ancestors, accomplishments that shaped the world we live in today and remember to bow to the legacy they have left behind for the whole world to enjoy,” concludes Tsianikas.
Read the full global list at pantheon.media.mit.edu/