The world has been shaped physically, through movements of the planet, but also intellectually and artistically. The world has come a long way over the past few centuries, and humans are responsible for shaping the way it is today. A few stand out amongst the rest, and those are known as some of the greatest minds in history.
Order: by birth date
1. Archimedes of Syracuse (287 BC – 212 BC)
Archimedes of Syracuse was an ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, physicist, engineer, and writer. He made great discoveries in the field of physics, and evidence shows that some of his blueprints for inventions could’ve actually worked. Some of his designs included machines that could lift ships from the water and how to set a ship on fire using only a set of strategically-placed mirrors. Archimedes also designed siege engines and screw pumps. He was regarded as one of the most influential minds of his time and ours.
2. Plato (428/427 or 424/423 BC – 348/347 BC)
Greek philosopher Plato is known around the world for his teachings in literature, philosophy, and mathematics. Plato (428/427 or 424/423 BC – 348/347 BC) was the student of Socrates, another great and influential Greek philosopher, and he founded the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Through his teachings, Plato hoped to lay down the foundations for Western philosophy and science. One of Plato’s most famous works, Theory of Forms, began a unique perspective on abstract objects and led to a school of thought called Platonism. Several of his works have been published and used to teach a variety of subjects, including philosophy, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, religion, and ethics, and they have all been published in several different fashions.
Greek poet Homer is known as one of the most intelligent and greatest poets of his time and in history. Historians aren’t completely sure of when Homer was born and died, but evidence shows that he lived around the seventh and eighth centuries B.C. Homer authored the famous Iliad and The Odyssey, which are still read and studied in today’s modern times. Homer’s works provided models in persuasive speaking and writing, and these had a great influence on Greek society. Homer’s influential writings heavily influenced the Greek world, as well as the rest of the world.
4. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543)
In the thirteenth century, the early stages of the earth and of human life, not much was known about the world. At the time, people had basic knowledge of what the world was like. For example, Christopher Columbus proved that the planet was round, not flat. Scientists and astronomers knew that much, and a little more. People at the time were convinced that the Earth was the center of the universe, since it seemed that sun revolved around it. But Nicolaus Copernicus proved them wrong. Copernicus come up with the heliocentric model of the universe, which placed the sun as the center of the universe, not the Earth. His book, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, discussed at length the structure of the universe in his mind. It was a landmark in the history of science and began the Copernican Revolution. Aside from excelling in the field of astronomy and mathematics, Copernicus was a translator, governor, diplomat, and polyglot, as well as economist. Copernicus developed a basis in economics, formulating a quantity theory of money, which is still present in economics today.
5. Michelangelo (1475 – 1564)
In the Renaissance era, Italian sculptor Michelangelo was famous. Michelangelo was a painter, architect, engineer, and poet who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of the Western art. His intense knowledge led him to be a contender for the title of Renaissance Man, along with his fellow Italian, Leonardo da Vinci. Historians and art critics alike consider Michelangelo one of the greatest artists of all time, coming up with works like David and Pieta, which were sculptures created before he turned thirty years old. Aside from sculptures, he also created two of the most famous works in fresco: the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling and The Last Judgement on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. He pioneered the Mannerist style as a skilled architect. During his lifetime, he was often called Il Divino, meaning “the divine one”.
6. Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)
Another astronomer, Galileo Galilei, also made incredible leaps in the Scientific Revolution. Galileo was known for his improvements to the telescope and his support for Copernicus and the heliocentric theory. As a physicist, engineer, astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher, Galileo made history with his discoveries. His most important discoveries were telescopic confirmations of the phases of Venus, the four largest moons that orbited Jupiter, and the observation and analysis of sunspots. Galileo also worked in technology, using his skills and knowledge to improve devices like the military compass.
7. William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
In the field of literature, William Shakespeare was one of the most famous figures. Shakespeare crafted plays, sonnets, and poems that were highly regarded by others, including royalty. He served as an actor, playwright, and poet throughout his life. Some of his most famous works include Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. His plays have been translated into every major language possible and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. Most his plays were tragedies and comedies, and were performed at the Globe Theater. Shakespeare’s standard form of poem was blank verse, composed in iambic pentameter. Even today, Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays are revered and well-known around the world.
8. Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)
After an apple dropped out of a tree and onto his head, Isaac Newton discovered the formula for gravity. Newton, an English physicist and mathematician, saw how the apple fell and created a theory that would later be known as the Universal Law of Gravitation. This stated that any two bodies attract each other with a force that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Newton also came up with three laws of motion, which changed our understanding of the universe and helped other scientists learn more about the planet. Newton was seen as a key figure in the scientific revolution for his discoveries.
9. Voltaire (1694 – 1778)
Famous for his wit, French philosopher Voltaire was a very versatile writer. In his writings, he attacked the beliefs of the Catholic Church and expressed his advocacy on the freedom of religion and the separation between church and state. Over the course of his life, he wrote hundreds of plays and poems, all expressing his criticisms for the French institutions of his day. Aside from plays and poems, he also wrote scientific journals, novels, and essays about his beliefs. Despite the risks he faced, he was a very outspoken advocate.
10. Wolfgang Mozart (1756 – 1791)
In musical studies, Wolfgang Mozart was one of the most renowned pianists in Europe, basically defining the Classical Era with his work. Mozart showed prodigious ability from the earliest parts of childhood and became fluent on the piano and the violin. At five years old, he performed before European royalty and he became a court musician. Throughout the rest of his life, he composed hundreds of pieces of music, mostly for keyboard. He also took to composing pieces for other musicians; he wrote Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622 for clarinetist Anton Stadler in 1791. Mozart’s work also inspired others to compose and play music; notable musicians such as Ludwig van Beethoven and Joseph Haydn shadowed him. When Mozart passed, he left quite a few pieces unfinished, but the pieces that were finished are still performed today. His music heavily influenced Western art music and he is easily one of the most popular of classical composers.
11. Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)
If you’ve ever spoken or heard the phrase “survival of the fittest”, you’re talking about Charles Darwin’s line of work. In the seventeenth century, Darwin was an English naturalist and geologist who contributed greatly to the evolutionary theory, the theory that describes how animals, plants, and humans alike have changed over the centuries. He came up with the idea of natural selection, which stated that evolutionary change came through the production of variation in each generation and survival of different traits. This is known also as survival of the fittest. Darwin also wrote a book, On The Origin of Species, based on his trip to the Galapagos islands, where he studied the different species of birds and how the variations between them came about. Before his death, Darwin made many contributions to the field of geology and natural history, and he is still seen as a pioneer to evolutionary study.
12. Dmitri Mendeleev (1834- 1907)
If you look at a periodic table and think it’s all just a bunch of numbers and letters, I can assure you that that wasn’t the case for its creator. Russian chemist and inventor Dmitri Mendeleev formulated the periodic table of elements and created the Periodic Law, which he used to correct the properties of some already-discovered elements and predict the properties of elements yet to be discovered. To create the periodic table, he grouped elements by their properties, since atom structure was unknown during his time. Mendeleev grouped similar elements together in columns and expanded the table until all known elements were added. Since Mendeleev’s time, scientists have added quite a few more elements to the table, using Mendeleev’s table as a base.
13. Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)
Men aren’t the only ones who shape history. Polish by birth and French by marriage, Marie Curie was a physicist and chemist who conducted research on radioactivity. Curie excelled in physics and chemistry and used her knowledge to make new discoveries in those two fields. She was the first to discover the radioactive elements of polonium and radium. These two elements were discovered after working with her husband, also a chemist. For her work in both fields, Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize, and became the first woman to do so. She also was the only woman to win in two fields of study, and the only person to win in multiple sciences. Curie was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris and is still regarded as a pioneer in chemistry and physics. As a woman who accomplished so many tasks and won so many awards, she has inspired thousands of women to engage in the study of science.
14. Stephen Hawking (1942 -)
One of the greatest minds in history is still living today. Stephen Hawking is widely known for his wheelchair, his thick glasses, and his brain. Hawking is an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author. He is also Director of Research at the Centre of Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge. Hawking rose to fame with a cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, and he also collaborated with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation. Over the past few decades, Hawking has received a variety of awards for his accomplishments and for his book, A Brief History of Time, which was published in 1998 and stayed on the British Sunday Times best-sellers list for 237 weeks straight. Hawking has a motor neuron disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which has progressed over the years. He is almost entirely paralyzed and is confined to a wheelchair. He can only communicate through a speech generating device, but his condition hasn’t stopped him from achieving greatness.
Looking back at the planet, many things have shaped it to become what it is today. The world would not be what it is today without some of the most intelligent men and women in history, those who have defined art and made leaps in different fields of study.