Ancient Greeks

Socrates: famous philosopher who never wrote a thing. Plato’s works memorialize him, particularly in Apology which revolves around Socrates trial in 399 BC for allegedly corrupting the youth of Athens.

Plato: philosopher, mathematician and founder of the Academy in Athens in the 5th century BC. It was the first institution of higher learning in the Western World and survived, remarkably, until 529 AD.

Aristotle: philosopher born in Northern Greece who tutored Alexander the Great and studied everything from theology to embryology, making him a Renaissance man some 2000 years before the Renaissance!

Sappho: poet whose sensitive writings about women led to acclaim in her day, and today as well in feminist circles. Plato reportedly said, “Some say the Muses are nine: how careless! Look, there’s Sappho too, from Lesbos, the tenth.”

Pythagoras: mathematician and mystic from Samos credited, perhaps incorrectly, with the Pythagorean Theorem. In Greece’s Italian colony of Calabria, he led a commune of vegetarian followers who renounced personal possessions.

Pericles: statesman regarded as a major force behind the Athenian empire. He promoted arts and literature in the city and championed Athenian democracy. He also by the way was responsible for the construction of the Acropolis.

Euripides: playwright who wrote Medea and Electra and some 95 other works. He brought a cutting edge to Greek theatre by portraying women and slaves with intelligence and satirizing heroes of Greek mythology.

Thucydides: historian who wrote History of the Peloponnesian War. He transformed history writing by a strict reliance on evidence, a cause and effect approach to events and ignoring the gods as factors in explaining history.

Alexander the Great: military commander, a phenomenal leader who was undefeated in battle. Through him Greece conquered Persia and extended the Greek empire as far as Afghanistan. He died a mere 33 years old in Babylon.

Artemisia Greek queen from Halikarnassus, one of the few female commanders in history of her own naval fleet which she led at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC, although she fought on the side of Persia and curried favor with Xerxes.

Archimedes: mathematician, physicist and engineer who resided in Sicily, a colony of Magna Graecia. His groundbreaking theories included the principle of the lever, the device on which mechanics is based.

Leonidas: king of ancient Sparta and commander of an elite troop of 300 Spartan soldiers who fended off thousands of Persians at Thermopylae. The bravery of their patriotic stance continues to bring enormous pride to all Greeks.

Sophocles: playwright of 123 plays, the most famous being “Oedipus the King” and “Antigone.” He influenced Greek drama by adding a third character to the stage which diminished the Greek chorus. He lived to be 90 years old.

Hippocrates: physician known as the Father of Medicine, born on Kos island in the 4th century BC. His Hippocratic Oath obliges doctors to perform no unnecessary or harmful medical procedures.

Aristophanes: comic dramatist, the originator of the “sit-com” (!). One of his most famous plays,“Lysistrata,” depicts females waging a moratorium on sex until the men cease warring.

Herodotus Greek historian born in Halikarnassus (modern Bodrum, Turkey) known as the Father of History. Wrote about the Battle of Marathon.

Pausanias world traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD. Wrote extensively of the lands he visited, including Jerusalem, Egypt, Macedonia, Italy and was one of the first to see the ruins of Troy.

Modern Greeks

Aristotle Socrates Onassis: Greece’s most famous billionaire shipping magnate who arrived penniless from Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey) as a refugee and created an empire, including founding Olympic Airlines in 1957.

Maria Callas: American born opera singer, the love of Aristotle Onassis’ life and known to be a tempestuous prima donna who sang divinely.

Michael Dukakis: politician and one-time presidential candidate whose ancestral village in Lesvos has named its main street “Odos Doukakis.”

Billy Zane: actor who appeared in Titanic. His family’s original surname, “Zanikopolous” was anglicized to “Zane” by his grandparents.

Dean Karnazes: Ultra-Marathon runner. Ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. He is a true heir of Phidippides, the ancient Greek soldier who ran from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. to announce the Greeks’ victory over the Persians.

Jennifer Aniston: actress who catapulted to fame in the TV show Friends. Her father was born in Crete (family name Anastasakis) where she too spent some of her childhood years.

Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou: founder of EasyJet whose internet-based, no frills flights fly all over Europe for very few euros, and yes, to Athens as well.

Spiro Agnew: Vice President under Richard Nixon, remembered for his notorious forced resignation after being charged with tax invasion.

Joseph Pilates: founder of the popular exercise known as Pilates. He was born in Germany in 1880 to a father of Greek descent, region unknown.

Nikos Katzanzakis: Greece’s most famous novelist, penned Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ. The airport in Herakleion, Crete is named for him.

Rita Wilson: producer of Forest Gump and My Big Fat Greek Wedding and wife of actor Tom Hanks. Her parents were born in Greece. She and Tom own a spread on Antiparos island.

David Sedaris: popular author and humorist who lives in France and seems to have little connection to his father’s Greek roots.

Demis Rousos: vocalist and performer who had an internationally acclaimed career, as a single recording artist and bandleader.

Alexander Payne:
Academy Award winning director of Sideways. Family name is Papadopoulos. Payne has appeared at the Thessaloniki Film Festival.

Tony Orlando: pop singer born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis to a Greek father.

Dean Karnazes:  sensational ultra-marathoner with roots in the Peloponnese not far from Sparta

Elia Kazan: Academy Award winning director and filmmaker of On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire.

George Tenent: former CIA director whose Greek mother came from a Greek speaking region in southern Albania.

Kostas Gavras: filmmaker and director of Missing and Z, the thriller about the 1968 Greece military coup.

Irene Papas: actress born in Corinth, Greece who appeared in Zorba the Greek and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Katherine Hepburn called her “one of the best actresses in the history of cinema.”

Arianna Huffington: columnist, political activist, blogger. Born Stassinopoulos in Greece she was married to a very wealthy Californian, and now lends her financial weight to progressive causes.

Susan Sarandon: Academy Award winning actress whose paternal grandmother was half-Greek.

Vangelis: 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