Did the last 5000 yrs. change our species?


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Part A

This may be a somewhat crude exercise, but hey <shrug>.......: Which citations of which figures throughout history might

A) help convince alien visitors from another planet that our species is well worth deeper study, and might

B) indicate to such aliens just what it is that makes humanity "tick"?

I want to cover a variety of different cultures. I don't want my choices to be too "Anglocentric", and I also don't want them to be too heavily Western. I don't want them to seem too "C.E.-centric" either, since B.C.E. encompasses a huge stretch of history. As much coverage, then, of language, of culture, of ethnicity, and of era is the goal.

Ideally, concentrating on such figures might also help foster greater understanding, in turn, of further great historic developments within the various cultures/civilizations as a whole that are involved in the list -- one studies two or three seminal figures, and further facts and reflections on a given culture then get revealed, like peeling back the layers of an onion. The great figures are merely gateways or mnemonics to the sweep of history in its staggering entirety.

I (arbitrarily?) want to limit myself to under fifty historical figures, with the assumption that the final cut should be manageable enough for study by one individual over the course of a couple of years rather than decades.

Might members here have any thoughts as to humanity's greatest and most important contributors? Who might they feel are the human beings who've made the most direct contributions to the kind of species we are today, and why? Just as importantly, can one say (as I, frankly, would) that humanity is directly impacted and shaped and changed by the achievements of certain extremely gifted individuals?

This post is intended to stimulate either further historical nominees from the rest of our membership here, or general discussion on just what it is that people here feel makes any great contributor to the human comedy especially important, or both. I'd be happy to read your reasons for any nominees of your own, as well as any of your overall reasoning, pro or con, on just what it is that can make any historical figure especially significant in general, plus thoughts on the proposition that humanity itself can be significantly altered by the achievements of single individuals. I'd also be happy to read any thoughts here on why any of my own nominees may seem relatively insignificant in light of the importance of other people cited here.

My nominees are arranged alphabetically by achievement: i.e., Artists first, followed by Bards, then Founders, then Scientists, and so on.

Artists (9):

c.525 - 456 b.c.e.: Aeschylus

This ancient Greek dramatic poet is the earliest extant dramatist and the first surviving writer known to have employed the device of two different characters speaking to each other. Many scholars and critics see Aeschylus's dramatic trilogy, the Oresteia, as the greatest dramatic work ever conceived. Aeschylus himself was arguably the most complete man of the theater ever: Not just a writer and a dramatic poet, he was also an acclaimed actor, a designer of elaborate costumes, the originator (acc. to some sources) of the "skene" (which is the forerunner of the backdrop for most traditional stage productions ever since), and an inspired composer whose music (mostly lost) for his plays was as praised by some as his poetry.

c.495 - c.405 b.c.e.: Sophocles

And if Aeschylus is on such a list, then, since many modern-day and ancient critics (like Aristotle) view Sophocles as having brought the genre that Aeschylus "mainstreamed" to an even higher peak than Aeschylus did, Sophocles too ought to claim membership in such company, especially when one views the vividness and inspired irony in a cycle like Sophocles's Oedipus trilogy.

978 - 1026: Lady Murasaki Shikibu

The first novelist, she wrote the enormously popular Tale of Genji, which some scholars view as having practically shaped Japanese culture from then on. And the novel, as a form, is now ubiquitous.

1265 - 1321: Dante Alighieri

For much of Europe, Dante's Divine Comedy impacted on its culture's conception of the cosmos almost as much as Scripture. Moreover, the full sweep of this poem seems to take in every stratum of social class there is. A perfect mirror of human life in its time, Dante's character types seem universal.

1373 - c.1430: Seami

One great stage tradition that proved as varied in its effect as Greek theater was the Japanese Noh play. Like Greek theater, the Noh play was also an elaborate amalgam of poetry, drama, dance and song. For many, its leading genius is Seami, whose vivid vignettes of journeying and suffering establish a standard never surpassed in deftness and quiet beauty.

1564 - 1616: William Shak[e]speare

The leading playwright of the Globe theater in early 17th-century London, Shak[e]speare, like Dante, seemed gifted with the knack for depicting every human condition there is. Moreover, his knack for an apt turn of phrase has rendered his poetry part of the lingua franca for all of Anglo culture. His gift at evoking a character's feelings through careful calibration of casual speech rhythms in the midst of the poetry, above and beyond what the character may explicitly be saying, makes his texts some of the most eminently actable dramas ever. In fact, his dizzying control of three-dimensional characterization has captured the imagination of artists in many non-Anglo cultures as well.

1567 - 1643: Claudio Monteverdi

Opera is an idealization of the kind of amalgam experienced in ancient Greek drama. Even though the relative dominance of music in this form has often kept leading dramatic poets at bay, examples of an ideal synthesis of poetry and music do exist in this form, and some literary geniuses, like Lorenzo da Ponte, have shone in opera, when collaborating with an inspired composer who also has a genuine feeeling for narrative and drama. Monteverdi was not the very first opera composer, but he was of the same generation as its earliest pioneers, and his genius helped in turning opera into the vibrant, stageworthy form that grew so rapidly in popularity during the 17th century.

1813 - 1883: Richard Wagner

The most well-rounded talent in opera ever(?): emotionally evocative music that sometimes has the same gnomic effectiveness in establishing character and feeling that Shak[e]speare's ostensibly casual speech rhythms have, a gift at conveying the "visual" through musical sound alone, a reasonably accomplished if not always inspired writer of dramatic verse, possibly as thoroughgoing a conceptualizer of "stage space" as Aeschylus in his design for the Bayreuth Festspielhaus and its easily viewable stage from all angles, together with being (by contemporary accounts) an apparently effective performing interpreter as conductor of a staggering range of music beyond his own. His most influential accomplshment may be his huge Ring cycle: four operas that convey the full sweep, albeit tweaked and honed to essentials, of the Norse Eddas. Some believe that cinema might never have taken the exact shape it did absent Wagner. No question that certain aspects of what he said and did disturb many, but it is as an artist that he earns a place in this survey.

1889 - 1977: Charles Chaplin

The first internationally celebrated film genius: actor, director, composer -- sometimes a comedian;-). One cliche paraphrase readily applies here: Internationally speaking, Chaplin made the cinema, and the cinema made Chaplin. His image on the screen became iconic, and it's possible that no human being before him had been so universally familiar to so much of humanity within his own lifetime. His films themselves, while sometimes wildly funny, also seek to convey the complexity of life at the same time. Sometimes they achieve this successfully, sometimes not. But the peaks in Chaplin's output convey the love of humanity that is common to the greatest drama geniuses.

Bards (6):

c.800 b.c.e.: Hesiod
c.800 b.c.e.: Homer

Essentially, I've decided that both these two bards are of equal stature in terms of their impact. But it took me a while getting there.

On the one hand, compared to Hesiod, Homer does not pack the same immediate civic "punch". That is, it's Hesiod who presents the classic "picture" of the early cosmos as conceived in ancient Greek tradition. Also, in addition to the centrality of his Theogony, Hesiod directly influences the Constitution of Orchomenus, whose designers view him as "hearth-founder". Homer has nothing of this kind attached to his name.

On the other hand, there is no question that Homer's Iliad and Odyssey helped shape in his people's collective mind just what it meant to be a "noble Greek". For that, Homer deserves inclusion. And after all, it was Homer whose epics were most often rifled by the Greek dramatic poets centuries later. Some scholars even talk of the Homeric cultures, meaning the cultures typical of both ancient Greece and even ancient Rome who adopted the Homeric narratives as the virtual landscape for their lives.

c.475 - c.425 b.c.e.: Vyasa

Probably the hugest epic ever written, the Mahabharata mirrors every facet of ancient Indian culture possibly more exhaustively than Dante's Divine Comedy mirrors Renaissance Europe. The Mahabharata is generally credited to Vyasa, although that may be an honorific rather than the poet's proper name. Beyond that, unlike Dante, Vyasa has not simply fashioned a narrative that is replete with action and character. In the midst of the Mahabharata is placed the Bhagavad-Gita, a Hindu text whose ethical and instructional impact became central to the ancient Indian's understanding of oneself and of one's place in the cosmos. Also, unlike Dante's consciously fictitious trilogy, Vyasa's epic takes its subject matter partly from history, and scholars discuss endlessly how much of Mahabharata is history and how much is imagination. (The same is true of Homer.)

c.650 - c.725: Hiyeda no Are

Writer of the Kojiki, Japan's foundational epic text of Shinto Buddhism, Hiyeda was credited with being an amazingly retentive repository of all of ancient Japan's lore up to that time. Possibly a woman (although this is not altogether clear), Hiyeda produced the Kojiki by royal command as a way of consolidating Japanese traditions for centuries to come. It worked. An interesting sidelight on the history of Japanese civilization: Women, especially at court, played a major cultural role. It may not be coincidence that possibly the two most foundational literary landmarks in Japan, the Kojiki and the Tale of Genji, both come from a woman's hand.

1179 - 1241: Snorri Sturluson
c.1525 - c.1575: Cristobal Velasco

These two can be taken together, since they both play a similar role: that of poetic restorer of a past culture rather than an inspirer of a present or future one. Sterluson preserved the Norse Eddas and Velasco the Mayan Popol Vuh. Both these restorations helped pave the way for significant understanding from future generations. The Norse traditions might not have survived the way thay have had it not been for Sterluson's preserving these epic texts, and countless everyday details like the days of the week, for instance, might well have lost much meaning -- never mind the path opened for Wagner's Ring cycle.

The Mayan Popol Vuh is the chief epic of the Mayan people, the most advanced pre-Colombian civilization in the "New World". The sophistication of the ancient Mayans is astonishing, and the sweep of this national epic matches the artistic bravery of Homer and Vyasa.

Part B

Founders (10):

c.3100 b.c.e.: Lord Krishna

Like many a founder in many a belief tradition stretching back ages, there are countless questions concerning how much of what we read of this figure can be taken at face value. Did he even exist? While I don't take all the stories as being history -- since it's clear that highly symbolic myth is also involved -- the actual names of those human players who impact on an entire community might still be partly historical. So I'm ready to accept the possibility that someone like Krishna really played some kind of foundational role ca. 3100 B.C.E., even though the events that swirled around his assuming that role were very likely different from those described in Mahabharata and elsewhere. Essentially, the Hindu tradition, the oldest tradition still practiced by millions around the world, appears to have been partly inspired by Krishna, and one important detail may possibly be historical: The love Krishna inspired may have been partly due to his having reportedly replaced a vicious tyrant (called Kamsa in Indian tradition). In other words, read this way, Krishna brought freedom to his people. If there was a Lord Krishna, he would have to be the most significant figure of the fourth millennium B.C.E.

c.1800 b.c.e.: Abraham

It's remarkable when one figure assumes overarching importance for three separate traditions, but that's what happened in Abraham's case. He stands as a foundational figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As to his historicity, see comments above re Krishna.

c.1300 b.c.e.: Moses

While I feel uncomfortable placing an iconic Ten-Commandments emblem by itself in a secular court of law, I have no problem placing it alongside other images also symbolizing the rule of law through the ages. That's what the U.S. Supreme Court has done, after all. And the Ten Commandments remains of incalculable importance to the history of jurisprudence. Whether assembled by Judaic writers in the first millennium B.C.E. or a code introduced by a real man called Moses in c.1300 b.c.e., the achievement itself is significant enough for its author -- whoever that was -- to be included in a survey like this. The only human name associated with this code is Moses, so his is the name used here. Also, although the Pentateuch describes Moses's death, much of the rest of its narrative is traditionally ascribed to Moses. And however we take the Pentateuch, it remains a superb literary achievement. If Moses was indeed the author of much of it, that is yet another reason to include Moses in this survey of human giants. Finally, of course, he is a foundational figure in Judaism, so his contribution is as much bound in with the spiritual as with the judicial. As with Krishna, if Moses existed, he would probably be the most significant figure of his era, the second millennium B.C.E.

628 - 551 b.c.e.: Zarathustra

Supposed founder of Zoroastrianism, generally accorded authorship of the earliest Zoroastrian writings, particularly the seminal Gathas.

600 - c.535 b.c.e.: Lao-tzu

Lao-tzu also has his chief ideas enshrined in a text attributed directly to him. In Lao-tzu's case, he is the founder of Taoism, and his seminal text is the Tao-te-Ching.

563 - 483 b.c.e.: Siddhartha Gautama Buddha

Prince Siddhartha Gautama was called Buddha by his followers and is the founder of Buddhism. The number of Buddhist texts are endless. The earliest collection is the Tripitaka in the Pali language. In that collection is a book of sermons, the Digha-Nikaya, that is sometimes viewed as the earliest and directest record we have of Buddha's own "voice". But there is no agreement on this at all. What sets Buddha apart from his contemporaries is his utter repudiation of any violence, plus the apparent complexity of some of his thoughts. He rejected the caste system altogether. He also is the introducer (for his culture) of the idea "that (from time to time) a Tath¤gata is born into the world, an Arahat, a fully awakened one, abounding, in wisdom and goodness, happy, with knowledge of the worlds, unsurpassed as a guide to mortals willing to be led, a teacher of gods and men, a Blessed One, a Buddha". Buddha strikes me as the most significant figure of the first millennium B.C.E.

551 - 479 b.c.e.: Confucius

Confucius's world was politics. He came up in a particularly violent time, and there may have been moments, especially toward the end of his life, when he may have thought his lifelong efforts at reining in the arrogance and violence of those in power whom he met were pointless. But after his death, there was a remarkable resurgence of interest in the reciprocal and considerate way of public life that he had espoused. Confucianism thus arose despite the attempts of some to destroy Confucian texts after his death. The earliest text reflecting his thoughts is now taken to be Chapters 3 through 8 of the Analects. Considered China's greatest philosopher, as well as a rallying point for political reform, his example may have partly helped foster one of the most stable cultures that humanity has yet seen, starting with the Han dynasty. As with Moses, Confucius's stature as effectively the founder of Confucianism ties him in with a tradition that is as much involved with the spiritual as with the secular, although in Confucius's case, the secular component involves the political more than the judicial.

4 b.c.e. - 30 c.e.: Jesus Christ

Service/living for others was popularized by Jesus more than by anyone else -- even one's enemies were to be loved. Called Christ by followers, his impact led to the founding of Christianity. He also changed the way years are reckoned. Scholars take the three Synoptic Gospels, Mark, Matthew and Luke, as the earliest texts relating to his life. Written from a strongly promotional point of view, they contrast with the somewhat more nonpartisan Josephus, whose recollections include two references to a Christ: one that may reflect later tampering -- the form we have it in and a quote of it in Arabic diverge -- and another that refers to Jesus's brother James and that seems better confirmed by a less divergent quote elsewhere. Of the three Synoptics, Mark seems the earliest, while there appear to be fragments of an even earlier lost "Sayings Gospel", termed "Q", embedded in the later two. Jesus's Sermon on the Mount/Plain seems largely drawn from the earliest "Q" material. He strikes me as the most significant figure of the first millennium C.E.

570 - 632: Mohammed

Mohammed, prophet and founder of Islam, the most recent faith tradition to be adopted by millions, was an extremely influential political and military leader. Reckoned the auther of the Koran, he, like Buddha, advanced the idea of recurrent sages with special wisdom, although Islamic tradition characterizes them specifically as "prophets of God". Mohammed started as a simple believer and propounder of a new creed, but when family members were threatened, he withdrew to Medina, where he became a military chieftain. Rough raids by his followers immediately outside Medina alternated with acts of uncommon kindness on his part. He eventually journeyed back to Mecca, where his biggest enemies were, going there with no weapons, successfully starting a peace process involving all the area's feuding tribes! But soon after his death, strife resumed, even though the ecumenical idea of many "prophets of God" did bear fruit in tolerant places like the surprisingly pluralist Andalusian Spain in the Middle Ages. Islam is also a strongly political belief system.

1817 - 1892: Bahá’u’lláh

Bahá’u’lláh was the founder of the Bahai faith and an advocate for world peace. He practically conceived of the globe as a single village long before others took up the idea in the political realm. For this alone, he has to be reckoned one of the most far-sighted sages of the past few hundred years.

Scientists (3):

1564 - 1642: Galileo Galilei

Viewing physical facts squarely without compromise: this was Galileo's great contribution to science. And he worked in the grandest "theater" one can: the entire cosmos. Nothing less than all that is around us, out to the farthest reaches of outer space, engaged all his faculties. In doing this, he jump-started humanity's understanding of the universe. In imagination, he was humanity's first astronaut as well as a pathbreaking user of observed data, applying its use rigorously in his World Systems.

1809 - 1882: Charles Darwin

Darwin gave us our first all-encompassing insight into nature just as Galileo gave us the first real insight into the stars (although the latter may have been partly anticipated by the Mayans[?]). The ideas in Darwin's Origin of Species have mostly been confirmed by well over a century of intense inquiry, establishing the theory of evolution as a fact, once and for all. So much of biology, chemistry, zoology -- you name it -- rests on Darwin's shoulders that the modern sensibility would probably not even exist without his contribution.

1901-1976: Werner Heisenberg

Pioneer in quantum mechanics, this German scientist's research paved the way for diverse technological phenomena that we today take for granted: the electronics for one's PC, chemical interactions of all kinds, brain scans -- the vistas opened up seem almost limitless. Tied to Heisenberg's pioneering work in quantum mechanics is his epochal formulation of the Uncertainty Principle, which advances, among other things, the surprising concept of the observer's presence in any experiment that involves the quantum world being as intrusive and frustratingly pertinent to an experiment's ultimate outcome as the quantum interactions being merely observed! Thus, since the observer always needs to observe in order for any data to be extracted at all, a "clean" observation of any pattern independent of the observer evidently becomes impossible. I'm giving here a very crude summary of a complex proposition involving particles and waves and extremely intricate mathematical formulas. But it gives some idea of the profound paradox involved. Key to the intricate concepts here are theoretical postulates that point to ten or eleven dimensions in the cosmos rather than the familiar three plus time. Perhaps even more crucial to these equations, Heisenberg pointed out in addition, in his article first introducing the Uncertainty Principle ("Über die Grundprinzipien der 'Quantenmechanik'" (1927)), "In a certain sense the law of causality becomes invalid". That statement alone may throw out centuries upon centuries of philosophical thought.

Part C

Statesmen (6):

c.3000 b.c.e.: Menes

Some historical ambiguities attach themselves to this figure as they do to certain others, but there was probably a person who did do the significant things associated with the name Menes. So if the name of this founder of Memphis was really Menes or something else, Memphis as an accomplishment did make a tremendous enough impact on future history for it to be worthwhile to include whoever founded Memphis in this survey. Moreover, this is the earliest figure associated with law in humanity's story, and Menes appears as the eldest figure in the frieze at the Supreme Court.

c.2400 b.c.e.: Urukagina

The earliest extant example of caring for the vulnerable among us comes from the third millennium B.C.E. in ancient Sumeria. Urukagina, the pioneering lawgiver and first (known) social reformer, is the first to coin the phrase "widow and orphan" as symbolic of those unjustly (and/or inadvertently) prey to the powerful and better-off. Urukagina couples that with a solemn claim that his own god, Ningirsu, mandates that he care for the vulnerable above all others. Some scholars today view Urukagina as the precursor for the 2nd-millennium-B.C.E. laws of Hammurrabi and Moses. Urukagina is also the first known human being to introduce the concept of "freedom" ("Amagi"), and his reforms include radical measures aimed at relieving families of crushing debts, at leaving humble citizens free to name their own price for goods previously yanked summarily out of their hands by the financial and royal elite, at allowing key resources throughout the realm to be used in common rather than confounding the roles of superviser and owner as had previously been the case, and so on. He strikes me as the most significant figure of the third millennium B.C.E.

c.1800 b.c.e.: Hamurrabi

If one includes Moses, then Hamurrabi too bears just as much responsibility for the development of the rule of law, which examples like both Urukagina and Hamurrabi show was introduced more as a counterbalance to overweening power by the strong than as a mere aid for the powerful. Hamurrabi's laws, in a number of ways, serve as a moderating force against kneejerk influences trending toward extreme remedies for offenses. Hamurrabi's law code is the earliest code that survives practically in its entirety. Even Urukagina's reforms are preserved only in descriptions by others, not in Urukagina's own statutes. At the same time, these and future generations can study the full measure of Hamurrabi's own statutes in all their intricacy. Hamurrabi can be seen as an ancestor of the mitigating factors that led to entitlement of every offender to their day in court, complemented by the later ideas of trial by jury and, finally, the worthiness of majority rule among regular citizens in either a trial -- or an entire state, as extended yet further in the later arena of ......... democracy.

630 - 560 b.c.e.: Solon

Solon is the first proto-democrat (small "d"). He was the pioneering lawgiver for ancient Athens who was the first to institute trial by jury, the first to propose active involvement by general assemblies in the affairs of government, and so on. He specified that his reforms were primarily aimed at preventing the strong from oppressing the weak. Now, granted, on that last one, Urukagina was first, but Solon was first to couple that with a democratic system where (theoretically) the weak might actually be heard from, not merely protected by others. As with other great ideas, democracy's acceptance had a rocky start: After Solon started traveling, Pisistratus started chipping away at the freedoms, but, some time after Solon's death, the deterioration of freedoms had become so severe that, ca. 510 B.C.E., a revolution installed Cleisthenes, who returned to Solon's ideas and instituted a 100-year democracy that fostered the Golden Age of Greece and inspired the Founders in the United States 2000 years later, who adopted many of the Greek ideas (although they opted for a republic rather than a democracy). None of this might have happened without Solon.

1743 - 1826: Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson was the American Revolution's "idea man". We even have a term for what he created: "Jeffersonian democracy". Whatever his own failings, and he certainly had some, including slave-holding, Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence have achieved a resonance that have shamed not only many, many others in power since the time the Declaration was written, but the very author of the Declaration himself! "[C]reated equal" indeed(!), posterity says; "well, how about slaves?!" One wonders how often the great thoughts of a pioneer have retroactively targeted the failings of the pioneer himself in such a stark way. Perhaps, there may be a few other such cases, but few with such overpowering irony. For that alone, Jefferson deserves a special niche for his (inadvertent?) sensitizing of peoples' consciences. (Ironically, his original draft of the Declaration had a clause excoriating slavery, which the Congress ultimately removed.) Also important in his Declaration is his enumeration of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as "in/unalienable rights" (a pesky textual variant there:).

1869 - 1948: Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi helped prove that one could accomplish miracles in the political arena with no use of force at all. His utter commitment to non-violence in the political sphere was entirely unprecedented in Gandhi's day, and indeed there were many skeptics who doubted the ultimate effectiveness of Gandhi in his own lifetime. Yet the bottom line: Modern India did emerge as an independent democracy, not without many cuts and bruises, but still viable and self-sufficient, thanks in large measure to Gandhi's untiring faith and courage -- probably the most extraordinary saga of moral power in the past century.

Thinkers (6):

1231 - 1135 b.c.e.: Wen Wang

Wen Wang is generally assumed to be the writer of the I Ching, a set of Chinese aphorisms, primarily significant for having adumbrated the concept of yin and yang. There are some indications that it may have been written in prison, although a few scholars have doubted that. Beyond that, I Ching continued to shape Chinese sensibilities millennia after it was written.

c.650 b.c.e.: Brhaspati

There have undoubtedly been many atheists throughout human history -- one might even speculate whether or not the earliest believers predated or postdated the earliest atheists -- but humanity's written paper trail yields the name of one figure who was earlier than any other (known) writer in setting down a coherent philosophy tied to a rigoreously materialistic construct for all that is: the Indian thinker, Brhaspati (not to be confused with a Brhaspati who is a divine figure in the Hindu pantheon). A generation or so earlier than Buddha, Brhaspati contrasts with Buddha when Brhaspati asserts that there are no gods, that there is no afterlife, and that even the concept of right and wrong is not absolute. His strong pragmatism resonates through later generations, not just the strong assertion by the Greek leader Critias in his Sisyphus that gods were merely invented to prevent people from thinking they could get away with wrongs done secretly, but also later assertions like those of Nietzsche and Rand. Brhaspati's own Lokayata Sutra is now lost, but an extant summary of its contents by a later writer early in the C.E., a certain Haribhadra, appears to be validated by a roughly contemporary citation from Haribhadra in yet another tract written by a dedicated admirer of Brhaspati, one Jayarasi Bhatta.

470 - 399 b.c.e.: Socrates

Philosophy itself has sometimes been described (hyperbolically, of course) as "footnotes to Plato". But there would probably have been no Plato at all without Socrates. If we're talking of ethics, if we're talking of self-knowledge, if we're talking of right and wrong, if we're talking of the very nature of reality itself, it seems impossible to discuss any of these things without either Socrates or Plato eventually coming up. Socrates is the godfather of the Peripatetic school, and Plato and Aristotle's influence, huge as it has been, owes its (sometimes "Puck-ish") spirit of inquiry to the endless teasing, sometimes in jest and sometimes in deadly earnest, that Socrates initiated 2,500 years ago. That is a loooooooooong time, and for a solitary eccentric to remain a household word for all that time may be a unique accomplishment in and of itself. Most scholars assume that the texts that come closest to Socrates' "voice" are probably Plato's earliest dialogues, when Plato was not yet using Socrates routinely as a mouthpiece for his own ideas. Among those earliest dialogues are the Apology and the Crito, which are usually taken as about the closest we can hope to get at grasping what happened during and immediately after Socrates's trial. The Apology purports to be a direct representation of Socrates's own defense on the very day he was condemned. Another possible source, and one that differs from the Apology and the Crito in various ways, is the account of the trial from Xenophon.

1617 - 1660: James Naylor

While it's true that Leo Tolstoy has sometimes been viewed as Gandhi's great "non-violence" predecessor in the personal sphere, where Gandhi was the "non-violence" innovator in the political sphere, much more lies behind Gandhi than just Tolstoy alone. Yes, Gandhi and Tolstoy corresponded, and it's clear that Tolstoy exerted a considerable influence on Gandhi. But, as Tolstoy himself remarked, Adin Ballou, the nonviolent Abolitionist, essentially got there before Tolstoy did. And revisiting Ballou reveals in turn a distinctive, almost "separatist", Christian tradition already very strong way before the advent of Ballou, although Ballou gave it even higher visibility. To cut to the chase, the first example of a more or less continuous tradition of non-violence as a systematic philosophy in a manner recognizable to Gandhi and Ballou would be, arguably, the "non-violence" innovations in the Friends tradition, as duly enunciated by James Naylor in his Lamb's War, written either in 1657 or '58. Yes, Tolstoy's pioneering efforts may have cut a larger swath in terms of its immediate effect across geographical divisions, but Naylor's pioneering thoughts also helped consolidate an entire community built partly around the idea of "non-violence", along with a number of other interconnected concepts as well. So coming two hundred years before Tolstoy, Naylor seems ultimately more original. It may seem eccentric (particularly with the great number of other important achievers this past millennium), but I would select Naylor as ultimately the most significant figure of the second millennium C.E., primarily because his ideas have been vindicated -- IMO -- in such convincing fashion by visionaries like Gandhi. The very survival of our species is now tied, both pragmatically and idealistically, to the ways of understanding and forebearance that Naylor introduced. Suddenly, today, it's peace or perish, for all of us. That's brand new. A middle way no longer seems open to us, IMO. The pragmatic and the idealistic have never been so urgently entwined.

1632 - 1704: John Locke

Many will claim that our modern outlook begins with John Locke. Certainly empiricism does. Empiricism starts with Locke's Essay on Human Understanding. Essentially, Locke urged reliance on one's own eyes and ears in learning anything. But there's much more than just that to Locke's thinking, and countless elaborations on the implications of what Locke wrote here continue in abundance to the present day, including the very essence of modern science. Locke's influence also extends into politics. It was Locke who first formulated "life, liberty and property" as fundamental to the citizen, and Locke came along before Jefferson (who altered that formula as described above). Since Locke published many of his works in Holland before they ever reached English-speaking readers, his influence proved as profound throughout Europe as it was in Anglo cultures.

1818 - 1883: Karl Marx

It's hard to say how much the past century's "Cold" War will continue to resonate in this century. Who knows? The chief thinkers, movers and shakers in that conflict may become a musty memory, or certain ideas behind that Titanic conflict may instead continue to exert their fascination for generations to come -- hopefully in more peaceful ways, but still impacting on the shape of society, perhaps, in ways we can't yet guess. Be that as it may, up to not so long ago and indeed for half a century, the whole planet was split, with one third inheriting essentially a Jeffersonian tradition, one third being unaligned, and one third inheriting essentially a Marxist tradition. To say that two thirds inherited from Jefferson or Marx is not to say that either third honored every jot and tittle of either of these innovators. Still, these two pioneers were regularly invoked; and therefore, if one is disposed to include Jefferson (as am I), then one should also include Marx, I feel, as well. One salient difference between these two innovators: Jefferson worked mostly in the political sphere, and he held public office, while Marx functioned as a thinker and writer, primarily. Hence, Marx's slot in this lineup rather than with the public figures [above]. But later generations have certainly treated the two similarly. In Marx's Communist Manifesto, Marx presented his ideas within a vigorously atheistic context, inherited from a flourishing German tradition of non-belief at the time, going back as far as the late 1600s and Matthias Knutzen. Unlike Brhaspati, Critias, or Nietzsche, though, Marx framed his atheism with a strong social agenda: the imperative that goods be shared -- held in common. Hence, the concept of "communism", which Marx introduced.

Well, there we have nine artists, six bards, ten founders, three scientists, six statesmen and six thinkers. This is 40 people in all. Of course, there are many more profoundly transformative and inspired figures in all realms of endeavor who made a deep impact on our species, in addition to this tiny handful of only 40. But in restricting myself to under 50 people, I wanted, at least, to cover as many different cultures as possible and choose figures who seem effective gateways to the proper understanding of both the cultures out of which they emerge and the cultures that result from their impact.

I invite others to join in this endeavor, if they wish.

Best to all,

Operacast said:
Well, there we have nine artists, six bards, ten founders, three scientists, six statesmen and six thinkers. This is 40 people in all. Of course, there are many [additional] profoundly transformative and inspired figures in all realms of endeavor who made a deep impact on our species, in addition to this tiny handful of only 40. But in restricting myself to under 50 people, I wanted, at least, to cover as many different cultures as possible and choose figures who seem effective gateways to the proper understanding of both the cultures out of which they emerge and the cultures that result from their impact.

I wouldn't know anything about proper understanding if it hit me right in the kisser.