As in fiction, the past is full of interesting people who have imbued the future with their legacies. Whether great persons of state, wise scientists, or talented artists, a handful of the one hundred billion humans to ever live have transcended death to become immortal via their accomplishments in life. Nevertheless, despite the enormity of these achievements and legacies, many of these virtuosos undoubtedly deserved more. Whether suffering an untimely demise, departing whilst still possessing greatness to pass on, the loss of their work to the fog of history, or simply warranting the chance to see what became of the future they had once dreamt of, each of us wishes to revive some historical person, to needle with inquiries and solicitations in the hope of further bequests.
Here are 20 historical figures that we would absolutely love to bring back from the dead:
20. The untimely death of Mozart at a young age robbed humanity of countless artistic wonders
Born January 27, 1756, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart remains to this day perhaps the greatest composer and musician in human history. A prodigy from infancy, Mozart began composing from the age of five and was already performing in front of the royal courts of Europe during his teenage years. Responsible for more than six hundred works, ranging from operatic to symphonic, many of which are acknowledged today as among the greatest pieces ever created in their respective genres, Mozart towered over his contemporaries, including even the acclaimed Beethoven, as the definitive musician of the classical era.
As Haydn – himself a legendary composer – wrote of the deceased Mozart, “posterity will not see such a talent again in one hundred years”. Dying at the age of only thirty-five on December 5, 1791, one can only imagine the works left uncompleted and unfulfilled by his untimely death from an unknown illness that could have been gifted to humanity with an additional few decades of life. Furthermore, with his indescribable talent for adaptation and composition, once allegedly transcribing from memory an entire symphony he had heard for the first and only time that evening, it would be fascinating to witness how Mozart would respond and transform modern music into unique and lasting masterpieces.
19. Dying only one month before the surrender of Nazi Germany, President Franklin D. Roosevelt deserved the chance to witness the world he helped to create
The thirty-second President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt – commonly known by his initials FDR – is widely acknowledged as one of the three greatest leaders of the American nation, along with Washington and Lincoln, and the foremost of the twentieth century. Entering the White House in 1933 during the Great Depression, Roosevelt’s domestic agenda, the New Deal, was responsible for both the reconstitution and revitalization of the American economy under dire circumstances via the National Recovery Administration, as well as the construction of the foundations of today’s social security network and the end of Prohibition.
Winning a record four elections, Roosevelt ultimately led the United States into the Second World War following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Presiding over a period of great struggle and sacrifice, Roosevelt, in spite of his increasingly failing health, held the nation together to defeat the threat posed by fascism. Succumbing just a month before the surrender of Germany, dying from a cerebral hemorrhage after decades of polio on April 12, 1945, Roosevelt was deprived of the opportunity to witness his nation’s triumph or enjoy the world he helped to liberate. Given the troubles of the modern age, a leader such as Roosevelt to guide the West into a brighter future once more would not be remiss or ungratefully received.
18. Albert Einstein revolutionized our understanding of the universe
Renouncing his German citizenship in 1896, enduring statelessness for more than five years, Albert Einstein eventually settled in Switzerland where he earned his Ph.D. in 1905. In the same year, now known as his “miracle year“, the acclaimed scientist published four groundbreaking papers which collectively revolutionized academic understandings on space, time, mass, and energy. Developing his landmark special theory of relativity whilst working at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, Einstein subsequently adapted his discovery into a general theory of relativity which today stands as one of the two pillars of modern physics.
Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 in recognition of “his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”, Einstein is perhaps best known today for his mass-energy equivalence formula E = mc2. Fleeing Europe following the rise of Hitler due to his Jewish heritage, Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt on the eve of the Second World War to encourage the development of nuclear technology. However, following its use in 1945, Einstein denounced the weaponry and campaigned for disarmament during the 1950s. Publishing more than three hundred scientific papers, becoming synonymous with genius in the decades since his death, one can only imagine the contributions a mind like Einstein’s could make to modern science.
17. Introducing Socrates and Plato to the modern age would be an experiment guaranteed to produce valuable philosophical insights
Although leaving behind no writings of his own, Socrates nevertheless remains one of the most influential figures of the ancient world. Born in Athens in approximately 470 BCE, the enigmatic character is known to the modern world only via the writings of his contemporaries, mostly his students and notably Plato, who transcribed his classes and conversations with the legendary philosopher. Credited today as one of the founders of Western philosophy, as well as being the first moral philosopher of the Western tradition, Socrates and his methods remain a strong influence to this day and it would be invaluable to update and test his hypotheses in an age of increasing moral ambiguity and fluidity.
Plato himself would go on to perhaps even surpass his teacher, founding the Academy – the first institution of higher learning in the Western world, but, in turn, would be ultimately eclipsed by his own student Aristotle. Arguably one of the founders of Western religion and spirituality, the works of Plato have left an indelible imprint on early Christianity and the moral identity of Europe. Surviving intact for almost two-and-a-half thousand years, Plato’s works, continue to educate and enlighten, but like his mentor could only be improved upon via exposure to our life and times.
16. Joan of Arc deserved the opportunity to compete against men on a level playing field unimpeded by nonsensical social norms restricting the role of women in society
Nicknamed the Maid of Orléans, Joan of Arc has become one of the most legendary figures of the European Middle Ages. Regarded as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, Joan was born to a peasant family in north-eastern France whereupon she claimed to experience visions of the Archangel Michael among other religious personages. Supposedly instructing her to support Charles VII in the ongoing Hundred Years’ War and recover lost France territory from the English, Joan first met her monarch at the age of seventeen. Impressing Charles, she was permitted to accompany an army to relieve the besieged Orléans in 1429.
Immediately resulting in a change of circumstances, just nine days after her arrival the beleaguered and faltering city broke the siege and Joan was hailed as a miracle. Captured at Compiègne by the rival Burgundian faction, Joan was gifted to the English and charged with heresy and cross-dressing for wearing armor. Declared guilty, Joan was burnt at the stake on May 30, 1431, at the age of only nineteen. A symbol of the powerful potential of women, and evidently a determined and capable individual, the opportunity to place such a person in an age where women have finally been granted opportunities to excel in society seems most apropos.
15. The return of William Shakespeare would provide theaters the world over with fresh and groundbreaking material
Widely considered the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist, William Shakespeare has become synonymous with the age in which he lived. Producing the bulk of his famous works between 1589 and 1613, Shakespeare was responsible for penning approximately thirty-nine plays, as well as one-hundred-and-fifty-four sonnets and several narrative poems, which were subsequently performed by his playing company: The King’s Men. Encompassing historical plays, such as those concerning the English kings, tragedies, including Hamlet and Othello, as well as romances, most famously Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s works have transcended time to achieve immortality.
With four hundred years of human history at his disposal, it would be fascinating to witness the works Shakespeare might produce concerning the events and personalities in the years since his death in 1616. Furthermore, with authorship conspiracy theories – which allege Shakespeare was not responsible for writing the works attributed to him – gaining traction in recent years once more, returning the Bard of Avon to life would provide definitive evidence he was indeed behind the works of art that bear his name. Similarly, a living Shakespeare could answer the limitless questions plaguing students for generations concerning his authorial intent, religious beliefs, sexuality, that otherwise will endure unabated.
14. George Washington deserved the chance to observe the future he helped lay the foundations for
Initially, an officer in the Virginian militia, fighting in and arguably causing the French and Indian War, following rejection by the British Army for a commission George Washington turned to farming. Establishing himself as a prominent member of the Virginian aristocracy, upon the creation of the Continental Army on June 14, 1775, Washington was nominated by the Adams brothers to serve as commander-in-chief as a unifying figure over the presumed favorite of John Hancock. Leading with distinction, albeit personally achieving a mixed military record during the Revolutionary War, Washington oversaw victory and independence for the Thirteen Colonies.
Drawn from retirement back into politics to preside over the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Washington was unanimously elected as the 1st President of the United States in 1788. Serving for two terms, during which time he defined the role and responsibilities of the office, Washington not only oversaw the creation of the federal government but instilled precedents that would last through the ages. Dying in 1799, less than three years after resuming his retirement, Washington, despite his personal foibles and shortcomings, deserves the right to pass judgment over the country he helped to build and observe its progress in the more than two hundred years since his day.
13. The cultural and technological potential of Leonardo da Vinci in the modern world is beyond estimation
The archetypal “Renaissance Man” or “Universal Genius”, Leonardo da Vinci was an acclaimed Italian polymath from the late-15th and early-16th centuries whose influence has spanned the generations since. Widely considered one of the most diversely talented individuals to have ever lived, Leonardo’s contributions to the world ranged from the artistic, including sculpting and painting, to the scientific, such as engineering and mathematics. Offering also countless technological innovations, Leonardo’s ingenuity has been credited with the conceptual creation of flying machines, tanks, solar power, and the calculator – all technologies far beyond the capabilities of his time.
Predominantly remembered today as a painter, with his Salvator Mundi sold at auction for $450.3m – the highest price ever paid for a work of art – as well as producing The Last Supper, the most replicated religious painting in history, and the Mona Lisa, only fifteen original works have survived to the modern age. Unrivaled in skill and scope, an opportunity for Leonardo to transform and making further lasting contributions to humanity’s culture and knowledge could not be overlooked. Furthermore, for a man of unquestionable intellectual thirst, the chance for Leonardo to experience the future of humanity would be a gift like no other.
12. Julius Caesar could provide invaluable insights into politics, military strategy, and ancient history unobtainable from any other source
Rising through the ranks of the Roman Republic’s military, in 60 BCE Julius Caesar had leveraged himself into a leading position as a member of the First Triumvirate. Earning acclaim and fortune as a result of his legendary victories in the Gallic Wars, but becoming too powerful for the Senate to tolerate in the process, on January 10, 49 BCE, Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his legions and assumed control of the government. Emerging triumphant from the resultant civil war, Caesar was proclaimed “dictator for life” and begin the process of converting the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.
However, just five years later, a group of dissenters assassinated Caesar on the Ides of March, triggering a series of civil wars which would see Caesar’s adopted son rise as the first Imperator of Rome. One of the most skilled military commanders of the ancient world, if not human history at large, Caesar, in spite of his evident authoritarian and anti-democratic political leanings, was equally a strong and successful leader who oversaw the creation of arguably the greatest political entity to ever exist. Both traits would offer the modern world great wisdom and learning opportunities, providing insights otherwise lost to antiquity.
11. We would love to give Alan Turing the opportunity to live in a more tolerant and appreciative world
Graduating from King’s College, Cambridge in 1934, at the age of only twenty-two Alan Turing was elected a fellow of his college on the basis of his dissertation proving the central limit theorem. Rapidly becoming one of the leading minds of mathematical computation, in 1938 Turing was awarded his Ph.D. with his introduction of ordinal logic and the notion of relative computing. Recruited by the British Government during the Second World War, Turing worked as a leading member of the secret team at Bletchley Park, employing his genius as part of the coordinated crypto-analytical effort to break the German ciphers and decode communications.
Performing a pivotal role at the Government Code and Cypher School, Turing’s team was responsible for recovering vital intelligence that directly resulted in the Allied victory against the Axis powers. Prosecuted in 1952 under the Labouchere Amendment, which stipulated homosexuality was a “gross indecency” and a criminal offense, Turing was compelled to accept chemical castration as an alternative to imprisonment. Committing suicide in 1954 from cyanide poisoning as a result of the barbaric actions of the British government, Turing unquestionably deserves the chance to apply his incomparable genius in a more tolerant and appreciative age.
10. The reintroduction of Aristotle would enable the refinement of his ancient but nonetheless still relevant works
As already noted the student of Plato, Aristotle, along with his mentor, is broadly considered the “Fathers of Western Philosophy”. Little is known about the life of Aristotle, joining the Academy at the age of seventeen and remaining until he was thirty-seven, departing Athens only upon the death of Plato. Hired by Philip II of Macedon, Aristotle, starting in 343 BCE, became the tutor to Alexander the Great and founded the library at Lyceum. Writing hundreds of books, none of which were actually intended by Aristotle for publication, only approximately one-third of his original output is believed to have survived to the modern-day.
Covering subjects ranging from biology, logic, politics, and rhetoric, Aristotle laid the foundations for both natural and social sciences throughout the Western world. Influencing both the Islamic and Christian spheres as his teachings spread, it would not be until the Enlightenment his theories and suppositions about the world were finally replaced by more modern and scientifically accurate designs of the universe. Touching the lives of every single person and subject in existence, it would be proper for “The First Teacher” to be allowed to see the fruits of his labors and the results of generations of inquiry and research.
9. Anne Frank deserved better than death in a concentration camp at the age of fifteen
Born on June 12, 1929, in Frankfurt, at the age of five Annelies Marie Frank, along with her parents and sister, became one of more than three hundred thousand Jews to flee Germany between 1933 and 1939. Settling in Amsterdam, following the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1940 her father, Otto, sought unsuccessfully to emigrate to the United States. Receiving for her thirteenth birthday an autograph book, Anne decided to use it for a diary and begun her now famous journal illustrating the lives of Jews under Nazism. Following her sister Margot’s call-up by the Central Office for Jewish Emigration to report to a work camp for mandatory labor, on July 6, 1942, the Franks went into hiding.
Concealing a hidden annex in an office building with a bookcase, leaving behind a trail of evidence suggesting they had fled to Switzerland, only four employees at the site knew of the Franks’ proximity. Offering supplies at the risk of their own lives, on August 4, 1944, following an unknown informant’s tip, the complex was raided and the sheltering Jews were found. Deported to a series of concentration camps, Anne, along with her sister, died at Bergen-Belsen in early 1945. Providing one of the deepest and most human insights into the Holocaust, Frank deserved the chance to live the life she could only dream about in the pages of her now-legendary diary.
8. Known in life as “The Divine One”, Michelangelo would only be a positive contribution to the modern world’s less traditional artistic scenes
Known commonly simply by his first name, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni reigned as one of the greatest artists of the High Renaissance. Sent to Florence as a youth to study grammar, even as a boy Michelangelo was already more interested in the arts, spending most of his time with painters and copying pieces from churches. Producing several of the most famous works of painting, sculpture, and architecture in history, Michelangelo, known in life as “The Divine One”, is perhaps the only individual capable of challenging Leonardo da Vinci, his contemporaneous rival, for the definitive title of “Renaissance Man”.
Sculpting two of his best-known works – the Pietà and David – before the age of thirty, Michelangelo transitioned for a time back into his childish obsession with painting. Creating two of the most influential frescoes of all time, both of which were for the Sistine Chapel –The Last Judgmentand the scenes from Genesis found on its ceiling – Michelangelo eventually, at the age of seventy-four, became the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica. Influencing generations of successors attempting, and failing, to surpass his artistic genius, the return of Michelangelo could only mean more legendary works and valuable additions to human culture.
7. It would be an interesting social experiment to observe Genghis Khan in a world so divorced from his own
The founder and first Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, Genghis – known also by his birth name Temujin and as Taizu under his grandson’s Yuan dynasty – stands among the greatest and most fearsome rulers from all of human history. Uniting by force the disparate tribes of the Central Asian plateau over a period of decades, in 1206 CE Genghis turned the combined might of his new empire against the historic enemies of the Mongol people. Launching an invasion of China, bringing the northern Jin dynasty to its knees, Genghis only broke off his unrelenting assault to attack the Islamic Khwarazmia following their execution of his ambassadors.
Utterly destroying the offending nation, conquering vast portions of Asia along the way, Genghis laid the foundations for what would become the largest contiguous empire in history. Known historically for his savage brutality against his enemies, ruthlessly subjugating lands under his control according to his whim, in addition to providing learning opportunities about a largely lost period of history, it would be an amusing, perhaps even cruel, social experiment to place a nomadic ruler who disdained wealth and possessions into the modern materialistic world where such things are the primary defining characteristics of most people’s self-worth.
6. Martin Luther King Jr. deserves the opportunity to pass judgment on the fifty years since his murder and determine whether America has actually moved forwards
An American Baptist minister who rose to become the most visible spokesperson of the Civil Rights Movements, Martin Luther King Jr. remains to this day one of the most respected individuals from modern history. Leading the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and elected the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, following the failed struggle in 1962 to end segregation in Albany, Georgia, King helped organize the now-famous March on Washington a year later. Delivering his universally acclaimed and celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King proclaimed a vision of the future without racial hatred or discrimination.
Winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, recognizing both his activism but also his passionate conviction in nonviolent resistance, in 1965 King was a leading figure in the Selma to Montgomery marches. Planning a national occupation of Washington D.C. in 1968, on April 4 of the same year King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, by James Earl Ray. Posthumously awarded the nation’s highest honor – the Presidential Medal of Freedom – as well as commemorated by a federal holiday and memorial on the National Mall, King deserved the chance to provide an honest assessment of the ongoing struggle for racial equality and whether or not his dream, even now fifty years on, has been realized.
5. The returns of varying religious founders would provide much-needed clarity on the disputed subject of religion
One of the most controversial components of human existence, religion continues to both unite and divide the various tribes of our species throughout the world. Inspiring great works of devotion and sacrifice, as well as tremendous acts of violence and hatred in the name of divine authority, the ultimate question of the universe is one that likely cannot ever be conclusively answered via rational scientific means but instead depends upon the individual logic or faith of each person. That would be unless one could converse with the founders of each world religion, to dissect and analyze their own claims firsthand.
Whilst modern scholars debate the historicity of Jesus and his miracles, of the Buddha and his conversion from Siddhartha Gautama to a religious leader, or of Mohammad and the divine revelation he supposedly received in the Cave of Hira, these inquiries can be far more definitively answered via the specific individuals in question. Resulting in either the unification of humanity under a single banner of one true religion following recorded demonstration of the divine, or the death knell of religion and the emergence of humanity into an age of secular reason, one cannot deny the rationality nor usefulness of bringing such people back from the dead.
4. The resumption of Alfred Hitchcock’s career could only mean original and modern thrillers on a level rarely seen by today’s audiences
Widely considered among the greatest and most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, Sir Alfred Hitchcock was an English director and producer active across a six-decade career spanning from 1919 to 1980. Known as the “Master of Suspense“, Hitchcock was personally responsible for directing more than fifty feature films, becoming in the process as famous as his actors and arguably the first modern celebrity filmmaker. Entering the industry in 1919 as a title card designer, Hitchcock made his directorial debut just six years later with The Pleasure Garden before starting to make impactful contributions to the thriller genre in 1927 with The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.
Garnering a total of forty-six Oscar nominations for his movies, winning six, Hitchcock lent his name to his unique style of film-making, employing the use of camera movements to mimic a person’s gaze as to transform viewers in voyeurs and maximize anxiety. Directing four films regarded as among the greatest of all time – Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho – eight of his films have been selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. With the advances of modern cinema at this disposal, and with a noticeable dearth of high-quality theatrical content, Hitchcock’s renewal would be a welcome addition to today’s over-saturated blockbuster-dominated medium.
3. Benjamin Franklin was not only instrumental in laying the foundations of the United States but resided at the forefront of science and technology
A polymath who would become one of the most remembered Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin enjoyed an illustrious career ranging from being an author, a scientist, and finally a statesman. Across a life that almost spanned the entirety of the eighteenth century, Franklin served as one of the foremost figures of the American Enlightenment. Responsible for numerous inventions, most prominently the lightning rod, bifocals, and an eponymous stove, Franklin is widely celebrated today for his discoveries and theories relating to electricity as well as founding the University of Pennsylvania.
Earning the title of “The First American“, Franklin was one of the earliest advocates of colonial unity and independence. Serving as the nation’s first ambassador to France, Franklin was instrumental in forging and maintaining the vital Franco-American alliance that proved essential to achieving victory against the British in the Revolutionary War. Laying the foundations as the inaugural Postmaster General for the country’s communications network, Franklin’s interests were wide-ranging and impactful. Like Washington, Franklin – who is also depicted on American currency, appearing on the one hundred dollar bill – similarly deserves the chance to pass judgment on his successors whilst also enjoying the inventions which followed his own.
2. H.G. Wells predicted many of the everyday technologies we depend upon today and it is only fair he be permitted to also enjoy them
A forward-looking social critic, Herbert George Wells is today most remembered for his artistic contributions as an author and the “father of science fiction“. However, during his own lifetime, Wells was known best as a futurist and progressive commentator, envisioning a brighter path ahead for humanity and attempting to encourage mankind to tread said road. Foreseeing the advent of aircraft, mechanized warfare, space travel, nuclear weapons, satellites, and even the Internet, Wells’ imagination bore no limitations. Nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times, Wells’ acclaimed works include The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds.
However, Wells was more than simply a visionary author, campaigning also as a committed socialist. Supporting the short-lived League of Nations as a means to potentially unite humanity and end future conflicts, the failure of the organization weighed heavily on Wells. Penning The Rights of Man in 1940, the influential text laid the groundwork for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights eight years later. Sadly, Wells did not live to see his moral vision instituted globally, dying in 1946, and it would be only fair to permit Wells to see the world he could only dream about within the pages of his novels.
1. The father of modern science, Galileo Galilei was persecuted by the Catholic Church despite the veracity of his claims
Considered the father of several disciplines and fields, including observational astronomy, modern physics, the scientific method, and even modern science in general, Galileo Galilei was an Italian polymath who lived during the Renaissance period. Championing the heliocentric interpretation of the universe proposed by Copernicus in 1543 – twenty-one years prior to Galileo’s own birth – in opposition to the prevailing geocentric models of the time, Galileo’s consistent and ardent defense of the theory ultimately attracted unsavory attention. Drawing the ire of the Roman Inquisition, after decades of ill-treatment and abuse Galileo was eventually accused of heresy in 1633.
Found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, Galileo was forced to recant his scientific beliefs, in particular, that the Sun lies at the center and around which the Earth revolves. Sentenced to life imprisonment, commuted to house arrest, for the remainder of his life, Galileo used his final years to condense and publish prior research and ideas on subjects of physics spanning speed and gravity to relativity and motion. One of the foremost scientists in human history, Galileo deserves not only to know his steady conviction in his theories was well-founded but to experience the wonders of the modern age he helped to build.
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