Playwright William Shakespeare is considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time. There is a saying that goes, “After the Bible and Shakespeare, there are no original stories.” Born in 1564, Shakespeare spent his life in the theater as both a writer and actor. He published 38 plays, 2 narrative poems, 154 sonnets, and a variety of poems. If you live in an English-speaking country, chances are that you had to study one or more of his plays in school. Looking at this modern-day version of Shakespeare, he truly does look like he would fit into any crowd today.
This stunningly beautiful woman is Queen Nefertiti. Her name translates to “A Beautiful Woman Has Come,” which fits her gorgeous features. She ruled together with her husband King Akhenaton in the 14th century BCE. During their reign, they pushed for their people to praise the sun god Aten. It was considered to be one of the most wealthy times in all of ancient Egypt. There is a rumor that after her husband died, Queen Nefertiti continued on to rule as Pharaoh, but it has never been 100% confirmed. This famous bust of Queen Nefertiti that you see above now exists in the Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany.
Born in 1606, artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is famous around the world for his paintings. He worked as an artist all his life, and there are 300 known paintings attributed to him. His life story is rather tragic. He happily married in his 20’s, but they had multiple children die in infancy. Then, his wife died shortly after giving birth to a child that actually lived. He would find love again, only to run into financial trouble and be forced into bankruptcy. This meant that he had to sell all of his paintings, and lived in poverty the rest of his life.
Yet another mythical figure on this list is the god Zeus. He is considered to be the chief deity and father of all the gods and humans. According to legend, he controlled the weather, and used a thunderbolt as a weapon. Of course, Zeus was never a real person. But this statue is one of many artistic depictions of what he may have looked like. The AI version on the right is actually a depiction of the model who posed for the statue, rather than the god himself. But if you saw him walking around today, he might look rather god-like anyway.
Caesar Augustus, also known as Octavian, was the first Roman emperor. He is considered to be one of the greatest leaders in history. During his reign, Augustus established an imperial cult, which meant that his leadership was meant to have the reverence of a god. His great-uncle was Julius Caesar. Looking at the AI rendering of what he would look like today, Augustus seems more like a supermodel rather than a Roman leader. He would fit right in on the red carpet in Hollywood, or in some teenage TV drama.
Caligula served as the third emperor of Rome. He was in his 20’s when he came to power, which explains the baby face we see in the modern AI rendering. Apparently, he was balding from an early age. So this depiction may have too much hair on his head. Sometimes, he would wear wigs to cover it up. And if he saw a man with a lusciously thick beard, he would demand that it be shaved out of jealousy. According to historians, he was a relaxed ruler for the first six months of his reign. After that, he was considered to be a sadistic, insane tyrant who was also sexually perverted. His power was short-lived, though, and he was only emperor for four years.
During the 1700’s, Marie Antoinette served as the Queen of France. Born an Austrian princess, Marie married King Louis XVI. She became Queen when she was just 15 years old. As time went on, she made a lot of mistakes that made her rather unpopular among the French people. During the French Revolution, she was captured and beheaded via guillotine. The story of this young teenager living such an extravagant life in Versailles was very popular, and it was even made into a movie called Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst in 2006.
The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth that is said to have been wrapped around Jesus Christ after his crucifixion. On the shroud, you can see the imprint of a man’s face on it. The very first mention of the shroud in history books was in 1354. Just a few years later, in 1389, it was denounced as a fake by the bishop of Troyes. According to radiocarbon dating conducted in 1988, the shroud was said to have been made in the 1200’s- long after Jesus’ death. So, while it’s likely to be a fake, that didn’t stop this artist from making what the mystery man would look like today.
The “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most famous paintings in the world. Its current home is at the Louvre museum in Paris, France. Modern-day historians believe that this portrait was depicting a noblewoman named Lisa Gherardini some time in the 1500’s. There are several other theories surrounding this painting, and many people think that it’s incredibly mysterious. Today, the Mona Lisa remains one of the most popular paintings in the world. It has been parodied, re-painted, and featured in movies and TV shows for hundreds of years.
Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, also known as simply “Saladin” was the Muslim sultan of Egypt and Syria. He defeated a gigantic army of Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin, and captured the city of Jerusalem in 1187. At the height of his power, he ruled a unified Muslim region stretching from Egypt to Arabia. He is known for being a very kind and generous ruler. When he conquered Jerusalem, he created a law that allowed enslaved people to buy their own freedom. On top of all of that, the depiction of what he would look like today makes him look very attractive.
Eighteenth Century ruler of Russia, Catherine the Great took over during a coup and had her husband Peter III arrested. This made her the new Empress of Russia. During her reign, there was a great renaissance of art and culture. It was a time where a lot of people decided to immigrate to Russia, because she made it such a great place to live. Many historians consider her to be one of the most enlightened rulers to ever live. She was able to spread Russia to new territories, including Alaska. Today, there is a TV series about her life called “The Great”.
Born into a very musical family in 1685, Johan Sebastian Bach grew up to become a composer of the Baroque period. He is considered to be one of the greatest musical composers of all time. When he was 20 years old, he walked 280 miles to see a concert in northern Germany. He had walked so far, he decided to stay a few months to study the local music. During his life, he composed over 1,000 pieces of music. He had an impressive 20 children- 7 with his first wife, and 13 with his second.
The “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I ruled over England from 1558-1603. This time period has been named the “Elizabethan Age”. The reason why she is called “The Virgin Queen” is because she chose to never get married. However, she was in love with a man named Robert Dudley. There were just a few problems. Firstly, he was already married. Second was that he was a commoner. She used her power to turn him into a Lord- the Earl of Leicester. When Robert’s wife died under mysterious circumstances, rumors spread that he may have killed her. This was such a scandal, that Elizabeth knew she could never marry the commoner and possible murderer. However, she still loved him. When she died, his last letter to her was found by her bedside. It was the last thing she read before passing away.
Princess Christina of Denmark became the Duchess of Milan, then Duchess of Lorraine after her two marriages. She also received marriage proposals from King Henry of Navarre, Adolf of Holstein, the prince of Piedmont, and Albert of Brandenburg. When she was 16 years old, King Henry VIII of England sent the painter Hans Holbein the Younger to do Christina’s portrait, because he was considering her as one of his many wives. She had heard of his history, and said, “If I had two heads, I would happily put one at the disposal of the King of England”. Needless to say, there was no proposal.
Queen Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary” is remembered as a violent ruler. This may be because she grew up having King Henry VIII as a father. She had to grow up watching her father divorce and execute several stepmothers. Unlike her father, Mary wanted England to return to Catholicism. During this religious transition, she ordered that 300 Protestants should be burned at the stake. (This is how she earned the nickname “bloody Mary”.) Queen Mary never had any children. When she died, she was succeeded by her younger sister Elizabeth.
The ancient Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, has been an iconic part of literature, music, and art. Obviously, she was never a real person. But in the statues made in her likeness, the artist chose a truly stunningly beautiful woman as the model. Aphrodite is almost always depicted in the nude, and she is always perfectly symmetrical. In the 5th Century, The Aphrodite in Acrocorinth temple was built in her honor in the ancient city of Corinth. Since Aphrodite was also the goddess of lust, this became a central location for men to receive services from sex workers.
Born in 1542, Mary Queen of Scots was asked to marry King Henry VIII’s son Prince Edward, but they refused. This sparked The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh between England and Scotland, also known as the “Rough Wooing”, since this was meant to somehow change Scotland’s mind about marrying their princess. She was sent to France to marry Francis II, Dauphin and heir to the throne. Sadly, he died at a very young age. Later in life, she had to flee to England, and became a prisoner of Elizabeth I for 19 years before she was executed for treason. In 2018, the movie Mary Queen of Scotswas made depicting her life story.
Born in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven goes down in history for being one of the most successful musical composers of all time. He started losing his hearing at the age of 26, and eventually went completely deaf. There was a letter that he wrote to a friend saying that when he was totally deaf, it made him hide from society, because he was terrified to admit to anyone about his condition. It also made it incredibly hard for him to make music, but he continued to compose despite his handicap. There is some speculation that Beethoven may have had some African ancestry, because he was known for having a darker complexion. However, this was never proven in any way. In the depiction of what he may look like today, he’s giving Edward Cullen vibes.
Mary Shelley is famously known as the author of Frankenstein. When she was 16 years old, she married a poet named Percy Bysshe Shelley. One June evening in 1816, Mary and her friends were staying with Lord Byron in Geneva when they all decided to have a contest to see who could write the best ghost story. The result was her novelette Frankenstein. She was just 19 years old at the time, and yet she authored one of the most iconic stories in horror history. In 2017, a movie called Mary Shelley premiered telling the story of her life. Today, her story is still read by horror and sci fi fans everywhere, and her characters have been reimagined in TV and film time and time again.
Cleopatra was the Queen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC. Even though she was born in Egypt, her family origins began in Greece. For several generations, Greek-speaking men ruled over Egypt, but Cleopatra was actually the first ruler to learn the Egyptian language. Cleopatra was said to be one of the most beautiful women who ever lived. However, records show that she was incredibly intelligent, and that her charm and wit may have been the most attractive thing about her. She famously became lovers with both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The 1963 film about her called Cleopatrastarring Elizabeth Taylor is considered to be one of the most expensive movies of all time. In the AI rendering of what she would look like today, she has been given a very cute pixie cut.