People Debate Which Famous Historical Figures Would Be Surprised To Learn About Their Fame
Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

Fame is one of those things people tend to want until they have it - or that people shy away from entirely because they understand how sideways it tends to go.

But what about people who end up famous after their deaths? Or who managed to get more famous from the afterlife?


Reddit user GCanuck asked:

"Which historically famous person do you think would be most surprised to learn they are famous?"

If your mind immediately went to that Vincent Van Gogh scene from Dr. Who then 1. you're a nerd (me too!) and 2. you're not alone.

Here's what Reddit had to say.

​The Little Painter Fellow 

Van Gogh Reaction GIF by GIF IT UPGiphy

"Vincent van Gogh."

"His paintings made billions of dollars for rich people, but couldn't trade a painting for a meal during his lifetime. Had to be supported by his brother."

- strangedigital

"It’s amazing how many pieces he created in such a short time considering how unsuccessful he was in selling them while alive. He kept banging them out despite his 'failure'.”

- Fthewigg

"He was encouraged to paint as part of his therapy/rehabilitation. He was a pretty disturbed guy, and not in a romantic way."

- redkat85

"Have you ever seen the Doctor Who episode about him?"

- LucyVialli

"This is what actually prompted this question for me."

- GCanuck

A Diary

"Anne Frank"

- 222sick

"Most of the world has read your diary."

"Wait...All of my diary?"

- SuperstitiousPigeon5

"Her Father censored some of it because she talks about her body and other things, I can't really blame him for that. Modern prints are uncensored."

- zerbey

"She’d have been thrilled, but I don’t think surprised is the right word. She dreamed of being a published author. She knew that she was creating something valuable and important with her diary, and she wanted it to be published."

- shhhhquiet

"I wonder what she'd think of her diary being turned into a stage play including a Broadway run and thousands of young girls doing their best to recreate all the different facets both good and bad of how she acted during her time in the Annex."

- Lil_Jazzy

Herman The Whale

bart simpson episode 3 GIFGiphy

"Herman Melville."

"He had a few early successes with seafaring books, but Moby-Dick was a total flop that got bad reviews, and he spent the final decades of his life working in the customs department."

"He would be shocked to hear he wrote the Great American Novel."

- centaurquestions

"My boyfriend is from New Bedford, MA. Apparently the local high schools there had big murals depicting scenes from Moby Dick." "

*That* would have amazed Melville."

- DoctorWatchamacallit

"Dude, that's the best part. You never know what's coming next. It's like:"

"45 pages of unintentionally hilarious interactions between Ishmael and Queequeg."

"30 pages of incredible, brooding drama written in stage play format for some reason."

"100 page essay about some minor technical details about whaling and how some village built their chieftain's hall out of a whale's ribcage."

"Another 20 pages of Ahab chewing the scenery and embodying mankind's self-destructive obsessions"

"Then Queequeg speaking his last words but then deciding he doesn't want to die yet and miraculously springing back to life."

"Like the ocean itself, you have to accept that Moby Dick moves at its own pace lol"

- jesushitlerchrist

We, In Fact, Did Not Forget

"Hegelochus, an actor who mispronounced a word in a play in the year 408 BC and was mocked so thoroughly for it, his mistake has made it into the collective ledger of things historians know about and generally agree upon having happened… and we're still aware of it over 2,400 years later."

"Imagine making a meme today with a word misspelled, and others found that misspelling so egregiously mockable that you are still known for it in the year 4422."

- film_composer

" 'Oh come on get over it. No one will remember about that by tomorrow' -Hehelochus’ mom probably"

- Kehl21

"He must have went to sleep running the moment in his head over and over again, but he probably tried to comfort himself by thinking, 'well, at least it's not like some space-age hyper-futuristic society is going to be discussing this thousands of years from now on their magic boxes powered by lightning in some language that doesn't even exist yet'."

- film_composer

"This is the worst nightmare of everyone that has been told to stop worrying because no one will pay as much attention to what you're doing as you."

"Counter point: Hegelochus."

- LectureAfter8638

Kafkaesque

"Kafka. Rarely published in his lifetime, and when he did it was in obscure magazines which nobody read."

"Explicitly asked that his works be destroyed after his death. It's only because his executor disregarded his wishes and published his unfinished works (which comprise the majority of his oeuvre) that he is famous today."

- IllustriousSquirrel9

"Kafka is a good example of how much can anxiety ruin a person's life"

- Sergey32321

"Kafka wrote his stories to be shared with a group of friends like story-telling at a campfire"

- Responsible_Put_2960

Gospel Legend

"Blind Willie Johnson."

"He passed away blind, poor and sick, lying in the ruins of his house after it was burnt down."

"And his song 'Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground' left our solar system not too long ago aboard the Voyager to be listened to by life among the stars."

- dntExit

"I really like to think one day-thousands and thousands of years in the future, an alien race will find that golden disk and hear his voice."

"I think the fact he had such a poor life but could one day live eternally amongst the stars is so beautiful."

- gonzomullz

"Found out about him through a VSauce video."

"I listened to a couple songs and really liked them, he had a great voice and had a great talent for playing guitar despite being blind. Such a humbling and inspiring story he had"

- HRPr03

"I remember learning about this in a Vsauce video and crying profusely afterwards, but not only from sadness, also from hope, and some other emotions I can’t possibly describe."

"The fact that he died at the lowest of lows, blind, sick, poor, and alone, yet he very well could be the man that teaches the stars about the very essence of humanity… there’s just something so intrinsically beautiful about that."

"Humanity, flawed as it is, is as intrinsically kind and beautiful as it is evil. The world forgets that sometimes."

- cmoneybouncehouse

Other Madonna

mona lisa oh no you didnt GIFGiphy

"Lisa Gherardini, the Mona Lisa model."

"She was just some unremarkable random wife. Fast forward a few hundred years and she ended up as one of the most recognizable faces in history."

- finsareluminous

"HER NAMES NOT EVEN MONA LISA?!"

- Jaded-Associate6891

" 'Monna' was a shortening of the Italian word 'madonna', which was the equivalent of the English 'Madam'."

- Koifish_Coyote

Honor Well Pass Death

"Glyndwr Michael"

"This is the dead body they used in Operation Mincemeat."

"The man basically consumed rat poison to commit suicide."

"His corpse was then used for a British secret operation to carry fake documents for the Nazis to find in order to make them think they were invading Greece and not Sicily."

"This man died in a alleyway and went on the become a dedicated Major in the British military buried with full military rites - under his fake name, but still him in physical form."

- TheBabyLeg123

"He was originally buried under his covert identity (in Spain where his body washed ashore after being deposited in the sea nearby by a Royal Navy submarine), Major William Martin of the Royal Marines."

"In 2009 or thereabouts his real name (Glyndwr Michael) was added to his gravestone."

- BravoBanter

"I thought he died of tuberculosis so it’d be more convincing he was a British serviceman who drowned? Or maybe that was the guy used to make the Nazis think the Allies were invading Calais instead of Normandy."

- UnconstrictedEmu

"It was rat poison but it's not clear if it was a suicide."

"The poison was in the form of a paste that would be smeared on pieces of bread; rodents eat the bread, rodents die. Or in this case; poor Welshman eats the bread, poor Welshman dies."

"It's not clear whether he knew the paste was poison, or whether he was just hungry and thought he genuinely found some bread lying around."

"Where the confusion comes in is that the guy in charge of Mincemeat claimed the body was that of a young man who died of pneumonia, and that the parents had given permission for his body to be used as it was."

- ConstableBlimeyChips

A Real Hero

"Henrietta Lacks"

- LucyVialli

"A literal hero of humanity who in some ways is still alive."

"Her family deserved so much better though."

- AzureBluet

"Can I get a short version? I don't think I've heard of her before"

- Fyrrys

"Her contribution to science is and continues to be gigantic"

- Available-Age2884

Laws Of Inheritance

"Gregor Mendel, the monk and scientist who experimented with pea plant traits to describe what we today literally call Mendelian inheritance."

"The significance of Mendel's findings, which he published in 1866, went almost completely unrecognized during his life and after his death. His work was only rediscovered in the early 1900s when modern ideas about inheritance and selection started taking hold."

- ThadisJones

"I can differ there. When he first stated his theory, he was sure it was correct (as it was) but was rejected. I can imagine him not being surprised at the fact that his work was re recognised as right later down the line"

- Brother_Not_Shook

"It's entirely possible you're correct and Mendel suspected that someday he'd be proved right. At the same time, however, he spent decades after his discovery trying and failing to elicit interest from the academic public or individual biologists, and retired from science to become a monastery administrator, which looks a lot like 'giving up'."

- ThadisJones

Okay, so we learned some interesting history today. How about you?

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