Lying, in its most essential form, means not presenting the truth. It means distorting the facts and misleading people. However, for any speech, which is not truthful, to be considered lying, one must do it intentionally. For this very reason of not presenting the truth on purpose and its implications, lying is forbidden in all religions, while it is also frowned upon by the society.
This article explorers history for some of its most famous liars, or in this context, ‘infamous’ ones. What makes these people a part of the list is the fact that they knew the truth, but they distorted it, for whatever purpose. However, like they say ‘the truth cannot be hidden forever,’ the lies came to public knowledge, eventually. Although we can all admit to lying at some point in time, the extent varies, and does the implications. While our petty lies may mean that we escape a few assignments or get a sick leave from work, theirs were way grave.
1. Konrad Kujau
Using deceit and fraud, there is hardly anything men cannot sell. This applies to Konrad Kujau, who sold practically sold the memory of Adolf Hitler. This man sold the so called ‘Hitler Diaries’, claiming Hitler himself had written them. He made around DM 2.5 million doing so. After his fraud was revealed, Kujau and his accomplice served 42 months, for forgery and embezzlement. Indeed, a very bold lie, which is something he deserves credit for. Well, at least he thought so, given the fact that after his release, he ran for Mayor of Stuttgart, but lost miserably.
2. The Serpent or Devil
Going as far back in history, as we can, we can see that the first lie told to mankind was by a serpent, according to The Book of Genesis. Different religions tell the same event differently. According to Islam, it was not a serpent, but the Devil himself. Let us call him Satan. After God created Adam and Eve, He told them of a specific tree, whose fruit is forbidden to them. However, Satan, who did not fancy the newly created humans, coaxed them into eating from the tree, by making them believe that the fruit would give them limitless wisdom. He made them think he was their friend and that God did not want them to gain this wisdom. Of course he was lying, and after they ate the fruit, they were punished and banished from heaven.
3. Elmyr De Hory
Third on our list is Mr. Picasso, or Mr. Modigliani? Well, he kept this at his discretion. Considered to be the greatest ever forger of art, De Hory was a Hungarian-born painter who sold more than a thousand pieces of art, to reputable art galleries, all over the world. He did try to have an honest career as a painter, however, after discovering his mysterious talent for forgery, he had little motivation left to create original works. As a result, he went on creating fakes after fakes, fooling the whole world as he went. From Picasso to Modigliani, De Hory created pieces of art that made even the most experienced art collectors fall for it. After his forgery was detected, many outraged buyers demanded his arrest. He was finally convicted by a Spanish court, however, since he did not carry out this activity in Spanish soil, he could not be charged with forgery. Henceforth, he served only 2 months, that too for homosexuality and associating with criminals. He has been the inspiration of several books and documentaries, which cover how he coaxed everyone into believing that his forgeries were genuine pieces of art. After his release, he maintained he had done nothing wrong. However, that does not save him from making our list.
4, Michael Romanoff
Lithuanian-born, Michael Romanoff was a Hollywood restaurateur, actor and a con man. Although his lies were not so serious, nor was he very convincing at them, he still lied his way to the top. He started out lying about having technical knowledge of movies based in Europe, making enough money to open a restaurant. However, his most famous lie was his claim that he was a nephew of Tsar Nicholas II. Although, people did not believe him, he kept on lying. They were fond of his personality and his restaurant and so it mattered little to them if he was or was not what he claimed to be. Yet again, not a very serious lie, but it was a lie that gained a lot of attention.
5. Bill Clinton
Although the Clinton administration can be credited for its positive part, Mr. President himself was a source of controversy on a regular basis. These controversies were regarding extra-marital affairs with several different women, while some claimed to targets of harassment by Clinton. However, he denied these allegations on a regular basis, and claiming, in media, with utter confidence, that he was innocent. Later, after having proved a liar, he apologized to his wife, Hilary Clinton.
6. John Graham
Nicknamed ‘Johnny Liar’, John Graham is not a con artist, nor is he a politician who lied about infidelity. John Graham is actually the most successful contestant in the history of famous British television show ‘World’s Biggest Liar’. He has won the competition a record 7 times, making him one of the most convincing liars around. However, like others in the list, Graham does not use this ability of his to coax people and is content with just winning the contest. From making up stories about the World War, to stories about his life, he is said to be so adept at this act, he might actually make a very clever fraud.
7. Bernard Madoff
Bernie Madoff is a former stockbroker, investment advisor, financier and a white collar criminal. Madoff makes the list by being the operator of arguably the biggest financial scam in the history of the U.S, The Ponzi Scheme. Using his investment firm, Madoff used the money of investors in paying other investors, while keeping some for himself. He did not make any real investments from the money he received, while lying to the investors the whole time. Doing this, he conned up to more than $50 billion. After people got suspicious about his dealings and unrealistic returns, he was exposed. He was sentenced to serve 150 years, which is the maximum amount possible.
Sinon is a famous character in Greek history, due to his role in the Trojan War. He is credited to be being a very convincing liar and is said to have a unique talent for lying. Historians describe that he embodied the lie and convinced the Trojans that the Greeks had fled, after a 10 year war, and that they had only left the Trojan Horse to honor Athena. At this time, the Trojans were about to attack the Greeks. To escape this attack and hit Troy by surprise, the Greeks hid inside the horse. Although this idea was Odysseus’, it was Sinon who had the present the lie. He did this with great execution, which eventually lead to the Greek victory. Shakespeare used Sinon several times, as a symbol of treachery.
Herodotus is an ancient Greek historian, famous for covering the happenings of the Greco-Persian war. However, his account of what actually happened during the war was fabricated to the extent that one contemporary called him ‘the father of lies.’ Also called a ‘story-teller’, he made-up one of the most famous dialogues that the modern world remember the war by. The dialogues like ‘come and get them!’ and ‘then we shall fight in the shade’, which we see in movies like 300, are said to be fabricated by Herodotus himself. No one knows for sure, as to why he did this. However, what we can be sure of is the fact that his contribution really did excite and entertain audiences across centuries.
10. Charles Ponzi
As his name suggests, Charles Ponzi was the mastermind behind the famous ‘Ponzi Scheme.’ Yes, it is the same scheme that Bernie Madoff used later on. By promising investors of great returns, Ponzi accumulated great sums of money and paid off old debts by amassing new ones. Ponzi was a very clever and hardworking person, who came to U.S with a couple of bucks. Since, he had very little money, he worked menial jobs like dishwashing and slept on the floor. However, as he claimed he had ‘$1 million in hopes’, which he aimed at making one of the most clever con strategy of all time. Using exchange of international postage coupons, he devised a way for con-artists and frauds to come and benefit from, for decades to come. An example of it is Bernie Madoff, who took the Ponzi Scheme to a whole new level. However, Madoff was just following a strategy already conceived. The father of it all was none other than Charles Ponzi himself, who took inspiration from William F. Miller. His lies and deceits are of huge significance, something that people still remember him by.
Like all these personalities above, lying initially gave great benefits. However, the end result was seldom any good. From federal imprisonment, to a besmirching one’s name forever, liars are never looked upon with respect or empathy. This is why the acting of lying is considered a vice, in the society. Children are taught about it and how it is important to stay away from it. However, we cannot deny lying on a daily basis, in our everyday lives. We may call it ‘white lies’, which may be lying to our parents about when we slept last night, or to our teachers about doing our homework or to our boss about why we missed yesterday’s work. These are also lies but these are common lies. These lies are pretty innocuous, which leads to the inception of the term ‘white lies’. What distinguishes these personalities from ours is the intention, extent and repercussions of their lies. Some made billions of dollars, while others won wars. All of them lied like there was no tomorrow, like there would be no accountability. This is never true and these people learnt it the hard way. These are not just personalities to be used in movies and fiction, but examples for generations to look upon and learn from.