The earliest instance of this expression was slightly different. It was recorded in 1618 by D. Belchier in Hans Beer-Pot as good wits doe jump. In this instance, the word jump had a slightly different meaning from that generally known today. It meant “agree completely”. This meaning is, of course, no longer associated with the word, and the expression has moved on.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is an expression we meet in many cultures. The Polish expression is wielkie umysły myślą podobnie, which is exactly the same as the English. The Slovenes don’t seem to have a particular expression, but they might say veliki umi mislijo enako, which would be a direct translation of the English. If you look carefully, you can see many similarities between the Polish and Slovene words here, too.
The phrase in Greek is very similar, but not exactly the same: τα μεγάλα πνεύματα συναντιούνται (ta megala pnevmata sinantiountai). This means “great minds meet”.
Interestingly, the expression in Spanish is in the first person plural (the “we” form of the verb). Entre genios nos entendemos, which translates as “among geniuses, we understand each other”. No false modesty amongst Spanish speakers!
This brings me on to German, where you can say Große Geister denken gleich, for which the translation would be the same as the Greek, but a popular alternative is to use zwei dumme, eine Gedanke – “two dummies, one thought”. And of course, this article would not be complete without a mention of the English equivalent of the latter to give us food for thought: fools seldom differ!