Friday, October 23, 2009

On Anachronisms & Renaissance Men, Part II

In the introductory post of this series, I mentioned anachronisms and renaissance men without elaborating upon the terms. Now that you've had a good three months to research them yourselves, I have returned to sate your curiosity with the fascinating details.

A renaissance man, simply put, is someone who is passionately gifted or deeply knowledgeable in many different fields, and is unlimited in the desire to pursue each of these to the fullest, relate them to one another, and moreover feels that such a universal embracing of learning is perfectly natural. The term originated, as one might guess, in the renaissance, to describe individuals who embodied the cultural and intellectual blossoming characteristic of the era. Common marks of a renaissance man included an aptitude for languages, studying and experimenting with the known sciences, the composition of scholarly works along with poetry, fiction, and music, deep thinking in philosophy and theology, and sometimes skill in physical feats. This well-rounded, life-pervading education was considered an ideal state of being.

Of course, the concept of the renaissance man is not peculiar or limited to the period of the European Renaissance; a term perhaps more chronologically inclusive, but which I disappreciate for sounding too arithmetical to my traumatized brain, is polymath. Every age of history has seen notable figures of polymathic capabilities: Aristotle, Archimedes, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Benjamin Franklin, to name a few.

St. Albertus Magnus was a noted scholar of his day, writing eruditiously in a multitude of different disciplines which aside from theology and philosophy included logic, alchemy (chemistry), mineralogy, ethics, astrology (astronomy), physiology, politics, botany, phrenology, and geography. He also would have spoken some form of German, Greek, and Latin. Much of his scientific aptitude was derived from the study of Aristotle's works, the preservation of which are largely due to his efforts. St. Thomas Aquinas was blessed to have him for a professor.

The idea here is that different fields of study do not coexist but are interdependent, and not only are they highly compatible with each other, but one person can excel in many. In modern times, this seems to be looked on as somewhat of a remarkable phenomenon, and anyone displaying any level of expertise or even interest in multiple fields is in danger of being stuffed and put in a museum.

This mentality is deeply a part of who I am, as is manifest in the syzygial metaphor I use for my mind. While some people are certainly graced with a gift to be exceptional scholars, this open, balanced, life-long inquisitiveness in every area of learning is something every education ought to be based upon- radiating connectedly in all directions from a Center, like an orb-weaver's web.


  1. Leave it to you to compare yourself to a spider at the end of a discourse on renaissance men.

    Incidentally, Aristotle's polymathic qualities weren't the best... for all his philosophical brilliance, the man set science back immeasurably by undoing the other early Greek scientists' discoveries of things like the Earth's sphericality (recall it was one of them who calculated its circumference, but Aristotle's wayward student Alexander took his army on a wild goose chase to see his master's fabled edge of the world...).

  2. I am a noiseless, patient spider. But doesn't comparing it to a spider's web make sense? And I had to say an orb weaver because not all spiders have radiating webs- the funnel-webbers and tangle-webbers don't, of course.

    I didn't say all of Aristotle's findings were the most brilliant- but many of his methods of finding out about things (such as dogfish) highly influenced the scientific method (which, however, couldn't come into being without Christianity).

  3. Do you sit and wait for life's chances? Do reach out to as many corners as you can? Or do you organize things so that opportunities seem to roll toward you?

    Take the "What spider are you?" quiz!

  4. I'm a brown recluse, of course. ^_^
    Although, those don't build webs except for nesting in, and they don't look like anything much. I suppose I can't be a superbly venomous creature hiding away and something building lovely webs at the same time- in this corner of the world, at least. *sigh*

    You'd be a happy-face spider, Ceffy. *g*