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A polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, "having learned much")[1] is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. In less formal terms, a polymath (or polymathic person) may simply be someone who is very knowledgeable. Most ancient scientists were polymaths by today's standards.[2]

The terms Renaissance man and, less commonly, Homo Universalis (Latin for "universal man" or "man of the world") are related and used to describe a person who is well educated or who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields.[3] The idea developed in Renaissance Italy from the notion expressed by one of its most accomplished representatives, Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472): that "a man can do all things if he will." It embodied the basic tenets of Renaissance humanism, which considered humans empowered, limitless in their capacities for development, and led to the notion that people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible. Thus the gifted people of the Renaissance sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments, and in the arts.


Related terms

A different name for the secondary meaning of polymath is Renaissance man (a term first recorded in written English in the early 20th century).[4] Other similar terms also in use are Homo Universalis (Latin) and Uomo Universale (Italian), which translate to "universal person" or "universal man". These expressions derived from the ideal in Renaissance Humanism that it was possible to acquire a universal learning[5] in order to develop one's potential, (covering both the arts and the sciences[6] and without necessarily restricting this learning to the academic fields). When someone is called a Renaissance man today, it is meant that he does not just have broad interests or a superficial knowledge of several fields, but rather that his knowledge is profound, and often that he also has proficiency or accomplishments in at least some of these fields, and in some cases even at a level comparable to the proficiency or the accomplishments of an expert.[7] The related term Generalist is used to contrast this general approach to knowledge to that of the specialist. The expression Renaissance man today commonly implies only intellectual or scholastic proficiency and knowledge and not necessarily the more universal sense of "learning" implied by Renaissance humanism. Note, however, that some dictionaries use the term "Renaissance man" as roughly synonymous with polymath in the first meaning, to describe someone versatile with many interests or talents,[8] while others recognize a meaning which is restricted to the Renaissance era and more closely related to the Renaissance ideals.

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