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What Makes a Renaissance Man?

A renaissance man is also known as a polymath. These terms refer to someone who has attained skills in multiple fields or disciplines, and is broadly knowledgeable. During the European Renaissance, circa 1450, an array of artists and scholars pursued multiple disciplines. They knew and spoke several languages, they understood the natural sciences and philosophy, they appreciated and contributed to art and literature, and they were capable sportsmen.

The best known renaissance man of this period is Leonardo Da Vinci. He pursued multiple fields of study and became a renowned artist, an engineer, and an expert in anatomy. Before Da Vinci, however, there existed the Greek polymathes – men who had learned too much. This was a complement bestowed upon men such as Aristotle, Plato and Archimedes. They mastered subjects such as mathematics, philosophy, physics and engineering. Aristotle argued in his writings that it was advantageous to have knowledge in diverse fields, especially if rhetoric was the main pursuit. The varied knowledge would be useful when giving commentaries and speeches.

Believing that a broad based education contributes to a more fully developed mind, current but traditional college education systems try to instill the concept of the renaissance man in students. Students may begin with an array of subjects, such as pure physics, with philosophy, art, and a sport. Certain liberal arts classes are encouraged for students to broaden their knowledge. But the approach is quite generalized and few students are capable of gaining enough knowledge in the diverse subjects to be considered a true master in all but their core subject area.

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