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.
A polymath (Greek polymathēs, πολυμαθής, “having learned much”) is a person whose expertise fills a significant number of subject areas. In less formal terms, a polymath (or polymathic person) may simply refer to someone who is very knowledgeable.
Recently, someone asked me if I considered myself to be a modern-day renaissance man. It took me several days to come to the conclusion that I do not know for sure. Surely, by todays standards where competition to be the best of the best, everyone claims to be renaissance men, despite the obvious reality that they too are just as average as everyone else. There are a few examples of people I know that, if placed in front of a crowd, they would likely be regarded as renaissance men based solely upon their achievements and intellectual prowace.
The true definition of a true renaissance man is someone who not only displays a profound knowledge of a variety of subjects, but is also aware of oneself, and as such is in optimal physical being. While I may be about 75% of the way to being a renaissance man, my athletic abilities are somewhat lacking; they always have been ever since I was about 15 years old. I do not claim to have a profound knowledge of the world around me, but my understanding of it grows and I strive to learn new things whenever possible, which is why you might commonly notice that I take notes on everyday life.
I could go on and on for hours about my quest to one day become a modern day renaissance man, but instead I will dispense some bits and pieces of wisdom for no other reason other than the fact that it has been awhile since I wrote something. Lately I’ve been obsessing over taking photographs to the point that everything else in my life just hangs in the balance.
I turned 30 a few days ago. Every time my birthday comes around, I go back and read through all of the past years worth of journal entries and look at old photos, trying to come up with an idea of what I learned since one year ago, and wondering in amazement at how in just a few years time, how much has changed. Looking back, I wish that what I know now, I knew way back in the days when I was young, as it would have helped me avoid a lot of heartache.
Likewise, the measure of just how much of a renaissance man I’ve become can only be measured by comparing myself to someone else, as is the case with the modern educational system; we must always compare ourselves to others so that the best person wins, when in reality, our greatest achievement is to produce graduates who can take what they have learned and apply it later on in life and use it to learn on their own.