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"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

Many modern day professionals work to be an expert in a field, be it Mathematics, History, or Graphic Design. This training is what allows them to not only make a living wage, but earn a comfortable life without overexerting their brain.

Throughout history there have been people who step beyond this, and have excelled in multiple fields, called Polymaths. One period in history produced several of the ones that are now most famous, the Renaissance period. Because of this, today most people know them as Renaissance Men.

A Renaissance Man is anyone in Real Life or media who is an expert in many fields, having a broad base of skill and knowledge. This trope is an example of Truth in Television, as many experts in a field develop skills that are necessary in other fields, or find themselves requiring skills in another field. On the other hand, being a Renaissance Man used to be far easier than it is now, simply due to the unbelievable volume of knowledge that two centuries of scientific progress have produced. A hundred years ago it could be reasonable for a single intelligent man to know all of humanity's scientific knowledge, but well... Science Marches On.

Take, for example, Mathematics. Until recently, Computer Science was the domain of the Mathematics department in many Universities, and many Mathematics courses are still cross listed with Computer Science. Such courses include Number Theory, and Graph Theory, just to name a few. Then there is the Physics department. In order to study motion, Isaac Newton invented Calculus. Then there is the connection between sociology and statistics, not to mention the field of Mathematics known as Bio-Informatics. Many Doctorate level Mathematicians will have experience and skill in one of these cross-over areas, and may be considered an expert in the other half of the field where the two fields merge.

While the Renaissance Man is similar to the Omnidisciplinary Scientist, his fields don't need to be limited to science. He also isn't necessarily a master of all known science, just a notable chunk of it. The Renaissance Man may suffer from MD Envy if people object to calling him a "doctor" because he doesn't practice medicine. This trait may be used to show that yes, The Ace is just so insufferably cool.

The trope codifier was Baldassare Castiglione's Book of the Courtier (in print in several languages since 1528), which explained that a gentleman ought to be able to do everything, but nothing well enough to look as though he was a specialist.

Has nothing to do with the 1994 film starring Danny DeVito, or the next-to-last episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Polar opposite of Crippling Overspecialization.

Examples of Renaissance Man include:


Anime and Manga

  • Sailor Moon: Everyone should already know that Ami Mizuno is a great student, but there is more to her than that. She's demonstrated proficiency at both CPR and mouth-to-mouth. She also has demonstrated fluency in both English and German. She is a top-ranked chess player, able to compete against chess masters three times her age. She has, on occasion, written lyrics for instrumental music she likes. Also she fights monsters in her spare time.
    • On the manga and on the anime, she has an unbelievable high IQ and spends a LOT of her time reading. The only reason she is in junior high is that Japan doesn't have a way to deal with geniuses and have to take obligatory education same as everybody else (she even bemoans only being eight chapters ahead of the class on her "bad" days).
    • Mamoru Chiba is also widely regarded as one too, having an understanding of a vast knowledge of fields, speaking several languages, having skills in martial arts, cooking, theater, natural sciences, and history (although lacking the specialized knowledge of Ami). This is fitting considering some people like to nickname him "The Japanese Batman."
  • Paptimus Scirocco from Zeta Gundam. Starship captain, mobile suit craftsman, battlefield strategist, psychological mastermind and is a god in the cockpit.
  • Johan is fluent in Ancient Greek, knows the fine points of current German laws, is proficient enough in economics to run large-scale black market operations and advise a millionaire on his stocks, and has been proficient in the use of poison since childhood. And none of these compare to his knowledge of psychology.
  • Jet Black from Cowboy Bebop is an ex-detective who knows mechanics, cooking, cultivates bonsai trees, is a decent Shogi player, is knowledgeable about hacking and cyberwarfare (although nowhere as good as Ed or Ein), apparently knows something about geology, and is a fan of both several music genres and classic literature (both eastern and western). He's also not a bad starship pilot on top of it.
  • Chao Lingshen from Mahou Sensei Negima can cook, runs a business taking in hundreds of millions of yen, is an excellent hand to hand fighter, helped develop a genuine AI, appears to have invented time travel, is a talented tactician, has good knowledge of Eastern medicine and is a highly competent mage. She's noted instory as being freakishly talented at essentially everything.
  • Izaya Orihara from Durarara understands and speaks three languages (Japanese, English, and Russian). He studies Norse and Celtic mythology. He knows parkour and is a good enough street fighter to mess around with Shizuo "God of Destruction in a Bartender Suit" Heiwajima on a regular basis. He dicks around with social psychology, mostly to carry out completely unethical social experiments (will exposing suicidal girls to near death experiments make them more or less likely to kill themselves? Let's find out!). He's set himself up as a very successful Information Broker before even turning twenty three. Not bad for someone who never went to a single class when he was in college.


Comics

  • Lex Luthor. He pretty much has to be to be any challenge for his nemesis.
  • This is immensely common amongst Badass Normal Superheroes, with Batman arguably being the best known, to the point where his "training to be the best at everything" (general sciences, criminology, martial arts, detective skills, escape artisty, disguise skills, the list goes on) is a running gag amongst the fandom.
  • Mr Terrific from the Justice Society of America also fits this definition, being described as "having a natural aptitude for having natural aptitudes", being a prodigious scholar, athlete, engineer, martial artist, medical practitioner... (again the list goes on).
    • This all applies to his Golden Age predecessor, too.
  • In the DC crossover miniseries War of the Gods, the Godwave effected even heros without paranormal abilities- implying that they in fact have a very subtle power which might be termed "Super-Competency".
  • Ozymandias the world's smartest man from Watchmen is another of these, having studied religion and philosophy, being a world expert on Quantum Physics, Engineering and Genetics, running a world-spanning corporation, while maintaining physical conditioning sufficient to catch a bullet.
  • Dr. Otto Octavius in The Secret Wars. When the Molecule Man is badly injured and his girlfriend Volcana pleads with Dr. Octopus to do something since he's a "Doctor", Octavius replies, "I'm a nuclear physicist, not an MD!" However, Otto is also apparently a genius robotics engineer; he is credited as inventing and upgrading his robot arms. He just happened to invent the robot arms so he could better handle radioactive materials. But where or when he learned the skills to engineer his arms was never explained. And if you suggested that these accomplishments were the result of work-for-hire, he would probably pull your limbs off!
  • Doctor Doom specializes in physics, robotics, cybernetics, genetics, weapons technology, and biochemistry. He also has natural talents for leadership, strategy, politics, and manipulation. He invented time travel, and created a device capable of opening inter-dimensional gateways whilst in college. He conquered his homeland more or less single-handidly, using mostly his own inventions. He has trained with the best fencers in Europe, and is a very competent hand to hand fighter in general. He is also a highly accomplished sorceror, and can perform advanced surgery. He isn't even a real Doctor[2]; he got kicked out of college because said inter-dimensional gateway exploded (though it has been established that it worked perfectly; he just looked in a very bad place).
  • The other Dr McCoy, Beast of the X-Men. He normally relies on his skills as a biochemist, geneticist and physician, but canonically he speaks at least 50 languages, maintains a comfortable income from electronic engineering patents, and can fight well enough to hold his own against Wolverine (although his low-level superhuman strength and agility probably help with that last).
  • Reed Richards Basically, if it's a scientific field, then Reed has mastered it. He is also useless.
  • All-Star Superman is "Superman as a renaissance man, perfect in mind, body and intention"


Film

  • Red Cliff: In addition to being The Chessmaster, Zhuge Liang is shown to know "a little" about quite a few other disciplines loosely connected to warfare and the proper administration of a state.
  • Fu Manchu in The Mask of Fu Manchu claims "I'm Doctor of Philosophy from Edinburgh, I'm a Doctor of Law from Christ College; I'm a Doctor of Medicine from Harvard. My friends, out of courtesy, call me Doctor."
  • Similar to the above, The Abominable Dr. Phibes has a doctorate in theology from Heidelberg among a bunch of other degrees from celebrated universities, plays the organ, is a Master of Disguise, and is a quite competent Poetic Serial Killer.
  • Lynn Belvedere (Not the Mr. Belvedere of the TV series, but the character in the movies Sitting Pretty, Mr. Belvedere Goes to College, and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell) is a polymath hypergenius who can literally do anything, including the outright impossible.


Live Action TV

  • Dr. McCoy, on Star Trek: The Original Series, is a highly skilled medical practitioner, perhaps being an Omnidisciplinary Doctor. He acts as a general practitioner for the crew, performs surgeries, conducts autopsies, manufactures vaccines, delivers babies, relieves officers on psychological grounds... Pretty much anything medical. Unlike real doctors who tend to be experts in one of those things and only familiar with the rest. His training is limited to the medical field, however, as seen in his Catch Phrase, "I'm a doctor, not a _____!"
    • Which gets even more impressive when you take into account that Starfleet and the Federation include numerous species beside humanity, each with different biologies (such as Vulcans having copper-based blood). So to measure McCoy's medical skills, first take into account how long it takes a medical student to become an expert in human anatomy and medecine. Then multiply that by the number of known sapient species in the Star Trek universe.
    • It's partially-justified by accounts from naval and passenger-ship doctors. In space as at sea, a Ship's Surgeon has to be prepared for anything, because there's often no way to evacuate a patient or bring in a specialist. Still, though, both McCoy and his successor Beverly Crusher have a staff of other MDs who are rarely seen and even less often given lines.
    • The setting in general is filled with them, mostly justified; Data (Super Prototype android), Jadzia Dax (Really Seven Hundred Years Old, sort-of -- and later O'Brien, since they never replaced Dax as Science Officer), and Harry Kim. McCoy and Crusher's successors were Bashir (genetically engineered TV Genius), the EMH (Super Prototype computer program) and Phlox. They're all "Chief Whatever" of their given vessels, but they might as well be the only Whatevers, since they never seem to consult with any subordinates save to yell at them to work faster and/or harder. (When they bring subordinates along on missions, they tend to die or fall in love.)
      • The EMH is the only fully qualified medical officer; the rest of Voyager's medical crew were killed when the ship was transported to the Delta Quadrant. Other crew members have taken turns assisting the doctor, and training to do emergency Triage, including Kes and Lt. Paris.
    • Starfleet officers in general are trained to be polymathic. Their scientific education, unless that's their specialty, is broad but basic; however, after the Academy, they also are qualified to act as soldier, explorer, gendarme, ambassador, and technician if needed.
    • There's even a Voyager episode called "Renaissance Man" which features the EMH's many abilities. Whether he actually is one is debatable, but the Doctor certainly believes himself to be (to quote from another episode) "an expert on everything."
    • The original pitch for Star Trek included in its character descriptions that every single person in Starfleet is a genius, even by the standards of the twenty-third century. A few original series episodes allude to this when noting the difference between Starfleet officers and the merchant service.
  • Among the main characters of Stargate Atlantis Dr. Rodney McKay is the go-to guy for an inordinately wide variety of problems, as he has far exceeded his original field and is now Atlantis' expect on alien technology. Not surprisingly, as at the beginning of the series McKay was the only scientist in his team, while the other three main characters (Sheppard, Teyla, Ronon) were pilots and combat experts.
    • Dr. Lee was one of the more extreme examples. On the show we see him assist Jackson on an archeological mission, program a virtual reality machine, study alien plants and animals, hold a position at the space bridge station, build armor and weapons, and offer expertise on many other alien technologies.
      • And yet, despite all this, Dr. Lee is more often than not, a joke and just not good enough to solve the problem of the week.
    • However, CMO Beckett, a geneticist, appears to have the McCoy-like ability to deal with everything medical from basic pharmaceutical research to surgery, though there is ( or rather, was) a psychologist on board for the more headshrinky things.
  • Dr. Daniel Jackson who appeared in each branch of the Stargate franchise at least once. While his Doctorates are in Archeology, Anthropology, and Philology, his level of competence in several related fields is easily equal to that of some professionals in those fields. He speaks 23 different languages, is an expert in Mythology and spent enough time with the rest of SG-1 that he can fill the need for a tech expert or combatant in a pinch too.
  • The Doctor from Doctor Who seems to know pretty much everything as required by the plot - history, science, language, mythology, you name it. One of the spinoff novels quoted him as saying that he had qualifications in everything "except HTML coding and dentistry". Of course he's hundreds of years old and bright even by the standards of his own sufficiently advanced alien race, which might count as cheating.
  • At least one commentator has stated that if you looked up Renaissance Man in the dictionary, Jamie Hyneman's face would be the picture. He hosts a show, does special effects work, and pursues whatever interests him. And this is before you take into account his various careers.
  • Walter Bishop of Fringe appears to be proficient in Biology (Anatomy, most remarkably), Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Pharmacology (he knows his LSD, all right) and a whole lot of other stuff that's not mainstream science (fringe science, as they call it). Well, according to Broyles he is "called by his contemporaries as a successor to Albert Einstein."
  • The IMF needs something technical? Barney Collier's got them covered for mechanical engineering, electronics, electrical engineering, construction, plumbing, heating, chemical engineering, biochemistry, piloting, vehicle mechanics, weapon design, and animal training.
  • Dr Sam Beckett of Quantum Leap. He has doctorates in medicine, chemistry, quantum physics and astronomy, can play the piano and guitar to concert standards, is an excellent singer, can speak seven modern languages and can read a number of ancient ones (including Hieroglyphics) and is familiar with a wide range of martial arts.
  • On Leverage, Hardison seems to largely have this role. In addition to being one of the greatest hackers alive, he is able to also create gadgets seemingly at will and is capable of other random abilities, including impromptu forgery, serving as a lawyer and landing an airplane(as a traffic controller).
  • During her college education, Annie Camden of 7th Heaven studied everything from art to business and economics, and later returns to school to earn her Masters.
  • Jane of Degrassi is a great football player, valedictorian of her class, is part owner of a babysitting business and is lead singer for Janie and the Studs.
  • Neal Caffrey of White Collar is a highly talented con man, forger, thief and artist - along with having an almost encyclopaedic knowledge in all those subjects. He also speaks several languages fluently, is a skilled chessplayer and a crack shot, even though he hates guns.


Literature

  • "An inventor-surgeon who got fed up with patients sueing him, and learned law, and then when he was tired of the bad press he was getting, founded his own newspaper"-- Pendrake's intro, in War of the Dreaming
  • Marie-Josephe Delacroix in The Moon and the Sun (a Vonda Mc Intyre novel) is a Renaissance woman -- her areas of expertise include mathematics, "natural philosophy" (i.e., natural sciences), and music. She can also draw reasonably well, which is a very useful ability for a scientifically inclined person to have in the days before photography.
  • Aubrey-Maturin's Stephen Maturin as well, since he's a multilingual medical doctor/natural philosopher/spy.
    • It may not be coincidental that both of these characters are roughly Enlightenment-era.
      • Jack Aubrey himself exhibits Renaissance Man tendencies, being not only a first-rate naval officer and sailor, but also an astronomer and mathematician good enough to be inducted into the Royal Society (and, under the tutelage of William Herschel's sister, to be able to build his own telescopes), and an enthusiastic amateur musician (as Stephen Maturin discovers at one point, Jack is actually better than he presents himself to be, so as not to make Stephen feel inferior).
  • Special Agent Pendergast is a Wicked Cultured detective, ridiculously well-versed in literature, archaeology, forensics, biology, and a whole bunch of other fields this troper can't remember.
  • Doc Savage
  • In Chetan Bhagat's Five Point Someone, it is stated at the very beginning by the narrator that Ryan Oberoi, one of the three titular characters, could really do whatever he wanted. This fact is later demonstrated by various incidents in the course of the story. The fact that he really dislikes the system at the IIT and is unwilling to put in any effort at succeeding there is another matter altogether.
  • As mentioned in the page quote, Robert A. Heinlein's characters are often Renaissance people.
  • Leonard of Quirm in the Discworld, on account of being an Affectionate Parody of Leonardo. He is an expert in painting, engineering and alchemy amongst other things, but isn't a member of any of the Guilds (when he takes Guild exams he either gets bored and starts doodling in the margins or, worse yet, absent-mindedly corrects the questions.)
    • Mr. Nutt, from Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals, is described as a 'polymath' by the Dean. Suffice to say, he makes good use of this.
    • In Equal Rites, when the Zoon leader asks Esk what chores she can perform to earn her keep, she rattles off a list of household skills that takes up half a page and encompasses many different specialties (weaving, cheesemaking, etc). Granted, they're all rural/peasant skills, but it's an impressively broad list for an eight-year-old.
  • Polymath, by John Brunner, deals with a man in training to be able to head the colonization of a new planet (with the omnidisciplinary knowledge and skills that this would require, including some physical modifications) when his own homeworld is destroyed. He's part of a group of refugees to land on another planet, but it's not the one he's spent most of his life to date studying and preparing for....
  • To a limited extent, Wedge Antilles in some latter parts of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, particularly those parts of the New Jedi Order and Legacy of the Force which were written by Aaron Allston. In the X Wing Series he feared that he would make a poor naval commander, but at some point it became apparent that he was not. One of the absolute best fighter pilots in the galaxy, he also excelled at squadron command, was better than Admiral Ackbar in fleet exercises, and proved to be a ridiculously inventive master tactician and strategist. In addition, he was very competent at training new units to be highly inventive, not a bad mechanic, and dabbled in architecture.
  • The players of The Glass Bead Game need to have expert level understanding of literally every branch of human knowledge, as well as a fertile imagination and great improvisation skills.


Tabletop RPG

  • Maid RPG. In the replay "Maids at the End of the World", the Master is Masami Onji a scholarly genius who is greatly knowledgeable about every field imaginable.


Theatre

  • Cyrano De Bergerac:
    • Cyrano (both in the play and in Real Life): poet, duelist, soldier, philosopher, physicist, musician, playwright, and novelist.
    • Also Cardinal Richelieu (in the play and in Real Life): priest, clergy, politician, soldier, philosopher, playwright and Magnificent Bastard.


Video Games

  • Hakuoro in Utawarerumono is a warrior king sort of fellow. He also has knowledge of agriculture, blacksmithing, hunting, chemistry, explosives, tactics, politics and several other fields. Probably even more. Hell, he apparently even used to be an archaeologist before becoming a god. We don't get to really see anything he for sure can't do, apart from medicine. Which may not even count due to the different biology.
  • The extended Resident Evil guide reveals major antagonist, Albert Wesker, to be this (as a result of Umbrella's attempts to create a race of super humans later revealed in the fifth installment). According to his character files he is proficient in the fields of science, research, observation, biology, virology, bioengineering, evolution, combat, martial arts, marksmanship, weapons, tactics, police procedure, espionage, murder, subterfuge, blackmail, opportunity, planning, persuasion, arms dealing, double-cross and even extra-sensory perception, as well as superhuman strength, speed, agility, resistance, metabolism, and vitality, due to his viral genetic mutations.
    • That, and many long nights in college studying. The guy looks in his late twenties, but he has enough degrees to take up a lifetime and then some.
  • Atrus from the Myst games has the skills of a writer, engineer, naturalist, explorer, historian, electrician, gardener, geologist, pioneer, archeologist, metalworker, desert survivalist and world-designer, with a side order of philosopher. If only "parent" and/or "judge of character" had also been on that list, his life would've gone a lot better.
  • It's possible to play your character in one of the Fallout games as this


Web Comic

  • Dirk Strider from Homestuck. He builds robots, is skilled at puppetry, etc, etc...


Web Original

  • Doctor Steel is a musician, toymaker, roboticist, graphic artist, Internet personality - and has some great dance moves.


Real Life

  • Imhotep (c.2655-c.2600 BC), an ancient Egyptian architect, engineer, and physician. He was the first practitioner of all three of those disciplines in recorded history, and is therefore the earliest known polymath. He designed the very first pyramid, which still stands today, almost 5,000 years later. So gifted and influential was he that, after his death, he was deified by the Egyptians.
  • Pythagoras (c.580-c.490 BC), a Greek mathematician and philosopher of 6th century BC who founded a school in south Italy and a philosophical system, Pythagoreanism, named after him. Pythagoras was thought to be a polymath by his contemporaries. He is sometimes credited with coining the term "philosopher", literally a "lover of wisdom," and considered among the first to follow this vocation. The Pythagorean theorem of geometry was named after him.
    • Having his critics killed probably helped his reviews.
  • Aristotle (384-322 BC); a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote on many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology and zoology. He numbers among the greatest polymaths of all time.
  • Archimedes (c.287-c.212 BC); a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Lived in Sicilian Greek town of Syracuse. Often considered one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, Archimedes is noted for several advancements in almost every relevant field in his era.
  • Eratosthenes (c. 276 BC–c. 195 BC) was a Greek mathematician, elegiac poet, athlete, geographer, astronomer, and music theorist. The inventor of geography, and first person to measure the circumference of the Earth, Eratosthenes was nicknamed "Beta" on the grounds that he was second-best in the world at everything.
  • Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is probably the Renaissance Man, though many of his inventions never came to fruition in his lifetime. He was, however, an expert in anatomy and civil engineering, skilled in many forms of artistic expression, and interested in many areas of science.
  • Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), author of 15+ works including The Prince and Discourses on Livy, was a philosopher, playwright, judge, civil servant, general, and diplomat. He was also friends with Leonardo da Vinci.
  • Matteo Ricci (1552-1610); Italian Jesuit and a phenomenal figure in the East-West scientific exchange in China. "Matteo Ricci was the perfect man of culture, a polymath versed in all things, mathematics and literature, philosophy and poetry, mechanics and astronomy." In collaboration with Xu Guangqi, he was also the first to translate classic Confucian texts into Latin and classic Western texts into Chinese (including portions of Euclid's Elements).
  • Rene Descartes (1596-1650), working in pilosophy, medicine mathematics and physics. He wrote up the first explanation of phantom limbs, the shape and size of the rainbow - proving it was caused by water droplets, explained the ring of light sometimes seen around the moon, developed Cartesian coordinates and proved his own existence. Also challenged anyone in Paris who would dare claim he had a bastard son to a duel (he had a daughter out of wedlock).
  • Athanasius Kircher (1601/1602-1680) is another historical example, with Bunny Ears Lawyer tendencies as well. Not only did he study geology, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs ("decoding" occult meanings that probably weren't there), astronomy and microbiology(in his time a new science), he designed a "cat piano" played by making the cats squeal in pain.
  • Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Thougt himself a theologist first of all. Is more known for wave optics, calculus and what is known to us as, well, "Newtonian Mechanics". Tried alchemy, astrology and numerology. As the Master of the Mint, developed at least one currency protection measure, changed Britain's monetary policy and personally conducted investigations.
  • Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) . In addition to his studies of electricity (and the kite experiment was a minor footnote), he also developed the basic principles of meteorology, charted the gulf stream, worked on advanced heating technologies all his life, invented swim fins and a new musical instrument, expanded his one print shop to have satellite print shops in every colony, and then sold them off once he decided he was rich enough to stop working. During his business days, he established the first American lending library and the first university (UPenn) that wasn't devoted to training clergy. He also was the Colonies' ambassador to France, and despite the Declaration of Independence being a forbidden document, he ultimately talked the king into putting his own government in hock to pay off the Revolutionary War. And he's also the main reason why the Constitutional Convention included the option for passing amendments.
  • A claimant for the honor of "the last polymath"--albeit more on the humanities side of the spectrum--is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832). His works spanned literature, drama (he wrote Faust), science (morphology and colour theory), law, philosophy (where he is considered one of the greats) and religion.
  • About the last true polymath was Thomas Young (1773 - 1829), who made fundamental contributions to physics (wave theory of light), engineering (Young's modulus), and biology (how the eye worked). Oh, and he also helped to decipher the Rosetta Stone.
  • Alexander Borodin (1833-1887), a rather important chemist who discovered the Aldol reaction. However, in classical music circles he's known for the operas, symphonies, and string quartets he created in his spare time. He was also a surgeon and later, a professor of medicine.
  • Thomas Edison (1847-1931)'s inventions covered a wide variety of fields.
    • In reality, Edison had loads of talented employees, regularly bought or stole inventions, and his Survival Mantra was apparently "I'm Glad I Thought Of It". He was a smart man, but his range is possibly exaggerated.
      • Particularly in regards to Nikola Tesla (1856-1943). Jerry's Kids could fake Omnidisciplinarianism by ripping off Tesla.
  • Robert Williams Wood, 1868-1955. Was one of pioneers of physical optics, both research and development. Such as inventions and applications in out-of-visible spectrum photography and astronomy, spectroscopy -- and animated pictures. Boomerang enthusiasm, automobile enthusiasm and introduction of surfing in USA. Invention of a way to unfreeze plumbing and development of submarine detection by sonar. Forensics: as an explosives expert, introduction of UV lamps (detection of forgeries and the countermeasure which depreciated "invisible inks") and discovery of explosively formed projectiles. Discovery of hydrogen recombination and disproving radiation theory of greenhouses (they work because glass stops hot air). The first proposal of using tear gas as an incapacitating weapon and quack hunt, including un-discovery of N-rays (physical optics was "his" territory). Great prankster and almost Patron Saint of Education Through Pyrotechnics. When readers of How to tell the birds from the flowers asked whether he wrote another book, he gave them Physical Optics.
  • German philosopher Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) came close. His main work The Decline of the West covers these topics: History, biology, geology, economy, laws, mathematics, architecture, music, painting, other arts, linguistics, politics, religion (or at least religious history), various languages, psychology, philosophy... Not necessarily in that order. It's probably no coincidence that he was a big fan of Goethe (see above).
  • Paul Robeson (1898-1976). One of the most famous actors and singers of his generation, all-American athlete, preeminent social activist, lawyer, author and reputedly fluent in 12 languages.
  • Herbert Simon (1916-2001) , well, look at the first paragraph of that article. He won a Nobel Prize in economics and a Turing Award, the equivalent honor in computer science.
  • Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was a Nobel-winning theoretical physicist by profession, but that didn't stop him studying a wide variety of fields for recreational purposes: biology, mathematics, philosophy, psychology, computing, drawing, music and Safecracking.

  "On the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics."

  • Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) , as well as being one of the all-time great science fiction writers, wrote non-fiction books and essays on chemistry, mathematics, biology, physics, art, history, religion, astronomy and robotics, among other things. His works can be found in literally every section of the Dewey decimal system apart from philosophy.
    • His expertise was such that when other science fiction writers were unsure about the science in their stories, they would give Asimov a call to make sure they were on the right track.
  • Christopher Lee (1922-2015), During World War II, was an intelligence officer for Churchill's super-secret Special Operations Executive branch--the infamous "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare." Yes, this may make him as much of a Magnificent Bastard off-screen as he often was on. He followed up after the war by hunting escaped Nazis. As an actor, Lee starred in 240+ feature films, 17 of which contained sword fighting (a world record). He released his first full heavy metal album in 2010 at the age of 88, and made a metal Christmas album in 2012. World champion fencer. Opera singer. And spoke six languages. Christopher. F'n. Lee.
  • Giles Brindley (1926-) is best known for two medical discoveries: creating the first neuroprosthetic device to be successfully used to restore sight, and developing the first widely-used drug treatment for erectile dysfunction (he's quite well-known for how he presented the results--by injecting himself with the drug and...showing off). Neural engineering and urology are fairly diverse fields to be contributing to, but Brindley has also composed and published several pieces music, invented a musical instrument (the logical bassoon), and apparently enjoys marathon running and orienteering.
  • The american singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, humorist and mathematician Thomas Andrew Lehrer (1928-).
  • Retired NASA astronaut Story Musgrave (1935-) is a certified Medical Doctor and holds degrees in Mathematics and Statistics, Computer Programming and Operational Analysis, Chemistry, Physiology and Biophysics... and Literature.
  • A more modern, albeit somewhat debatable example: Dieter Meier (1945-). He was a key member of the influential electronica band Yello (whose first album was described as the "most varied and accomplished of any synth pop debut" by Allmusic). Also, Dieter Meier is known for being a quite successful conceptual artist and performance artist. In his spare time, he's a millionaire industrialist and award winning director. Sometimes, he also designs scarves and creates restaurants. To top it off, he was once a member of the Swiss national golf team. So, a bit impressive.
  • How about Bruce Dickinson (1958-)? Iconic metal singer-songwriter, historian, pilot, fencer, screenwriter, author, director, entrepreneur... A minor example, but the man sure doesn't sit still long.
  • The expectations of the Renaissance man were often different from what a Renaissance woman was supposed to accomplish during those times. Usually a Renaissance women's crafts and skills came from her job as a homeworker (weaving, sewing, taking care of children) than from any outside activity.
  • At some point or another in the past thirty years, Shigesato Itoi has dabbled in pretty much every form of media imaginable and an innumerable number of other projects. Though definitely not sufficiently versed in science, he's even published a book of interviews about neurology.
  • Thomas Jefferson: Political revolutionary, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, President, architect, inventor, and horticulturalist, these are just some of Jefferson's fields of expertise, and he is considered one of the most famous polymaths in history. Famously lampshaded by John F Kennedy, who while hosting a dinner table full of the nation's leading intellectuals, scientists, and artists at the White House, declared "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House...with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Needless to say, Kennedy was clearly a big fan of Jefferson's.
  • David Byrne of Talking Heads: Guitarist, Singer, Composer, Producer, Actor, Director, Screenwriter etc.

Notes

  1. Such as being a doctor, painter, ace driver, martial artist, and champion tennis, golfer, baseball and basketball player
  2. legitimately anyway, he probably granted himself an honorary degree after conquering Latveria
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