Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Renaissance Man

I thought long and hard about his week's topic since I first read about it, to no avail. Most unsung historical figures I could come up with were...well...sung. So I decided to go with an archteype of a person long admired and held up in high regard...a mysterious, nebulous figure still heard about today: The Renaissance Man.

In writing, the author considers character traits for their heroes, and I would imagine that most of the time, the Renaissance Man is wistfully debated, then discarded. Too perfect, and it wouldn't do to have a hero without fault or good at, well, everything. I've read those stories, where the author has given in and created a hero that is literally too good to be true.

The ideal came from the Renaissance period and put forth the standard to be sought as a "man of the world", educated and accomplished in a variety of disciplines: multiple languages, without a doubt; sciences; music; debate; history; social graces. Moreover, having a expertise in one, if not many, of these areas would give one a "universal" appeal, so to speak. And where did the young gentleman (and yes, this is for men only...you've never heard the term Renaissance Dame, have you?) go to acquire knowledge in all these diverse areas?  Why, University, of course.

Of course, the prototypical example of The Renaissance Man is Leonardo da Vinci, with his lasting and profound impact in the fields of art and science. However, could the Renaissance Man really exist these days? To become proficient to the point of having a lasting effect in even one dicipline in modern times is rare, much less being well-rounded. One example whom consider to fit the definition is Howard Hughes, and we all know how well he was able to cope with his tangents.

I love the Dos Equis campaign with The Most Interesting Man In The World, a caricature of our Renaissance Man. So from either fiction or reality, in modern times, who are some Renaissance Men these days? Or can he even exist?


  1. I always wanted to be a kind of renaissance man, but I thought I toook money. I did actually know a renaissance woman however. She was a waitress where i worked and she was an autodidact who knew the most incredible stuff about books and poetry and had traveled Europe. I have never known a renaissance man though I aspire to be one someday.

    Yesterday I roasted my own coffee beans in a popcorn popper just to see how it was done. Does that count?


  2. Devon,

    Cool choice. Personally I think a renaissance man would have to multi-task and that goes way beyond my capabilities: unless you count bitching and moaning as multi-tasking :-)

    I'm looking forward to seeing if someone posts an example of a contemporary renaissance man.


  3. Hi, Devon,

    Actually, I think being a Renaissance Man (or Dame) is more a matter of attitude. Such a person needs to view himself as not limited by labels or disciplines. He has to feel free to explore whatever attracts him.

    My dad was something like that. He had a PhD in clinical psychology. He spoke Spanish and French, loved to write and read. He was a musician, playing in clarinet and sax in swing bands from the age of eleven, and flute and piano later. He was a pilot. He could sail. He was a fabulous dancer. He knew how to charm women and read fortunes in a palm or in the bumps of a pineapple (I kid you not!) And in his later years he took all sorts of courses: forensic science, microbiology, Arabic language, computer programming. He wasn't Leonardo in the engineering department, but otherwise, I'd say he fit the definition!

    Excellent take on the topic.



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