Let’s start with a definition:
- n. polymath
person with simultaneously wide and deep knowledge
The word polymath comes from Greek, πολυμαθή polymathēs, a participle meaning “having learned much”.
An equivalent Lithuanian participle (with qualifying adverb…) would be daug mokęsis.
the term used in Latin is homo universalis, “universal man”.
Other similar terms:
- Renaissance man
- Jack of all trades colloq.
I find it hard to separate these terms in any meaningful way.
- Nikola Tesla
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Jagdish Chandra Bose
- Benjamin Franklin
- Buckminster Fuller
- Gottfried Leibniz
These were of course not only regular polymaths but highly successful ones.
Generalists now and before
It seems accepted that the level of polymathy acheived by people was higher before modern times wherein specialization has been the defacto way to go about things.
Peter Klipfel argues that generalists in our day and age are best suited in smaller companies and on smaller projects: On the utility of generalists · Peter Klipfel
Walter Groeneveld says that specialists are where it’s at in many, many ways, but he still posits that being a competent generalist is superior: The Downsides of Generalism | Brain Baking