Let’s start out with the etymology of the word. Etymology means we are going to look at the history of the word, what it meant in the past. This gives us more context and helps us better understand what a word means.
Alright, so polymath comes from the ancient Greek word polymathēs, which means having learned a lot, or learned much. The word poly means many, or much, or something in that direction. And mathēs comes from the word mathē which means learning. So, if we put these words together, we get something like having learned much.
Definition Right Now
If we look up a definition of polymath right now, we find something like “a person of wide knowledge or learning”. We also find that the knowledge of polymaths needs to span across a significant number of subjects, and use these complex forms of knowledge to solve problems. That is what is meant with wide knowledge or learning in the definition. So what defines a polymath is that he or she has knowledge of many fields, like mathematics, sociology, psychology and so on, and uses this to answer puzzling questions people have been thinking about for a long time.
So, polymath nowadays means pretty much the same thing as in ancient Greece. It’s just about being very smart and knowing all sorts of things about not just 1 subject but many. But times have changed, and it has become increasingly difficult to become a polymath. There is so much more knowledge out there then in the past. Just think about the internet, there is more knowledge there then you could possibly digest in a lifetime. In ancient Greece you had many books, but it was certainly possible to read most of the important works before you die. And then you would have universal knowledge, know most of the important knowledge out there.
In the next article we will discuss exactly how times have changed and why it has become increasingly difficult to become a polymath.