A polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, "having learned much", Latin: homo universalis, "universal man") is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas, such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.
In Western Europe, the first work to use polymathy in its title (De Polymathia tractatio: integri operis de studiis veterum) was published in 1603 by Johann von Wower, a Hamburg philosopher. Wower defined polymathy as "knowledge of various matters, drawn from all kinds of studies ranging freely through all the fields of the disciplines, as far as the human mind, with unwearied industry, is able to pursue them".
Wower lists erudition, literature, philology, philomathy and polyhistory as synonyms. The related term, polyhistor, is an ancient term with similar meaning. Polymaths include the great thinkers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment who excelled at several fields in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the arts. In the Italian Renaissance, the idea of the polymath was expressed by Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) in the statement that "a man can do all things if he will".
Embodying a basic tenet of Renaissance humanism that humans are limitless in their capacity for development, the concept led to the notion that people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible. This is expressed in the term "Renaissance man", often applied to the gifted people of that age who sought to develop their abilities in all areas of accomplishment: intellectual, artistic, social and physical. (Wikipedia)
The term entered the lexicon in the 20th century and has now been applied to great thinkers living before and after the Renaissance.
Vincent Brown, PhD