“I bet he uses that telescope to read books a hundred miles away!”

– Giovanni the cobbler

I’ve heard it said before that Johann von Goethe was considered to be the “last Renaissance Man,” having been a considerable influence in literature, philosophy, science, and art, right before these fields had such an explosion in development that it was no longer possible for a single person to contribute significantly to any more than one.

In our times of hyper-specialization, even our Renaissance Men tend to be specialized: Donald Glover and James Franco are often cited as modern Renaissance Men, but they’re still somewhat confined to the overall field of Entertainment/The Arts. There’s also the genre of “tech guy also knows business” which, to me, just seems to be very successful PR for the likes of Elon Musk (and his predecessors, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates). “Highly Educated Entertainers” is another flavor I’ve seen people bring up, such as Dolph Lundgren, a muscle-bound actor with advanced degrees in chemical engineering – though I’d hardly say he’s been an especially significant influence on either field.

But this does lead to Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen and a Doctor of Astrophysics. Queen has undoubtedly left its mark on musical history and, although I’m no astrophysicist myself and can’t speak with certainty, May has received multiple honors for his contributions to the field and has held a number of university positions, so he’s not just an “entertainer with an advanced degree.” So out of everyone I’ve seen, Brian May seems closest to the classical model of the “Renaissance Man.”

Still though, “just” Music and Astrophysics isn’t quite as expansive as the Da Vincis of old.

– James