Leonardo da Vinci had some game… I guess. Yes he was a painter and a sculptor. And sometimes an architect. And yes a musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer, but really, who during the Renaissance wasn’t those things?
- Galileo studied the heavens and drove understanding of the physical laws of nature and the universe. He is known as the “father of modern physics”. (c. 1600)
- Pascal described fluid dynamics and developed his own theorem which is used in acoustics, hydraulics, oceanography, architecture, and later lead to the invention of the pump. (c. 1650)
- Michelangelo was the greatest artist of all time, and despite his own low opinion of his painting abilities, his most famous fresco still adorns the walls of the Sistine Chapel and draws four million visitors a year. (c. 1512)
But with the Michelangelos and Galileos long gone, the Renaissance Man has gone the way of the Dodo.
Sometime between the invention of sliced bread and the development of a pocket-sized object that would allow for instantaneous communication with almost anyone on earth, combined with access to all the information collected by every person that has ever lived, specializing in everything became a thing of the past. Ken Jennings may have won $2,522,700 for his 74 day win streak on Jeopardy! but even he admitted it was from years of studying trivia.
With the rise of technology and new advances in all areas of knowledge being made daily, the ability to revolutionize more than one small area of expertise is gone. Because specialization has become the norm and a mass of general knowledge and pioneering has disappeared, I’d like to celebrate the last remaining Renaissance Man; Homer Simpson.
On top of his day job and main source of income as a Nuclear Safety Inspector, Homer Simpson held 187 jobs in the first 400 episodes of the show. He has invented cars and shoveled snow, been the CEO of his power plant and an executive at a national organization that took over the Eastern seaboard. As an entrepreneur, he started a baby proofing company and an internet service provider. He has written music, sung Opera, and even won a Grammy Award.
At closer inspection, Homer is not perfect. He is certainly a functioning alcoholic and has forgotten his children’s names on occasion, however, Churchill did alright as an alcoholic, and as Homer pointed out in an interview, “You should just name your third kid Baby. Trust me — it’ll save you a lot of hassle.” Homer Simpson may not be the archetypical Renaissance Man, but he is the last of his kind, and we should celebrate him in all his glory.
Someday in the distant future, anthropologists will stumble across old box sets of DVDs, and after raiding the local museum for a player, wonder aloud why Christopher Columbus got a national holiday after enslaving and murdering Native Americans, while Homer Simpson was shunned despite winning a Pulitzer, going to space, and saving Springfield from a nuclear meltdown… twice.