Category Archives: Polymaths



He was one of the greatest Polymath. Avicenna, aka Abu Ali al-Husain ibn Abdallah ibn Sina, was a Persian physician, philosopher, and scientist who was born in 980 in Kharmaithen near Bukhara, now in Uzbekistan (then Persia), and died June 1037 in Hamadan, Persia (Iran).

He had authored about 450 of works on a wide variety of subjects mainly of philosophy and medicine.His most famous works are The Book of Healing and The Canon of Medicine, also known as the Qanun (full title: al-qanun fil-tibb), was a standard medical text at many medieval universities. The ‘Qanun fi-l-Tibb’ is an immense encyclopedia of medicine. It contains some of the most illuminating thoughts pertaining to distinction of mediastinitis from pleurisy; contagious nature of phthisis; distribution of diseases by water and soil; careful description of skin troubles; of sexual diseases and perversions; of nervous ailments

He is considered by many to be “the father of modern medicine.” George Sarton called Ibn Sina “the most famous scientist of Islam and one of the most famous of all races, places, and times.”

His Early Life and How he become a Polymath !

His father was an official of the Samanid administration, and so he was  very carefully educated at Bukhara. Although traditionally influenced by the Islam, his independent thought was served by an extraordinary intelligence and memory, which allowed him to overtake his teachers at the age of fourteen. Ibn Sina was put under the charge of a tutor, and his precocity soon made him the marvel of his neighbours. He displayed exceptional intellectual behavior and was a Child prodigy who had memorized the Quran by the age of 10 and a great deal of Persian poetry as well. He learned arithmetic from a greengrocer, and he began to learn more from a wandering scholar who gained a livelihood by curing the sick and teaching the young.

However he was greatly troubled by metaphysical problems and in particular the works of Aristotle. So,  he also started  studying philosophy, in which he encountered greater obstacles. In such moments of baffled inquiry, he would leave his books, perform the requisite ablutions, then go to the mosque, and continue in prayer till light broke on his difficulties.

Deep into the night he would continue his studies, stimulating his senses by occasional cups of goat’s milk, and even in his dreams problems would pursue him and work out their solution. It is said, he read through the Metaphysics of Aristotle forty times, till the words were imprinted on his memory. but their meaning was hopelessly obscure, until one day they found illumination, from the little commentary by Farabi, which he bought at a bookstall for the small sum of three dirhems.

He turned to medicine at 16, and not only learned medical theory, but by gratuitous attendance on the sick had, according to his own account, discovered new methods of treatment. The teenager achieved full status as a physician at age of  18 and found that “Medicine is no hard and thorny science, like mathematics and metaphysics, so he soon made great progress. He became an excellent doctor and began to treat patients, using approved remedies. The youthful physician’s fame spread quickly, and he treated many patients without asking for payment.His first appointment was that of physician to the emir, who owed him his recovery from a dangerous illness (997). Ibn Sina’s chief reward for this service was access to the royal library of the Samanids, well-known patrons of scholarship and scholars. Meanwhile, he assisted his father in his financial labours, but still found time to write some of his earliest works.

Check the wikipedia page for more details of his life.

An impressive monument to the life and works of the man who is known as the ‘doctor of doctors’ still stands outside the Bukhara museum and his portrait hangs in the Hall of the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Paris. There is a crater on the moon called Avicenna which was named after him. His hard work and interest to learn new things made him a polymath at very young age. He was a lot self motivated. Anyone can become a polymath if you have the will.

Books about Avicenna
Avicenna By by Lenn E. Goodman
Avicenna (Great Medieval Thinkers) by Jon McGinnis
Books By Avicenna( available at amazon)
The Metaphysics of The Healing (Brigham Young University – Islamic Translation Series)
The Physics of The Healing: A Parallel English-Arabic Text in Two Volumes (Brigham Young University – Islamic Translation Series)



A polymath is  a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. In less formal terms, a polymath (or polymathic person) may simply be someone who is very knowledgeable. Most ancient scientists were polymaths.

Not just scientists but many others including philosophers and many others we are not known of were polymaths. Obviously ancient people knew a lot more than us.

Any one can become a polymath if he has the right motivation. A polymath is not a person who is perfect in everything. But he makes a lot of mistakes. A lot of new mistakes till something gets right. Like Edison who made the bulb after more than 2000 trials.Its from these mistakes that new sciences are created. Many theories were proposed by many scientists. But many were proved wrong or modified or added more and so. Its the mistakes in theories  that led to new theories.

Similarly the term Renaissance man is used to describe a person who is well educated or who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields. According to Leon Battista Alberti, one of the most accomplished representatives of Renaissance Italy,  “a man can do all things if he will.”

Renaissance humanism led to the notion that people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible. Leonardo da Vinci is regarded as a “Renaissance man”

A polymath uses all parts of his brain and always think differently. Its not about remembering all knowledge. But using his knowledge to create new knowledge for others. A polymath may be a an artist,  composer,  poet, scientist, philosopher, and a lot more. I mean all of these together.

I have seen very few polymathic persons in this new world. But some around me are really developing to be polymaths sometime.

Vacuumwalker is a true polymath. I too want to be one.

I am starting a category on polymaths here and i will write about some of the well known and some less known brilliant polymaths of ancient times in coming posts.

PS: Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration