AskDefine | Define polyhistor

User Contributed Dictionary



Greek very learned


  1. someone gifted or learned in multiple disciplines.
  2. a universal scientist (generally in use to describe such a person when the term philosophy meant the entire summation of all scientific knowledge; i.e., generally from the ancient Greeks into the eighteenth century.)


"(Carlfriedrich) Claus is an artist, though he does not like to call himself one, and a scholar. As such, he personifies the polyhistor, a species rarely found today." — Henry Schumann, in German Art from Beckmann to Richter, p.289.

Extensive Definition

A polyhistor is someone of great erudition: having a knowledge spanning many fields. The definition includes both having an expertise level knowledge in various fields and a merely general knowledge. Arguably a polyhistor is but one possible type of polymath. See the article polymath for a broader discussion.

Etymological differentiation between Polymath and Polyhistor

Many dictionaries of word origins list these words as synonyms. Thus today, regardless of any differentiation they may have had when originally coined, they are often taken to mean the same thing (except when used by specialists).
The root terms histor and math have similar meanings in their etymological antecedents (to learn, learned, knowledge), though with some initial and ancillarily added differing qualities.
Innate in historíā (Greek and Latin) is that the learning takes place via inquiry and narrative. Hístōr also implies that the polyhistor displays erudition and wisdom. From Proto-Indo-European it shares a root with the word "wit". Inquiry and narrative are specific sets of pedagogical and research heuristics.
Here are two conceivable definitions of polymath. Firstly, the overt 'greatly learned,' which would be inclusive of polyhistor (though not all polymaths would be polyhistors, all polyhistors would be polymaths). Another definition would include the adjunct of science, with the Greek mathēmatikè téchnē implying that the knowledge and learning are specifically about sciences or have been gained through scientific inquiry or, more broadly, are based in mathematical logic. Science is a somewhat different set of specific research heuristics.
polyhistor in Croatian: Polihistor
polyhistor in Swedish: Polyhistor
polyhistor in German: Polyhistor
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