A week ago, I had the good fortune of stumbling upon the Sistine Chapel Virtual Tour. (Go ahead and check out the link; then come back. It may take several minutes to load.) What’s the Sistine Chapel, you ask? Well, it’s a chapel in Vatican City that happens to house some of the greatest art in Western Civilization. To speak of the Sistine Chapel is to evoke the names of the eminent artists of the Renaissance, such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, and Botticelli. As a lover of art and history, it was a treat to step foot inside the virtual chapel, look directly above my head to the ceiling, and gaze hypnotically at Michelangelo’s The Creation Of Adam.
In addition to his masterpieces in the Sistine Chapel—the ceiling decoration, of which The Creation Of Adam is an element, and The Last Judgment fresco, spanning the wall behind the altar—Michelangelo is best known for two sculptures he created before he turned thirty: David and Pietà. The former depicts one of the central figures of the Old Testament in a contemplative pose, while the latter shows Mary cradling the body of Jesus in her lap after the Crucifixion. Michelangelo was preeminent in several fields—painting, sculpting, poetry, engineering, and architecture—making him an archetypal polymath.
The word polymath, derived from the Ancient Greek polumathēs (“having learned much”), is loosely defined as a person who is very knowledgeable, while its more strict definition describes a person who excels or is highly educated in a wide spectrum of fields or subject areas (a “Renaissance Man”). I aspire to be a polymath of the first kind; Leonardo da Vinci is, unquestionably, the foremost example of the second. Intelligent Life magazine ran an article, The Last Days of the Polymath, in their autumn 2009 issue. In it, they discuss the difficulty of being a polymath, or generalist, in this age of the specialist. As an addendum to the article, they attempted to identify several living examples of polymaths. Their list just happened to include a personal hero of mine: Bruce Dickinson, the singer of Iron Maiden.
That Bruce is considered a polymath should come as no surprise. On top of being Maiden’s frontman, he writes, fences, and pilots Boeing 757 jets. One of those jets, Ed Force One, the band uses on tour to transport themselves, their crew, and their equipment to cities all over the world. They flew in Ed Force One extensively for the 2008-09 Somewhere Back In Time World Tour. As part of that tour, which featured an Ancient Egypt-inspired stage set similar to the one from the 1984-85 World Slavery Tour, they came to my burg on June 9, 2008 and performed a swath of their greatest hits from the 80s. Included in that night’s set list was The Number Of The Beast, one of the adrenaline-charging tracks from its namesake album—the album that cemented Maiden’s rightful place at the apex of the metal genre.