I wonder what Latin word or expression best describes a polymath, someone who masters several subjects. The two solutions I thought of are the following but I find them unsatisfactory.

  • polymathēs, -is
  • homo universalis

The first one because it is simply a transliteration of the Greek and I am not able to find any Latin text using it. The second one because the meaning is wrong, I don't mean an omniscient man but simply one who has several areas of competence.

  • 5
    Well, it worth to note here, that there is the proverbial expression Omnis minervae homo which L&S renders as "Jack of all trades"
    – d_e
    May 12, 2021 at 19:44
  • 4
    @d_e With a couple citations, that itself might make a decent answer.
    – cmw
    May 12, 2021 at 20:10

2 Answers 2


I do not have a complete and satisfying answer, but digging around revealed a couple of points of interest:

  • Johan Wower wrote De Polymathia tractatio: integri operis de studiis veterum in 1665. He uses the word polymathia throughout the text, but I did not spot a word for a polymath. The text is available in plain text, but the quality of the conversion is pretty low. He might have a suitable word somewhere in there.

  • A lot of online sources (including your question!) seem to give the Latin expression homo universalis, but I managed to find no Latin texts that use this expression. I am unsure whether it is simply a translation of the Italian 'uomo universale'. At any rate, this expression is a decent choice: easy to understand and clearly Latin.

  • The prefix poly- is Greek, and the corresponding Latin one would be multi-. This is very productive, as there are loads of Latin words starting with this. I would not even consider coining a new word with this prefix out of the question.

    The L&S entry for multiplex gives examples like vir multiplex in virtutibus.

  • A good general word for (innate) ability is ingenium. Combining with my previous point, I think vir/femina/homo ingenii multiplicis would be a decent option.

  • 1
    Thank you very much for your research, I will consider different options but multiplex is definitely one of them
    – KimP
    May 16, 2021 at 8:59
  • @KimP I'm glad you found it helpful! Multiplex is indeed a good building block, but I don't think it'll work alone here.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 16, 2021 at 9:04
  • Probably not but I was referring to your last point, not the word alone, sorry for the unclarity. Anyway, thanks again
    – KimP
    May 16, 2021 at 9:13

In the medieval scholastic community one very early word for a polymath was doctor universalis and it was applied to Albertus Magnus and Alan of Lille. Later the Catholic church regularized the title and applied it to various scholars.

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