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About polymaths

  Baldassare Castiglione’s guide stressed the kind of attitude that should accompany the many talents of a polymath, an attitude he called “sprezzatura”. A courtier should have a detached, cool, nonchalant attitude, and speak well, sing, recite poetry, have proper bearing, be athletic, know the humanities and classics, paint and draw and possess many other skills, always without showy or boastful behaviour, in short, with “sprezzatura”.  

The many talents of the polymath should appear to others to be performed without effort, in an unstrained way, almost without thought. In some ways, the gentlemanly requirements of Castiglione recall the Chinese sage, Confucius, who far earlier depicted the courtly behaviour, piety and obligations of service required of a gentleman. The easy facility in difficult tasks also resembles the effortlessness inculcated by Zen, such as in archery where no conscious attention, but pure spontaneity, produces better and more noble skill. For Castiglione, the attitude of apparent effortlessness should accompany great skill in many separate fields. In word or deed the courtier should “avoid affectation ... (and) ... practice ... a certain sprezzatura ... conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it”.


1.  Stressed - (stress-d) (v)
2.  Polymath – (pol-ee-math) (n)
3.  Courtier – (kohr-tee-er) (n)
4.  Detached – (dih-tacht) (adj)
5.  Nonchalant – (non-shuh-lahnt) (adj)
6.  Bearing – (bair-ing) (n)
7.  Showy – (shoh-ee) (adj)
8.  Unstrained – (uhn-streynd) (adj)
9.  Gentlemanly – (jen-tl-muhn-lee) (adj)
10. Depicted – (dih-pikt-ed) (v)
11. Courtly - (kohrt-lee) (adj)
12. Piety – (pahy-i-tee) (n)
13. Obligations – (ob-li-gey-shuhn) (n)
14. Facility – (fuh-sil-i-tee) (n)
15. Spontaneity (spon-tuh-nee-i-tee) (n)
16. Affectation (af-ek-tey-shuhn) (n)
a.  an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment
b.  chivalrous, courteous, or honourable
c.  the quality of being religious or reverent
d.  (of a person or manner) feeling or appearing casually calm and relaxed; not displaying anxiety, interest, or enthusiasm
e.  the condition of performing as a result of a sudden impulse or inclination and without premeditation or external stimulus
f.  give particular emphasis or importance to (a point, statement, or idea) made in speech or writing
g.  Portrayed in words, described
h.  aloof and objective
i.   behaviour, speech, or writing that is pretentious and designed to impress
j.  a person’s way of standing or moving
k.  a person who attends a royal court as a companion or adviser to the king or queen
l.   not forced or produced by effort
m. Absence of difficulty or effort, a natural ability to do or learn something well and easily
n.  having a striking appearance or style, typically by being excessively bright, colourful, or ostentatious
o.  a person of wide knowledge or learning in several fields of study
p.  very polite or refined, as befitting a royal court


1. f 2. o 3. k 4. h 5. d
6. j 7. n 8. l 9. b 10. g
11. p 12. c 13. a 14. m 15. e
11. i