Today, entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and Society 5.0, history again repeats itself with the need to ask new questions: How can we combine the elements of AI, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, to follow in our great ancestor’s footsteps? How can we further move the wheels of history?
We need only look to three brilliant historic Italian multipotentialites to comprehend how embracing multiple talents is as essential today as it has ever been to the advancement of the future and creating a space for ourselves in it.
Throughout history, times of uncertainty and upheaval have always separated the ones who find solutions from the ones who only see problems. People like Archimedes, Dante Alighieri, and Marco Polo, multipotentialites, are among Italy’s gems who solidified in time ideas of inventions, the principles of love and sin, immortalized in works of art, buildings, writings, and craters on the Moon when others saw none thus paving the way in global connection, technology, design, architecture, politics, language, art, and science.
The Renaissance period was marked by political instability and religious upheaval that catalyzed revolutionary ideas in art, science, technology, politics, architecture and design. Instead of shutting down, the luminaries of the time came together. They thought outside of the box, bringing together their diverse pool of ideas leading to an explosion of new literature, art, politics, technology, globalization, inventions, and scientific principles that are the basis and foundation of the systems we live by today.
Our story begins in c.287 BCE, with the birth of Archimedes of Syracuse. Archimedes was a mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer, and inventor from the ancient city of Syracuse in Sicily.
He is famous for uttering the phrase, “Eureka, Eureka!” (“I found it, I found it!”) as he ran naked through the streets celebrating his discovery that determined the buoyancy of an object and its subsequent ability to float on water, known today as the Archimedes Principle.
We can credit inventions and discoveries such as the screw, odometer, pulley, and lever to Archimedes. His pursuits in mathematics and physics also resulted in discoveries relating to the area of circles or the approximation of Pi, the surface area and volume of a sphere, spirals, and much more. He also played an important military defense role with his inventions, such as the claw, the catapult and stone throwers, that successfully defended the city from the invading Romans for a period of time.
Could you imagine where we would be today without Archimedes’ innovation and determination?
What would the world be like if he had even for one second considered following only one creative passion?
In today’s technologically rich age, hyper-connectivity and the sharing of ideas are vital parts of daily life. We sometimes take for granted our single- click connection to other countries, ideas and innovations. However, in 12th-century Europe, this concept was inconceivable until the re-creation of the Silk Road and the arrival of its subsequent Venetian explorer, Marco Polo.
Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant whose natural curiosity and attention to detail, coupled with his passion for travel, exploration, and storytelling, led to the assimilation of ideas between China, India, and Europe, later sparking the Age of Exploration for Europeans. The Silk Road was named the world’s first World Wide Web, and Polo was one of the most well-known Europeans to travel it between 1271-1295. Polo’s curiosity paved the way for other historical figures, such as Christopher Columbus, to explore different continents, including the Americas and Asia, contributing to the global interconnection of the world today.
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It is the turn of the 14th century in Florence, Italy. The Father of the Italian language, Dante Alighieri, has just been exiled and banned for life from his birthplace. Alighieri would use this unjust punishment not to complain but to go on to write perhaps the most influential Italian literary work of all time written in Italian instead of Latin (the language of the nobility) with the vision of reaching a wider audience.
A scathing commentary of Italian political policies, and, despite its often bleak and violent language and imagery, the Divine Comedy speaks to a larger principle of love, sin and redemption. His works have inspired other multipotentialite artists and writers, from Salvador Dali to Ezra Pound, through the centuries. Alighieri’s ideas of facing the gates of Hell and the progression through Purgatory and Heaven also reflect the creative process and life itself. This, and the consequential revoking of Alighieri’s exile from Florence almost 700 years later, is the original reminder that rock bottom is usually a beginning rather than an end and that the principles of love, perseverance, and redemption will ultimately lead us to the Promised Land.
Like those curious and courageous historical multipotentialites, we too have an opportunity to look inward to find what makes us truly unique, to find those passions that we love and yearn for, all the while contributing to the technological and artistic pursuits of the world. After all, what does it mean to make a living if we aren’t really living at all?
“O human race, born to fly upward, wherefore at little wind dost thou so fall.” This call from Dante Alighieri would ring true throughout the ages. A call to action for all of humanity to wake up – to find that passion, that spark, that talent, and run like hell toward it. The world – humanity – needs each of us to follow our spark and do what makes us feel alive. Examine your inner Archimedes, Alighieri, and Polo – and create. Write. Paint. Travel. Explore. Read. Invent. Inspire. Transcend.
The fate of the future lies within us.
Digital collage by Giuseppe Lepore