Monday, February 05, 2007

"THE LAST MAN WHO KNEW EVERYTHING" -- including Aramaic:
Scientist Young, international man of mystery
The Last Man Who Knew Everything Thomas Young, the Anonymous Genius Who Proved Newton Wrong and Deciphered the Rosetta Stone, Among Other Surprising Feats Andrew Robinson

By Michael Sims, Special to The [LA] Times

SO is the title of Andrew Robinson's new book hyperbole? Of course it is. We all know that no one person can encompass all knowledge, that people who aspire to are nothing more than "Jeopardy!" freaks. But now and then, someone comes along who seems to have received several people's share of curiosity and insight and talent. Thomas Jefferson might be a good example.

Nor are such fabulous beasts extinct: Consider the contemporary English polymath Jonathan Miller, who has excelled in comedy, medicine, the visual arts and television and opera direction.

Born in England in 1773, Young grew up a Quaker but by early adulthood had rejected most of the group's puritanical tenets. He was a child prodigy. All the evidence indicates that he was reading by age 2. Nor were these picture books about duckies; his family reported that by the venerable age of 4, he had twice read through the Bible. Soon he was studying botany, zoology, languages, mathematics. With superhero speed, he absorbed the Greek and Latin that dominated university curricula at the time and on his own branched off into Syriac, Chaldee, Hebrew and Samaritan.

"Chaldee" is an old term for Aramaic and "Samaritan" just means Hebrew as written by the Samaritans. Plus he nearly deciphered the Rosetta Stone. Not bad for a scientist.

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