Ode To a Renaissance Man

If Terry Jones had peers they were mostly from other centuries.

I happened to be re-reading Stephen Greenblat’s book The Swerve when I heard about the passing of Terry Jones. Unrelated though that may seem there was a distinct resonance between Jones and the subject of Greenblat’s book.

The Swerve is an account of the recovery of De Rerum Natura, an ancient Roman poem that predicted in broad strokes such elemental truths as atomic theory and the heliocentric solar system. It also had the audacity to suggest that fear of (or longing for) the afterlife is an unproductive illusion which distracts from present-life well being.

The main character of the story is the Italian Renaissance humanist Poggio Bracciolini. He was a highly educated and versatile scholar and bureaucrat who idolized the Classical past and spent a good portion of his life traveling great distances to try and discover lost manuscripts. He also wrote ribald joke books and satirical takedowns of contemporary institutions. He was a member of an entire class of intellectual who all did much the same.

The overlap between high culture and cutting humor really stood out as I contemplated the passing of a founding member of Monty Python. Particularly the one who was a long studied and broadly acknowledged expert in Medieval history.

The Renaissance quality of a person like Terry Jones should not be passed over or down played. His intelligence impacted the world tremendously but entirely toward the good.

I personally know more about philosophy, history, and literature because of Monty Python than I ever would have without it. If only because it gave me the vocabulary to work from and helped me know what questions to ask to begin real learning. And in the rest of his time Jones was a humanist scholar in the very finest traditions.

A perfectly legendary life.

Amateur Everything: slow learner, low earner, long thinker, kind of addicted to going unnoticed.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store