Let me just get it out of the way. I really would have like to start with Proust as the historical foundation for this blog. Unfortunately, he's not really responsible for the namesake, nor was he the first of his kind. He will be in here soon though, forever searching the Champs-Élysées for Gerard's lobster.
Isaac Casaubon was a French scholar who live in late 16th and early 17th century. A Huguenot by birth, Casaubon struggled all his life beset by Calvinists, Protestants, Catholics, and Anglicans to try and advance the knowledge of western Europe. A model of religious tolerance in his day, he traveled between Switzerland, France, and finally England afraid of violence simply for the way he was brought up. While his specific accomplishments are important, he was perhaps the last man to be considered the most learned man in the entire world. Now, this is an awful Euro-centric view. Civilizations in Asia and the Middle East certainly had their share of scholars during the Renaissance, but none searched among their number to find a Most Intelligent Man in the World. When Casaubon died, western Europe was on the cusp of the age of the Rosicrucians, the rebirth of the Cult of Isis from the ashes of ancient Rome, the murders of Elizabeth Bathory, and obsession with the Terra Icognita that would last until this very day.
Do we have a smartest man alive today? Some would certainly say Stephen Hawking. But does Stephen Hawking know everything about everything? Perhaps the scope of what can be considered knowledge has expanded so far that no one man can know it. Either way, Casaubon struck his own blow against superstition and mysticism before his death by compiling evidence proving that the Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of texts by Hermes Trismegistus that were supposed to reveal ancient truths from the time of Moses, was written sometime in the 3rd century A.D. While not everyone believed him, his efforts to promote rationalism in the face of both religious intolerance and the search for (not always true) esoteric knowledge. Pretty cool guy, eh fights the superstition and doesnt afraid of anything.
Casaubon is probably the most relevant to people today by virtue of sharing the same name as the narrator in Umberto Eco's 1988 novel Foucault's Pendulum. There too Eco's character seeks to overturn the tide of new age craziness and Denver International Airport plots of the modern day. Rather than the Corpus Hermeticum, the characters of the novel also handle the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, piecing together historical evidence that it was written by agents of the Russian Czar rather than an ancient cabal of Rabbis. The whole book in general is a great web of conspiracies and historical urban myths, really.
Either way, Casaubon and the Corpus as a whole are two of my personal touchstones for how knowledge can turn back the tides of ignorance, and how history can change the present, and vice versa.