I understand "a man of his age" can be used when certain qualities are expected (or unexpected) at one's age, as in "He is pretty fit for a man of his age."

But when I google "the man of his age", as I found in the paragraph below, aside from the fact that it is not commonly used, I am not sure whether it means he behaves appropriately for his age or is a great figure of his era.

For one of his influence and wealth, he had surprisingly few personal enemies, though of course many musicians attacked the art he represented. Heine called Meyerbeer "the man of his age," and Heine as usual was correct. Meyerbeer's music, as Heine pointed out, was more social than individual.

Could you clarify which of them is right, or if the expression could be ambiguous?

Thank you in advance.


1 Answer 1


They are two different meanings of the same phrase, a bit like the way the same word can have more than one definition.

In "he's fit for a man of his age" the word age refers to the length of time the man has been alive and compares him to other men of the same generation.

In "He is the man of his age" the word age refers to the period in which he was active, or at least well known (in Meyerbeer's case the early to middle 19 century). What Heine was saying was that Meyerbeer was the most influential, important or typical person of that time. A few decades earlier and in a different field Napoleon Bonaparte could have been called "The man of his age".

  • Thank you for your kind help and concise explanation!
    – kimweonill
    Nov 7, 2020 at 1:32

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