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A bit of a broad question but I have an image in my head of a very old guy locked away from society working on something no one else cares about, it could be because it's archaic or because it's so specific to his own obsessions. One would say "Mr Prof has been engaged in a very ______ study for the past hundred years".

I feel like the word is based on a historical figure name? I.e. a Herculean task, the Socratic Method, etc. It's a word like that? I thought it was "Ascetic" at first but that's not it at all.

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You're quite close :) The word you're looking for is esoteric, meaning

of special, rare, or unusual interest

and

requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group

The word is not based on the name of a historical figure, but comes from the Greek word esōterikós, "belonging to an inner circle".

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    Would it be possible to get some feedback in addition to the downvote? As far as I can tell this answers the question, and is a correct use of the word "esoteric" as the OP intended. If I've misunderstood the question, or the answer is wrong, I'd like very much to improve it. – cigien Mar 28 at 0:54
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I’d go with arcane, which has synonyms given by AHD at mysterious.

https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?id=M5558100

Synonyms: mysterious, esoteric, arcane, occult, cryptic, enigmatic

These adjectives mean beyond human power to explain or understand. Something mysterious arouses wonder and inquisitiveness: "The sea lies all about us.... In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life" (Rachel Carson). What is esoteric is mysterious because only a select group knows and understands it: a compilation of esoteric philosophical essays. Arcane applies to what is hidden from general knowledge: arcane economic theories. Occult suggests knowledge reputedly gained only by secret, magical, or supernatural means: an occult rite. Cryptic suggests a sometimes deliberately puzzling terseness: His roommate left cryptic messages alluding to his whereabouts. Something enigmatic is mysterious and puzzling: The biography struggles to make sense of the artist's enigmatic life.

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The term would be obscure. However, I would suggest, one mans obscurity is another mans fame.

After all, natural philosophy was the obscure passions of the peripatetic school of philosophy in antiquity (and of Socrates in his early life - according to reports), but in the long run it has burst into the glorious fruit we now see all around us.

Personally, despite the many millions of people now engaged in the physical disciplines and the scientific life, I'd be surprised if, were they to be transplanted to antiquity, that many would opt for that way of life or thought. It would be too 'obscure'. It's only because of the many visible fruits of the project of natural philosophy that many engage in that life.

In other words, I'm suggesting that your analysis is somewhat superficial.

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