Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Immortality



"Two fates bear me on to the day of death.
If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy 
My journey home is gone, but my glory never dies. 
If I voyage back to the fatherland I love, 
My pride, my glory dies... 
True, but the life that's left me will be long, 
The stroke of death will not come on me quickly." 
- Achilles on his death in The Illiad, Book 9, 499-505


Some legends are told
Some turn to dust or to gold
But you will remember me
Remember me for centuries
- Fall Out Boy, "Centuries"


I don't wanna die, I'm a God,
Why can't I live on?
-Iron Maiden, "Powerslave"


The knowledge that one day we will die makes us crazy.

Our whole species is insane.

We are these wonderful special snowflakes. Each one different, each one unique, too weird to live, to rare to die.

And yet, we will.

And it makes us angry. Resigned. Hopeful. Insane. Fearful. Crazed.

There is only one form of immortality we can count on. We talk of heavens and hells, we talk of life beyond death, but there is only one thing that can ensure our existence is not forgotten down the line.

Fame (and it's cousin, infamy).

Achilles, long dead these three THOUSAND years, is a name familiar to most of us in the West. Alexander the Great. Julius Caesar. Genghis Khan. Leonardo Da Vinci. Gustavus Adolphus. Napoleon Bonaparte. Adolf Hitler. Joseph Stalin. Winston Churchhill. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. John F. Kennedy.
Helen of Troy. Cleopatra. Joan of Arc. Elizabeth I. Catherine of Aragon. Catherine the Great of Russia. Marilyn Monroe. 

These are names I know, and I'll bet you do too. And we know them because of great deeds, because at some point in history, they did something noteworthy, something of which we have taken note. And their names live on.

They do not.  But their names do. Stories and tales of their deeds, actions, words live on.

And there are many who try to achieve this immortality, and fail. Or they fail to do it widely. Or their works live on, and we don't know their names without looking it up, if it is even preserved. I can't name the architect of a single one of the Pyramids, but his works live on. I can't name the artist who cast the Statue of Liberty, but his work is a symbol of my country. 

Where does that leave those of us who are not heads of state? Leaders? Artists? People who live on farms, who work in desk jobs or factories, who build and labor and raise families and die?

Or even some of us who are?


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
-Percy Bryce Shelley, Ozymandias

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