Since the earliest recorded days in the oldest books of history, we have been obsessed with immortality.
While grieving the loss of his closest friend, Gilgamesh ascended mountains, fought lions, and, even, crossed the Waters of Death.
Upon reaching his destination, we’re told, he encountered the man called Utnapishtim, a rare survivor of the Great Flood. Though Utnapishtim and his wife had been granted immortality by the gods, he can offer Gilgamesh no such treasure.
“The life that you are seeking,” he tells the king, “you will never find.”
And so the story goes.
* * *
We like our heroes to seek (and, at times, to possess) immortality.
Not that it ever does them much good.
Even those who were, themselves, part-divine discovered immortality to be a rather fickle gift.
The very children of gods— Heracles, Achilles, and the like— did eventually discover life anew among the Islands of the Blessed.
Before this, however, they suffered the same fate as the rest.
They knew death, just like us mortals.
* * *
Those of us who are dissatisfied with stories and tales take action, and seek out immortality for ourselves—
The Elixir of Life. The Fountain of Youth. Ambrosia. The Cup of Jamshid.
No small number of deaths have been attributed to the seeking of such objects.
Possessing hope of immortality, it seems, is a wonderful way to die.
* * *
We are advanced now, yes?
We are developed… and educated… and mature.
We’re past Gilgamesh, past Heracles, past elixirs and fountains and all the rest of them.
We leave the children’s stories to story books and movie screens. To Indiana Jones and Davey Jones and, well, any other Jones who fancies such nonsense.
We are advanced now.
* * *
A few weeks ago, while doing some research for our previous topic, I came across my new favorite phrase. It’s from Ray Kurzweil, whose mission in life is to live long enough to live forever.
I like that. It’s very poetic, especially for a scientist. And I, perhaps like all men and women throughout the course of human history, can’t stop wondering if it’s true.
Is this the same tale that’s been told all along? Or is it something new?
Will the unattainable object now finally fall into our grasp? Or will we hear once more the words of Utnapishtim—
that the life we are seeking we will simply never find?
*Photo Credit: Tony Verdu Carbo (Creative Commons)
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