Mankind has always been fascinated with the idea of immortality. Cultures from all across the world have stories or fables that allude to this fascinating fate. While physical immortality is a rather far-fetched idea, a certain level can be achieved. Poets have been keeping people alive for millennia with their words and artists have been capturing eternal youth in portraits and sculptures for generations. With memory, art, and legacy, it seems that immortality is a very obtainable thing to the average mortal. One such example of this can be found in Homer’s The Illiad.
The character Achilles, an incredibly strong and fearsome warrior, is given a choice that will determine his destiny. He must choose between fighting in the war or staying home with his family. If he chooses to stay, he will live a long and pleasant life. If he chooses to fight in the war, though he is destined to die, his death will be a glorious one. He will be forever remembered for his courage, valiance, and excellence. In the end, Achilles chooses to fight in the war and die a hero’s death. He chooses to leave his family; he chooses to sacrifice his life for an everlasting fame. In this way, Achilles achieves immortality.
The prophecy could not have been truer. Achilles truly lives on in the hearts of many in our modern society as students and teachers alike study his story. From his sacrifice, Achilles has given the modern world a valuable tale filled with lessons and parables that can still be applied today. Another example of immortality can be found in the works of Shakespeare. In Sonnet 18, the speaker of the poem is talking to a close friend. He begins by comparing the youth and beauty of the friend as a summer’s day. By the end of the poem, however, the friend has actually transformed into the summer’s day.
The friend has become the standard for which beauty can and should be judged. The speaker then decides that the only answer to such beauty is to immortalize it. The speaker of the poem accomplishes this daunting task through verse. As long as there are human eyes, the speaker believes that the poetry will live on and so will the friend. He will have saved his friend from the oblivion of death. Interestingly enough, Sonnet 18 is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known sonnets. Even though hundreds of years have passed, the speaker of the poem has held true to his word and has kept his friend’s youth and beauty alive.
Another kind of immortality can be seen in the legacies that people leave behind. One such person is Dante Alighieri. Dante composed some of the greatest literary works in the Italian language and is known worldwide for his literature. During his time, an overwhelming amount of poetry was written in Latin, making it available only to the wealthy and educated classes. Dante was very opposed to this and decided to write some of his major works in the Tuscan dialect instead. This was highly unusual for the time but was essential for the establishment of the Italian language.
His actions left behind a legacy that still benefits and affects society to this day. Dante is still recognized for his influence on language and his accomplishments in the literary world. Today, Dante is known as “The Father of the Italian Language” and “The Supreme Poet”. Since his death in 1321, there have been several celebrations held to remember his great works. In this way, Dante’s will live forever. Though immortality is possible, it is not all happiness and bliss. By entrusting a name to the hands of mortals, there is a great risk for error. Memories fade, art is misinterpreted, and legacies dissolve over time.
In the case of Achilles, all that was left behind was a story. While it is true that Achilles was remembered for his courage, he is also remembered for his brutal attitude and short-temperateness. At times, all he is noted for are his flaws. To some, Achilles does not stand as a symbol of courage, but as a warning. Achilles represents the fatal flaw, the great weaknesses that all of mankind has. Not only are things misinterpreted, but memories will fade over time. After several hundred years, there is not a single person left that could tell exactly who the friend in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 was.
Even the gender of the friend is unidentifiable. While many scholars agree that the gender of the friend in the sonnet is male, there are still disputes over this minuscule detail. Only the author himself could give the true answer. Since legacies leave behind a more physical trail that can be traced back, it is a bit harder to be forgotten. The main issue with this form of immortality, however, goes back again to human error. For some legacies, the name or the act is no longer or was never common knowledge to the people.
It is doubtful that a secluded nomad from the jungles of the Amazon will know who Carnegie Hall is named after, who David O. Mckay was, or better yet how Dante Alighieri helped to save the Italian Language. In Homer’s The Odyssey, the hero Odysseus seemed to understand that immortality was not all it was made out to be. When given the opportunity to live forever among the gods with the minor goddess Calypso, Odysseus chooses instead to live out the rest of his life as a mortal with his wife and son. He chooses to return to a life of trial and hardship than live forever. Unlike Achilles, Odysseus does not find immortality to be so warranted.
A life that lasts eternity alludes to a life of solitude. Immortals must suffer as they watch their loved ones pass before them. They must suffer as the times change, without them, doomed to spend eternity as a forgotten name. Immortality is not impossible. It is not far-fetched or unbelievable at all. People in modern, everyday life are becoming eternal by tattooing their names in society. While immortality is not always the lavish gift it is made out to be, it is possible to live forever in the memories of people, the artwork that is created, and within the legacies that a person leaves behind.