Off the Shelf: On Immortality

Whether peaseant or King, Emperor or God-Pharoah, death comes for us all. Men of power have saught out its end in vain for millenia. Some looked to magicians or preists promising eternal life whether in this life or the one after, many others attempted to leave a lasting mark upon the earth from which they would be eternally remembered. But history is a fickle mistress, and many great ambitious kings have been forgotten while others for serendipitous reasons have gained the immortality of rememberance. If I ask you to name an Egyptian pharoah which is the first that comes to mind? Probably Tutankhamun. A boy king murdered before achieving any greatness in an attempt to remove him and his dynasty from the pages of history – we see how well that turned out!

Despite the failure of every prior generation the possibility of Immortality and the question of what it would look like still haunts us to this day. In Russia today, the 2045 initiative seeks to use cutting edge science to extend human life and seeks to develop brain to computer interfaces for the sake of one day allowing for full brain transference.

First a poem with a rather pessimistic message to those pursuing immortality. The sand comes for one and all, slave or king…

The Giza Plateau, Cairo, Egypt – taken 2008

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 Bysshe Shelly, Ozymandias of Egypt

And now on a more positive note, yet a similar theme. The Ancient Egyptians, perhaps more so than all other peoples ever to exist, had a drive to acquire immortality. Perhaps this was driven by the nature of their afterlife, that was for the most part a continuation of this life. Although on a psychological level the enteral and enduring nature of Egyptian life and culture must have played it’s part. Being surrounded by temples, thousands of years old, in a land that remained mostly unchanged for all that time. The average Egyptian must have thought that their way of life would continue into eternity and that immortality was truly a possibility. The Pyramids, mummification, and hoards of treasures that filled the tombs of the wealthy for them to use in the next life are all symbolic of this eternal drive.

“O people of the earth, men and women born and made of the elements, but with the spirit of the Divine within you, rise from your sleep of ignorance! Be sober and thoughtful. Realize that your home is not on the earth but in the Light. Why have you delivered yourselves unto death, having power to partake of immortality?”

“Know thyself deathless and able to know all things, all arts, sciences, the way of every life. Become higher than the highest height and lower than the lowest depth. Amass in thyself all senses of animals, fire, water, dryness and moistness. Think of thyself in all places at the same time, earth, sea, sky, not yet born, in the womb, young, old, dead, and in the after death state.”

― Muata Ashby, Ancient Egyptian Proverbs

From the concluding pages of Ovid’s Metamorphosis – The Apotheosis of Julius Caesar. Apotheosis was believed by the Romans to be the process by which a mortal could ascend to become divine after their death. The presence of a fiery comet in the sky shortly after Julius Caesar’s assassination was seen as a sign that his spirit had ascended into the heavens to join the pantheon of the gods. His heir Octavian (Emperor Augustus) made use of the comet on coinage, and took on the title of Divi Filius (son of a God) as he sought to garner favour with the Roman people against Mark Antony.

Yet he, even so, had come from overseas

To join our shrines; but Caesar is a god

In his own city here. He was supreme

In war and peace; though not his great campaigns

Triumphantly concluded, nor his feats

Achieved at home, his glory gained so fast,

Made him a star, a comet new in heaven,

Rather his son. For nothing he achieved

Was greater than to sire this son of his.

To tame the Britons in their sea-girt isle,

To sail victorious up the seven-mouthed Nile

Where the papyrus blows, to annex for Rome

Numdia’s rebel tribesmen and their king,

Juba, and Pontus, bloated with the fame

Of mighty Mithridates, to exult

In triumphs and deserve so many more-

Fine feats indeed, but how can they compare

With being father of so fine an heir,

Under whose sovereignty mankind is given

Such plenteous blessings by the Powers of Heaven?

Ovid, Metamorphoses, Translated by A.D. Melville

I think it fitting to conclude with the words of Nietzsche’s solar prophet: Zarathustra…

“Was that – life?” I will say to death. “Very well! Once more!”

― Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

The Nile, Egypt – taken 2008

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