Immortality is one the subject of much mythology and folklore. From the stories of the gods themselves, to Achilles and the Styx, to vampires and present day Christian beliefs in an afterlife, the concept of immortality has been with humanity since the beginning of humanity. The wise and ever edifying Homer leaves myths of the elusive ever-lasting life out of his works; did Homer’s Achilles not wear armor? The Odyssey is a story of mortality. Limitation and suffering are what define humanity, yet they are also what give life merit. What motive does a god have to attempt to give his life value? Incessant and unmerciful, it is the very ticking of the clock that prompts a man to attempt greatness. It is a ticking that the gods have no ears for. From Thoreau’s Walden to the basic beliefs of Confucianism, it is accepted that we should look to our history for insight to the present. How then, can we ignore the powerful reoccurring theme of the worth of mortality?
The embodiment of the textbook epic hero, Odysseus discovers the true meaning of life in his journey. After all he has accomplished and suffered for, Odysseus is still human, arrogant and egotistical, at the start of his great voyage. When he and his men are trapped by the powerful Polyphemos, Odysseus uses his wit to emerge victorious over the cycloptic beast. If the Odysseus from a couple years in the future were in faced with this situation, he would have hastily returned to his ship and departed. But, our still young conqueror taunts the beast and foolishly reveals his identity. Blinded and furious, Polyphemos solicits his father Poseidon to bring ruin to his foe’s fated homecoming; something the mighty sea god does over and over. Many hardships later, Odysseus arrives at Kalypso’s island alone and stranded. Lustfully, the nymph makes the pain-giver her prisoner. Odysseus has nothing left but the company of a goddess and time to think. Through his ponderings at the home of Kalypso, Odysseus discovers the most profound of realities. He is given the option to marry Kalypso, an offer that guarantees an eternity of riches, beauty and most tempting of all…life. Holding his mortality sacred, Odysseus refuses on the grounds that all he longs for is to be reunited with faithful Penelope and long-lost Telemachos, tell his story, and live the rest of his life in peace.
From the oldest recorded civilization to every church that exists today, there is not a single religion that is without some way to cheat death. One of the major functions of religion is to ensure us that we are not the only thing we truly are…mortal. Immortality, at least in the plane that we experience, has always been a negative thing. As Achilles puts it “I would rather follow the plow as thrall to another man…than to be a king over all the perished dead.” Bitter and violent, the folklorist vampire is unable to find rest. Burdened with the curse of immortality, they must doom other souls in order to stay alive, a way of life that can only lead to contempt for oneself and un-fulfillment. In the novel Tuck Everlasting a family is cursed to see the death of all their fiends and loved ones. In the movie Dogma two angels condemned to earth desperately seek a way back to home. When a human gains immortality, it is eventually regarded as a curse, not to mention what happens to these poor souls at the end of the world.
Of course we cannot truly obtain immortality. There is no, nor will there ever be a way for human beings to live forever. Although morbid and pessimistic this statement may seem, when truly contemplated it is in truth quite the opposite. Eternity portrays unproductiveness. The essence of life is that there is a death. If there was no time limit, where is the motivation? The simple fact that any day could be the last is what makes life exciting and worth living. There is but one way to achieve mortality: through a legacy. When one is talked about beyond his years, he is not dead for he lives on in the memories and the stories of memories of his life. Odysseus fact or fiction has been dead for more than 2500 years now. Yet, he still lives on: an incredible fate that the great hero justly deserves.