Humanity's Fascination With Immortality
Humanity's Fascination With Immortality
Humanity has always been fascinated with the allure of immortality and although in the beginning vampires were not a symbol of this, as time passed and society changed so did the ideas and perceptions surrounding them. The most important thing to ask yourself at this point is ‘What is immortality?' Unfortunately this isn't as easily answered as asked. The Merriam Webster Dictionary says immortality is ‘the quality or state of being immortal; esp : unending existence' while The World Book Encyclopedia states it as ‘the continued and eternal life of a human being after the death of the body.' A more humorous definition can be found in The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce:
‘A toy which people cry for,
And on their knees apply for,
Dispute, contend and lie for,
And if allowed
Would be right proud
Eternally to die for.'
While all of these are accurate interpretations to some extent none of them encompass all of what immortality really is. The reason for this is simple; there is no true definition or guideline by which to follow. Immortality means something different to each and every person on this earth. Down through the ages people have been immortalized by deeds, words, songs, poetry, and a number of other endeavors, but some have always sought the elusive Philosopher's Stone; the answer to true immortality
Since the beginning of recorded history, everlasting life has been pursued by old and young, rich and poor. One need only look to the Gilgamesh Epic, the oldest story in the world, to discover where these roots lay. Gilgemesh, the mighty king and warrior, fearing his own demise, seeks out Utnapishtim, a mortal made immortal by the gods, in the hopes that he'll reveal the secret of eternal life. The immortal tells the king of a flower, which when eaten, bestows eternal life. Note that the answer is tangible and real, something that can be seen and held. Not immortality for the soul, but for the body. In the end Gilgamesh fails at his quest, but he is all the wiser for his journeys.
The Greeks, too, sought immortality, but it tended to be of a spiritual nature only, because generally the gods were the only ones considered to be true immortals. The gods, however, found numerous ways to immortalize their favorite humans. Many were placed in the sky as constellations, while others were turned into various kinds of flora and fauna. For those not adored by the gods, there was always the Underworld, where all souls went upon death and were judged accordingly; in other words the Greek's version of afterlife.
The Christians have a similar belief when it comes to examining the afterlife, but they also have also created a plethora of ‘Gilgamesh' type legends surrounding the object most commonly known as the Holy Grail which is said to grant immortality. The most popular and well known of these stories can be found within the tales of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table who sought, found, and lost the sacred chalice many times.
Having thus set the stage for mankind's lust for everlasting life I can attempt to show more clearly why the legends of vampires have survived down through the ages. The first vampire, a female, appears in the Gilgamesh Epic, but carrying none of the associations with which we affiliate these beings today. She is Lilith, a beautiful women with the feet of an owl, which symbolize her nocturnal habits. She is a symbol of evil and desolation, and thus easily transferred into the Jewish religion as Adam's first wife, who is banished from Eden and eventually give birth to a race of incubi and succubi, a form of intensely sexual, essence-draining vampires. From there vampires in one form or another can be found in every major culture that ever existed ranging from the ancient Greeks to the dynastic Chinese.
For centuries literature romanticized vampirism, then Hollywood came along pulling believers and skeptics alike into an whole new world of vampire mythology. The vampires' virtual immortality captures us just as it captured Mina in ‘Bram Stoker's Dracula'. She is entranced with the Count's ‘eternal' charisma and his promise for something she's been denied her entire life, to truly live. He offers her an eternity of this and she cannot deny him. ‘Blade' although it contained less sensuality and more animal lust again examines this exact same desire. In the movie there are people willing to do whatever it takes to be ‘embraced' by the vampire clan; steal, kidnap, murder, no request is too great. What's even more interesting is that the vampires themselves aren't content with their lot in life. They desire more, more knowledge, more power, more of whatever they can get. Perhaps this symbolizes that with eternal life comes other struggles, problems that you wouldn't have to deal with otherwise. In other words, be careful what you wish for. These are not the only two modern movies which demonstrate such qualities, ‘The Lost Boys' with Kiefer Sutherland and ‘Interview with a Vampire' with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, both romanticize the lives of vampires, enticing us once again with the sought after whiff of what immortality would be like. But that's not all, not by a long shot, vampires and vampirism have become a deeply rooted part of the American culture. It can be found everywhere from a box of breakfast cereal to a musical performed at the local theater.
In the end one has to ask, ‘What is it that makes immortality and therefore vampires so appealing, where does the fascination come from?' And you don't have to look to far to find the answer. The desire to live forever, escape the inevitable and cheat death is an invariably human quality which few of us can entirely escape. We all fear the unknown to a degree, and that's what death truly is, the last undiscovered country, but even if everyone were to suddenly know all there was to know about the afterlife I think our attraction to immortality would remain, as it does now, until the end of time.
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