Do you care if you’re kept in mind after death?The yearning for
immortality courses through ancient literature like lifeline. Mortals look for unending life, as Gilgamesh diving for the never-ceasing flower or Thetis dipping Achilles in the River Styx; heroes aim for undying fame in deeds of terrific strength, wit, or piety; and gods and human beings alike hold out hope of death being reversed, whether through the magical repair of body Isis achieved for Osiris, or through an errand to the underworld, as Demeter went to fetch Persephone, or Orpheus his Eurydice. Through every ancient deed of bold, every speech of appeal, pulses the wild hope of permanence and the inescapable ache of ending.But, to judge from my own trainees’vitals, this pulse has sagged in modern veins. This past week, we started checking out Paradise Lost, the legendary poem a young Milton had actually imagined delegating a world that”would not willingly let [it] die “; therefore I asked my trainees to discuss the creation or accomplishment that, if it were possible, would be remembered long after their own deaths. Much of their responses would have surprised an Achaean warrior– they desired to find new elements, produce prosthetics linked to the nervous system, compose a piece of music that would not be forgotten, cure cancer, begin structures for clean water or worldwide adoption. But more than all these, the ancients would by amazed by the considerable minority who said
,”I don’t actually care if I’m remembered or not.” Forget the ancients– I myself was shocked, and questions swirled. Was this lethargy or knowledge
? Can you genuinely love life if you do not care for its memory? In any event, my plan to evoke a sweeping illustration of the”universality” of the human yearning for deathlessness was quite crushed, and I began to question may have formed my trainees’unexpected reaction. 3 supposals present themselves to me. I question whether the Version has much to do with it. The ideal of the hero
significantly shifted following our Lord’s very first introduction: within a couple of centuries, the heroic perfect included a lot more of the servant-leader archetype and a lot less of the glory-seeking warrior or self-dependent magnanimous man– a shift that can be clearly traced in literature, and that remains with us today. Could it be that the impulse for glory-seeking was likewise transfigured by Christianity? The Christian admonition to “set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth”takes the wind out of the sails of ambition for earthly renown; the Christian guarantee of redemption in Christ mercifully deflates the need for guys to save themselves; the Christian assurance of resurrected life beyond the grave– certainly, of all earthly life as preparation for that life– gets rid of the pressure to extend this life beyond death. And any Christians like Milton, who still yearned for a long lasting name this side of death, have actually plainly imbibed enough paganism in their classical education to overshadow the inconsistent claims of their faith. I believe my students, if pressed, would use Christianized descriptions like these for their absence of care for their mortal memory. Second of all, and subconsciously perhaps, I think their attitude also comes of living in a culture of ephemera. The number of things in a student’s life are made to sustain? Immaterial suitables– fads in style, styles of popular song, patterns in interior design, crazes for Silly Bandz and Fidget Spinners– are anticipated, even preferred, to hurry through and from our memories; and the product things made in action to these, from clothes to devices to playthings to mechanical pencils and plastic pens, are constructed with quality so bad and life expectancy so brief that we feel justified in replacing them as quickly as we tire of them. We deceive ourselves if we believe that living in a landscape of land fills will not form our yearnings. Lastly, I wonder whether the yearning for immortality is certainly a deep-planted human yearning, which the Version ought to fulfill rather of replace, and which even a culture of ephemera can not entirely root out– but which
has actually been abducted and pressed into the service of a lesser yearning: the desire for fame. Whereas the ancients wished to be kept in mind after death, fame is a desire to be remembered during one’s life time(or at least, for a duration of it). Fame is the fate of immortality in a culture of immediate satisfaction. Celebrities and athletes have actually replaced the warrior and the poet in my trainees ‘creativities; and while the latter sought for an undying name, the previous pursue a popularity like fireworks– smoke and light and after that nothing, a bright brief burst that the world will willingly let die.In his Preface to Paradise Lost, C.S. Lewis writes that some state the”gulfs in between the ages”encountered when reading old books are best navigated by focusing on ” The Imperishable Human Heart “– in other words , searching for the enduring
, universal feelings and choices that are in our own hearts no less than Achilles ‘or Aeneas ‘. But while there’s a place for this technique, states Lewis, it is ultimately inadequate, for “when you have stripped off exactly what the human heart in fact was in this or that culture, you are entrusted to a miserable abstraction completely unlike the life truly lived by any human “– and, simply as I did, it naively ignores that exactly what one may think about a “universal longing”remains in fact rather particular.Rather, “Instead of stripping the knight of his armour you can attempt to put his armour on yourself; rather of seeing how the courtier would look without his lace, you can attempt to see how you would feel with his lace; that is, with his honour, his wit, his royalism,” suggests Lewis.
“You must, so far as in you lies, become an Achaean chief while reading Homer, a middle ages knight while checking out Malory, and an eighteenth century Londoner while checking out Johnson,” for “you understand … humanity or other universal precisely by studying all the various things it can become, “and the objective of reading is “To enjoy our full humankind [by learning how to include] within us possibly at all times, and on celebration to actualize, all the modes of feeling and thinking through which man has passed.”This, then, is exactly what I wish to do with my students. It’s not that I wish they would trade the futility of popular culture for the futility of ancient paganism; far from it. If these supposals do indeed trace out some of the factors that my trainees can not have compassion with the longing for immortality, then I fear it is not primarily nobility however apathy that encourages them. I would not want for them the life of Gilgamesh’s desperate aiming, of Achilles’ bitter resignation– however even less would I long for them to pour out their energies chasing the mirage of ephemeral fame, just to quit at the end stating it’s the next life that matters anyhow. Exactly what I wish is that, by entering the armor of an Achaean warrior, my trainees would be disturbed by the strength of a yearning they have actually not felt, and would begin to see contemporary lethargy as the oddity. I wish that, rather than seeing the Version as a validation for laziness, they would start to grasp its fullness as the fulfillment of ancient longing. I wish that, counting this life neither too much or too little,
they would love it, living both for the sake of “the third and 4th generation”which Scripture calls us to be conscious, as well as of the weight of heavenly splendor it informs us we might be working out even now. I wish that they, and I, would long to be remembered after death– by those who follow us, possibly; however lastly by our Lord.