“The influence of each human being on others in this life is a kind of immortality.” – John Quincy Adams
In one installment of the series “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman,” the actor explores (among many things) how the Egyptian pharaohs believed they could attain immortality by carving their names deep into the walls of the temples and pyramids. In that way, their names would be on the lips of future generations, thus ensuring immortality for the likes of Ramses and Cleopatra.
The approach is rather simplistic, but it seems to have worked – few of us don’t know the names of at least two great Egyptian rulers.
Beyond the pharaohs, however, immortality can be for writers, too. Instead of carving their names into stone, however, their words are carved deep into the psyche of readers.
Even though he died more than two thousand years ago, the Greek tragedian Euripides’ thoughts live on today in Medea and Elektra and The Trojan Women. Eleventh century Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji is still in print and still vibrant. Chaucer is still taught in English classes, even 600 years after his death. The more-than-400-year-old works of William Shakespeare are as relevant today as they were in his own time. And where would contemporary romance novels (and British TV adaptations) be without the likes of Jane Austen, who died nearly 200 years ago in 1817. The words of nineteenth century U.S. authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain, and twentieth century Edith Wharton and John Steinbeck live on. I have other personal favorites who, I suspect, will stand the test of time as well.
Through the printed page, these authors (and hundreds more) have attained life beyond death. When first published, their works resonated with readers – and they resonate still. The names of great contemporary authors such as Paulo Coelho and Haruki Murakami and Margaret Atwood will surely be added to the roll-call one day.
With all of the noise from the greater-than-one-million books published every year, who might the next immortal be?