A ticket to eternity

“Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity. And so we ask ourselves: will our actions echo across the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we are gone, and wonder who we were, how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?”

Odysseus, “Troy” 2004

“…All will be still, that sang and that did struggle,

That glistened and rejoiced:

The greenness of my eyes, the gold of my hair,

And this my tender voice.

 

Life will continue with its soft hot bread,

With day’s oblivion.

All will continue – under outstretched heavens

As if I’d never been!

Marina Tsvetaeva

 

The very idea of eternity is as old as humanity itself. A human being always believed there would be another door opening once this finite world comes to an end. “Otherwise what are we living for? If there is nothing that follows, why should we bother with deeds, especially when life is so short?” he has been asking for centuries. Religions succeeded to offer a solution only partially, promising continuation of existence in a spiritual form yet failing to satisfy desires of vain ones. And those vain ones dreamt about preserving their names as much (if not more) as about endless physical existence. Eternal life without eternal fame is nothing but boredom, still, religions never encouraged such ambitions, reserving this privilege for prophets and saints only.

The vain, proud and narcissist had finally discovered the recipe, simple as anything genius, – one’s actions need to be significantly grand to be carved in memory of generations to come. They found the key of true immortality, much more reliable than ephemeral promises of afterlife. “The life of dead is placed in the memory of the living”, professed Cicero whose sharp mind won him a ticket to eternity. And there were many brave, wise and talented whose names and stories reached us from thousands of years ago, yet there also were “kingdoms and kings, and of them no trace has been left, as of a wind that has sped over a desert“.

But what about those, whom life did not grant with any excellence? Don’t they deserve to be remembered? ”They do!” proclaimed Herostratus, setting the Temple of Artemis on fire. Despite all attempts of his contemporaries to erase the very name of Herostratus from human memory, it did survive, giving a hope to less talented and fortunate and also making an edition to the earlier statement – “one’s actions need to be shocking enough to be carved in memory of generations to come”. The new edition proved itself many times, and for every Jesus there was Juda.

But what about those, less talented yet not opting for notoriety, are they doomed for oblivion? Apparently, they aren’t. Simonetta Vespucci, Mona Lisa and Raphael’s “Fornarina” have been on the altar of beauty-admirers for centuries and will remain there. What is their deed? Whereas Simonetta’s “only” achievement was her remarkable, glorified by Italian Renaissance, beauty, Mona Lisa’s ticket to eternity was paid from pockets of her rich husband. Eternal youth and fame of classic Renaissance beauties left many women envious; some even tried to repeat their success. One of them was Marchesa Luisa Casati. Investing in her immortality, this eccentric noble woman created numerous copies of herself in portraits and sculptures by the artists whom she lavishly supported.

Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci by Sandro Botticelli
Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci by Sandro Botticelli

The present-day society seems to be infused with narcissism, vanity and hedonism as never before. Countless “selfies” invade social networks and blogs, at times collecting an impressive amount of fans with similar ideas and desires. Whether or not they are haunted by the ambition to remain in human memory, it is very unlikely they ever get there. As never before, technology facilitates creation and distribution of one’s image but it cannot guarantee eternity yet. One day selfies will share the destiny of many nameless faces from old family albums that tickle our curiosity with their silent questions for a few moments before disappearing on the shelf again.

Portrait of Marchesa Casati by Adolf de Meyer
Portrait of Marchesa Casati by Adolf de Meyer

Immortality does not stand ordinary. And even if destiny ever granted ordinary beings with a ticket to eternity, they happened to be fortunate to cross a path of genius and were lit up by their brightness, just as a ray of light reveals dust in the air. How many were enviously staring at Simonetta’s cold and perfect profile, secretly wishing there would be someone wondering about them long after they are gone? Has there been anyone not asking “Why not me?”. Perhaps, we forget that being an inspiration to an Artist is a rare talent which means to be a Co-Creator of Art. May there always be the Art, the Artist and the Muse, and may Art remain eternal, saving from oblivion all those who desire and deserve it.