Into Extra Time

Deborah Steiner

  • Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton by Emily Wilson
    Johns Hopkins, 289 pp, £35.50, December 2004, ISBN 0 8018 7964 7

So great was the Greeks’ concern with living too long – what Emily Wilson calls ‘overliving’– that they had a cautionary myth about it. The immortal rosy-fingered Eos, who is renewed each night by a therapeutic plunge into Okeanos, falls in love with the mortal Tithonos, abducts him, and bears him off to a life of everlasting love at the ends of the earth. But, like all fairytale victims, Eos gets the wish-formula wrong. Asking Zeus that her beloved might enjoy immortality, she forgets to demand the second quality that distinguishes gods from men; not just undying, they are un-ageing too (there is even a Botox-like salve which goddesses and a few favoured mortals use as make-up). So Tithonos remains eternally alive but is locked up in the Greek equivalent of a retirement home, hidden away behind doors and reduced to being fed with pap by an embarrassed Eos.

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