Death and the Magus

Immortality in the Ancient World

Immortality in the classical world was not just sought by producing offspring to continue the family name and to take over the family property and titles found throughout the earlier agricultural civilisations. The city or other community was sacred and living through it or for it provided a form of transcendent immortality. During the Axial Age reputation had emerged as another form of immortality. Fame in one’s moral community as an athlete, heroic warrior, artist, poet, philosopher, etc. was pursued with fanatical enthusiasm.


Jews and Greeks had only vague ideas of immortality after death as ghostly shades in some subterranean realm like Hades and then only for important people. A few remarkable human beings like Alexander and Julius Caesar could even become gods. The Egyptians expended huge amounts of effort to ensure immortality for their leaders who incarnated their community in some heavenly place. Later in their empire, belief in resurrection of the dead was extended to quite ordinary people.