List of people claimed to be immortal in myth and legend
This is a list of people claimed to be immortal. This list does not reference purely spiritual entities (spirits, gods, demons, angels), non-humans (monsters, aliens, elves), or artificial life (artificial intelligence, robots).
Historical, mythological, and religious immortals
This list comprises people claimed to achieve a deathless existence on Earth. This list does not contain those people who are supposed to have attained immortality through the typical means of a religion, such as a Christian in Heaven. It also does not include people whose immortality involves living in a place not on Earth, such as Heracles on Mount Olympus or the Eight Immortals of Taoism in Mount Penglai. It also does not include people who, according to their religion, became deities or actually were deities the whole time, such as Jesus of Nazareth (who as part of the Trinity was, according to Christianity, also God) or Parashurama (who was, according to Hinduism, an avatar of Vishnu).
These lists are in chronological order, though some dates are approximate.
People who claimed to be immortal themselves
These people have all verifiably made claims of immortality, or at least lifespans of indefinite reach.
- Leonard "Live-Forever" Jones (1797–1868), an eccentric who ran for President of the United States in every election between the late 1840s and 1860s on a platform of immortality. He believed that mortality was simply a matter of poor morals, and with prayer anyone could live forever. He died of pneumonia at the age of 71.
Claimed to be immortal by others
Often the records are too few to determine if these people actually claimed immortality themselves, or even existed. However, significant sources show they are claimed to be immortal by various religions and folk legends.
- Tithonus, who in Greek mythology was granted eternal life but not eternal youth.
- Several originally mortal men and women whom the ancient Greeks considered historical figures, like Achilles, Helen, Ino, Memnon, Menelaus, and Peleus, achieved physical immortality through the intervention of the gods.
- The Wandering Jew (b. 1st century BC), a Jewish shoemaker. According to legend, he taunted Jesus on his way to crucifixion. Jesus cursed him to "go on forever till I return." Thus, the Wandering Jew is to live until the second coming of Jesus.
- John the Apostle (AD 6-101), one of Jesus's followers. Some Mormons, in conjunction with their own scriptures, interpret the biblical scripture found at John 21:21-23 to mean that John will tarry or remain on the earth until the Second Coming.
- The Three Nephites (between AD 34 and 35), three men described in the Book of Mormon who are given power over death in order to fulfill their desire to minister among men until Jesus comes again.
- Sir Galahad (dates for his life fall between the 2nd century and the 6th century), one of the three Arthurian knights to find the Holy Grail. Of them, Galahad is the only one to have achieved immortality by it.
- Merlin (dates for his life fall between the 2nd century and the 6th century); in some accounts, Merlin is trapped by an enchantment by Nimue, and while some end with Merlin dying, in others he remains in the trap (variously a tomb, a cave, or mist) indefinitely.
- Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel (15th century AD), alchemists who were reputed in later manuscripts to have acquired immortality through the use of the Philosopher's stone.
- Count of St. Germain (1712–1784) variously described as a courtier, adventurer, charlatan, inventor, alchemist, pianist, violinist and an amateur composer.
- Keanu Reeves (b. September 2, 1964), popularly claimed to be immortal owing to his seeming lack of visible aging and a similarity of appearance to historical figures such as Charlemagne and Paul Mounet.
Notable failed quests for immortality
- Gilgamesh (possibly reigned during the 26th century BC) after the death of his companion, Enkidu, Gilgamesh pursues immortality to avoid Enkidu's fate. Gilgamesh fails two tests and does not become immortal, realising instead that mortals attain immortality through lasting works of civilization and culture. Gilgamesh's story is among the oldest stories recorded.
- Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China who reigned during 259 BC–210 BC, also sought immortality in his old age. Twice he sent hundreds of people under the direction of Xu Fu to find the legendary elixir of life, but failed. He died of mercury poisoning after he had eaten too many mercury pills, prescribed by his court doctors to make him immortal.
- Joseph Stalin hired the Ukrainian pathophysiologist Alexander A. Bogomolets to conduct research into life extension. Having been notified of Bogomoletz's death in 1946, Stalin fell into a severe fit of anger and complained, “The scoundrel promised life eternal, but died at age 65. He deceived me, that scum!”
- While Mount Olympus actually exists, the Greeks understood a distinction between the Olympus of the Gods and the part that could be seen by humans. See Dudley, John (1846), Naology: or, A treatise on the origin, progress, and symbolical import of the sacred structures of the most eminent nations and ages of the world, F. and J. Rivington, p. 22
- Scott, William J.; Wylly, William Henry (1868), Scott's monthly magazine, Volume 6, Issues 1-7, J.J. Toon, p. 725, OCLC 6124046
- Dag Øistein Endsjø. Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2009.
- The Immortal by JJ Dewey
- 3 Nephi 28