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).
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 listings are in chronological order, though some dates are approximate.
- Ziusudra (also Zi-ud-sura and Zin-Suddu; Hellenized Xisuthros: "found long life" or "life of long days") of Shuruppak is listed in the WB-62 Sumerian king list recension as the last king of Sumer prior to the deluge. He is subsequently recorded as the hero of the Sumerian flood epic. He is also mentioned in other ancient literature, including The Death of Gilgamesh and The Poem of Early Rulers, and a late version of The Instructions of Shuruppak refers to Ziusudra. Akkadian Atrahasis ("extremely wise") and Utnapishtim ("he found life"), as well as biblical Noah ("rest") are similar heroes of flood legends of the Ancient Near East.
- Sage Markandeya, who was granted immortality at the age of sixteen.
- Tithonus, who in Greek mythology was granted eternal life but not eternal youth.
- Achilles, Helen, Ino, Memnon, Menelaus, and Peleus, were said to have 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, a mist, or a tree) indefinitely.
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.
- 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
- Transliteration from "The Flood Tablet" Tablet 256/Block 7 in The British Museum: ti digir-gin7 mu-un-na-sum-mu | zi da-ri2 digir-gin7 mu-un<na>-ab-e11-de3 (They brought down to him eternal life. Like that of a God). The Primeval Flood Catastrophe: Origins and Early Development in Mesopotamian Traditions - Y.S. Chen Page 244
- Dag Øistein Endsjø. Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2009.
- The Immortal by JJ Dewey
- 3 Nephi 28