Is it possible to die more deaths than one?

In pondering my own mortality some words written by Oscar Wilde, the Nineteenth Century Irish poet and dramatist recently came to mind. In his famous poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol he wrote, “For he who lives more lives than one, more deaths than one must die.” Now this poem was written in the short interval of time between his release from Reading Prison and his death as a result of meningitis. And although his is perhaps an extreme example, as regards the dying of more deaths than one it seems to me that we all share this fate.

In addition to being a prominent poet and playwright Oscar Wilde was one of the leading personalities of his day. Wilde argued for the key importance of art in life. His ideas greatly influenced the Aesthetic Movement and he was in great demand on the lecture circuit. At the height of his popularity he had it all. He had married into a wealthy family and had two fine sons. His plays were well received, as was his poetry. He was a sought after speaker and he moved in the best social circles. Then came scandal and ruin.

In 1895, as a result of a sensational and highly public scandal involving charges of homosexual behavior, he was tried and convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to serve two years hard labor at Reading Prison. His wife changed the names of the children and took them abroad, abandoning him to his fate–she visited him once while he was in prison, to inform him of the death of his mother.

Prison was not kind to him, and his health (and financial situation) deteriorated. After his release he removed himself from society and assumed the name “Sebastian Melmoth” --a literary reference to the gothic fictional character, “Melmoth the Wanderer.” It was at this time that he penned the words above, “For he who lives more lives than one, more deaths than one must die,” and within a short time after which he found himself penniless and on his deathbed. Witty to the end, his last words were said to have been: “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.”

But what on earth can we possibly all have in common with the story above–we are not all great public figures and secret homosexuals, so why do we share his fate? It seems to me that the answer lies in our humanity. I would argue that to varying degrees we certainly all live more lives than one.

It seems to me that in the quiet watches of the night when we are alone to ponder our hopes, dreams, fears and aspirations we are able to reflect upon ourselves brutally, and can never share that which is distilled. This is the life of our most private self, the one which we could not fully disclose were it our sincere desire to do so. And for those of us who are parents, husbands, wives or daughters, sisters or brothers, colleagues, co-workers, friends well met, conspirators or strangers on the street, well I would argue that these represent separate and distinct Public lives. So you see we all have at least two types of lives we lead: Private and Public.

“For he who lives more lives than one, more deaths than one must die…”

Are you the same woman to your sister that you are to your husband? Are you the same man to your daughter as you are to your father, or for that matter to yourself? And if not is it a question of dishonesty or necessity, form or function? And how will all of them remark upon your passing, as if you were separate beings. And in the end, does it mean a thing?

She should have died hereafter.
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
– Shakespeare

philosophy discussion board

WB,

Your question evokes of course the saying, “a coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one”. Therein one wonders if the multiple lives we live are acts of a certain kind of cowardice, and if we come from a braver, more singular truth, with the number of lives reduced, our death might mean much more.

Dunamis

Therein one wonders if the multiple lives we live are acts of a certain kind of cowardice…
-is it a question of dishonesty or necessity, form or function?

WB.,

“is it a question of dishonesty or necessity, form or function?”

Cowardice is not dishonesty per se, and it also implies acting in a way, though impelled by circumstances, is not necessary. I did qualify it as a “kind” of cowardice, which is a result of simply putting a well known adage beside the quote you are investigating. If we had the courage to act from a more singular state, the number of our lives, and hence deaths would be reduced. Of course Oscar Wilde lived two -or more- spectacular lives. If he had lived his homosexuality without secrecy, would he even have written? Would his wit have been directed more powerfully in a less psychological direction? Would he simply have died in prison at a very young age never having been heard from? All these things we do not know. But perhaps with the number of his lives being reduced, that courageous life may have ended in a more singular death. It is an interesting quote so thank you for bringing it. To me it seems connected to concepts of honor, and perhaps the delema of catch-22 situations where the powers at large do not allow you to live with it.

Dunamis

Those quotes are metaphors, not to be taken literally. The Bible suffers the same injustice.

Sage,

“Those quotes are metaphors, not to be taken literally. The Bible suffers the same injustice.”

To take them literally would mean to believe that there are multiple actual, i.e. biological, lives and deaths. When you take things metaphorically, then the meaning of the metaphor differs with interpretation, as with the Bible. Perhaps offer your view of the metaphorical meaning of these quotes and then things can be discussed.

Dunamis

I’m positive this quote you quoted should be the other way round, “a coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one”."That is because, the brave will take risks, go down but come up again and see a new life, a new beginning each time, but the coward would never take risks and so life is just one humdrum existence, there is only one death for him and that is one he just cannot avoid. Therefore this quote, “A coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one” is wrong. It should be, “A brave dies a thousand deaths, the coward but one.” Sorry! Just discussing!

Bee,

Thanks for your take on the quote. There is no wrong position to take here. I think what the quote is saying is that the coward imagines himself dying again and again, in each instance, and therefore does not act at all, perhaps dying a little inside each time, while the brave, (or to use Tupac’s version, the soldier) dies only once, when his physical body dies. Like I said, your interpretation also stands. But when an adage lasts for a very long time, there must be some truth that it is communicating, even if it is a relative truth.

Dunamis

wbakervt, when you portray Oscar Wilde’s life and how it descended into ruin right after his being on the top, also remember that, ‘Once we are on the top, it’s only downhill after that.’ Also, we have a free, independent mind together with a heart and lots of logic. So, we must credit ourselves to a lot of extent to what life becomes. ‘There is no clapping with a single hand.’ We have the ability to change our life of course not by ourselves alone because others being involved in our life, they will definately have a hand in our future. I know sometimes circumstances are so against us that we feel very helpless, but the fact remains, if we are just too good at heart and don’t wish harm on another or interfere in another’s life, another will not be able to harm us in any way possible.

Dumais, when you say, “The coward imagines himself dying again and again,” the coward only “imagines” and so gets scared to take risks, therefore, he cannot die a thousand deaths as he does not take any action.

Bee,

Of course if you are going to take “death” literally, they each die only once. I think the death here is the public death, the shame one experiences in the public eye. The phrase perhaps comes from a time when reputation matters a whole lot more than it does today. The coward falls from grace many times. It is interesting that it was revitalized by rap, where “rep” means quite a lot.

Dunamis

I know the answer, but only half way right.

The key is to realise that there are 2 lifes and 2 deaths:
The life of Life and the Life of Love.
and the death of Life and the Death of Love.

We can only die one physical death,
but in hate of death, [cowards who hate selves as cowards also hate selves as dead and hate death and are over-fearful of both]
we are already dead spiritually even while alive,
and therefore will be twice dead when we do die,
and we will feel as if we had died many times before we actually die.

We can only live physically once,
but in Love of death,
we are spiritually alive when alive,
and therefore are twice alive when alive: alive with life and with Love,
and when we die physically, we wd have died once and for the first time,
[cowards who love selves as cowards also love selves as dead, and love death, and are not everly fearful of either]
and we wd still be alive in the Life of Love even when dead.

Poets, those who use words in Love, use that Life of Love all the time, mostly implicitly, as did Oscar Wilde.

Here are two examples:

“My only Love sprung from my only Hate.
Too early seen unknown, and known too late.
Prodigious Birth of Love it is to me,
That I must Love my Loathed enemy[death or whatever].”
ROMEO AND JULIET, Act 1, Scene 5

“Love in this differs from clay, that to divide is not to take away.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Thus conscience [with Hate for cowards] does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the [Hate-]pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard [of hate in] their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action.”
HAMLET Act 3, Scene 1

The WS quote you used is when he uses the opposite: The Hate of death: implicitly, to show what happens when we hate death and other words such as petty, poor, idiot, nothing: we end up hating life.

She should have died hereafter.
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
– Shakespeare

loveandrespect,
iloveu

The key is to realise that there are 2 lifes and 2 deaths:
The life of Life and the Life of Love.
and the death of Life and the Death of Love.

We can only die one physical death,
but in hate of death, [cowards who hate selves as cowards also hate selves as dead and hate death and are over-fearful of both]
we are already dead spiritually even while alive,
and therefore will be twice dead when we do die,
and we will feel as if we had died many times before we actually die.

We can only live physically once,
but in Love of death,
we are spiritually alive when alive,
and therefore are twice alive when alive: alive with life and with Love,
and when we die physically, we wd have died once and for the first time,
[cowards who love selves as cowards also love selves as dead, and love death, and are not everly fearful of either]
and we wd still be alive in the Life of Love even when dead.

Poets, those who use words in Love, use that Life of Love all the time, mostly implicitly, as did Oscar Wilde.

Here are two examples:

“My only Love sprung from my only Hate.
Too early seen unknown, and known too late.
Prodigious Birth of Love it is to me,
That I must Love my Loathed enemy[death or whatever].”
ROMEO AND JULIET, Act 1, Scene 5

“Love in this differs from clay, that to divide is not to take away.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Thus conscience [with Hate for cowards] does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the [Hate-]pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard [of hate in] their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action.”
HAMLET Act 3, Scene 1

The WS quote you used is when he uses the opposite: The Hate of death: implicitly, to show what happens when we hate death and other words such as petty, poor, idiot, nothing: we end up hating life.

She should have died hereafter.
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
– Shakespeare

loveandrespect,
iloveu

a man with a coward heart experiences the same deaths and lives with a brave man because the death referred here is its reaction to what happened which is the shame in the public. a brave man tend to react possitively and a coward man reacts negatively to the shame. But both of them experienced death. :wink:

It could also be argued that we die at the end of each stage of life.

For example, my child self died when my teen self came into existance. The person he was no longer exists, I am not him, nor do I look like him but in the ways a son somewhat resembles his father. I remember my younger self the same way I would remember any passed family memeber.

My current sate of self is a direct decendant from my child and teen selves, when/if i pass into any other state of life such as becoming a father or no longer being a lazy student bum then I will die so another may carry on in my name.

When this body finally stops operating it will simply be another transition from one state to another, my live self to my dead self. Hardly the final stage either as my dead self will give way to my decomposing worm food self, to my skeletal self to my dust self and from there any number of possibilities, who knows, maybe one day nations of the world will be waging wars over rights to my fossil fuel self.

Each new death seems smaller and less extreme than the last, with the possible exception of the transition into death self (I don’t know about that one yet, I’ll tell you when I find out). From child to teen was a large death, teen to twenty-something however was slightly less extreme. More traits were passed on from parrent to child but not in any significant amount.

People around us die every day, we might not always notice it but we remember their fallen selves and welcome the birth of the new (usually). Thus it could be said that life is simply an evolution via a series of deaths.

So remeber all this kids and try to make your next death a good one.:wink:

A further “spin” on this one is, of course, the Freudian death drive (and its Lacanian reinterpretation).

There are two deaths: the real death of our physical body, and the decline (and eventual disappearance) of our place in the symbolic order.

One can be between these two deaths: for instance, Elvis Presley is physically dead, but remains alive and well in the symbolic order; meanwhile, a hermit who has hidden himself away from civilization and has been forgotten about may be physically alive, but is dead in the symbolic.

Then there is also the Jungian interpretation.
Within the overall psychological unit that is the self, there are many parts. There is the self, the shadow, the anima/animus, the persona, and some more i can’t remember.

Someone earlier mentioned about how we live a different life with every person we know, and that there is an inner self which we do not share. In Jungian psychology these are our personas. They are something the self creates around the self, in order to precipitate interaction with other people. We become aware through our interactions with those people what they approve of and what they disapprove of, and so we accentuate those parts of the inner self that concord with this, and play down those parts which are discordant. In time we develop a complex pattern of personas, and systems of how they are used. So, for example, if there is a child they might adopt the persona of obedience that they use around their parents around other adults. Over time we might developed complex nets of projected personas to help deal with people that we know nothing about, but who do share noticeable features with other people we have met.
Ofcourse, it is much more complex than this, with issues of what concepts have been presented in each of these discourses in what nature, and whether they strengthen or weaken this process (as the process itself self-refers, and so the correct inputs can make an output which is the destruction of the process).