Friday, May 4, 2012

From the Classics: The Road of Immortals

One day he met an old man with a white beard down to his chest, pushing a wheelbarrow full of rocks. The boy asked him, 'Could you direct me to that place where one never dies?'
'You don't want to die? Stick with me. Until I've finished carting away that entire mountain rock by rock, you shall not die.'
- Italo Calvino, Italian Folktales, 'The Land Where One Never Dies'

Some time ago, a man was cursed by a witch at this spot. He was told that he had to carry away the mountain piece by piece and dump it in the canyon at the far end of this road. Until he had completed this task, he could never die.
Unfortunately, the witch was not careful with the wording of her curse. It turned out that anyone who helped the old man with his task would also become immortal like him.

Soon people were coming from far and wide to help the old man with his task. They all wanted a share in his immortality. But as more people came to help, the mining of the mountain began to go faster. It began to look like they would carry away the whole mountain before they had even grown old.

The immortals began to fight each other. There was not enough immortality to go around. But they could not kill each other, for it was written that they would not die. Instead they would club each other over the head and throw each other into the canyon to be buried under rocks. 

That is why, if you stand at the bottom of this canyon, beside this pile of stones, you may sometimes hear a muffled shouting.

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