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Sunday, November 20, 2005
More accurately, THANATOGRAPHY is a writing of death (Thanatos) in all its aspects -- a "Thanatography".

Thanatographies approximate what Joyce Carol Oates has defined as a "Pathography", "dysfunction and breakdowns and outrageous conduct". This is because the ending of a life does not always occur compactly in a final few hours before death. Rahter, the end is often signaled years or decades in advance by just such misfortunes is not merely to highlight for its own sake. Howefer, the goal of a Thanatogaphy is not merely to highlight for its own sake life's pathos or suffering, but to show how such hardships hasten a life to its end.

Here are some Thanatographies of many history's most colorful figures:

The BUddha Gautama: d 483 B.C., age 80
Cause of Death: Intestinal hemorrhaging from acute indigestion following a large, spicy meal.
Mode of Burial: Cremation
Last words: "Never forget it: decay is inherent in all things".

For Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the buddha, his last supper was a fateful as Jesus Christ's. Each died follwing a banquet, the buddha, from the last food.

Diet was a problem from the start. To achieve enlightenment, or Bodhi, the buddha ate only mosses, roots, grains and an occasional wild fruit. Growing emaciated, he permanently damaged his health.

Enlgihtenment did not come with starvation, he learned. Returning to the traditional Indian diet, he put on weight, a gut that would become a hallmark, and experiences intense stomach and intestinal burning -- most likely from ulcers. He ate the food that is thought to have caused his death in 483 B.C. after preaching a sermon in a mango grove at the village of Pava.

Socrates: d. 399, B.C., age 70
Cause of Death: Hemlock Poisoning
Place of Rest: Grave site unknown
Last Words: As paralysis crpt throughout his body, he requested of a friend: "I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you repay him?"

Socrate's ending was likely given a latter-day Hollywood-like treamtnet by is chronicler Plato. For death by coniine, a poisonour alkaloid of the hemlocj plant, is marked not only by ascending motor paralysis, as Plato recorded, but also by intense nausea, vomiting, and limb-flailing convulsion -- unplesantries that are found nowhere in Platos' noble end to the life of the friend and teacher,"the wisest and the justest and best".

Archimedes: d. 212 B.C., age 75
Cause of death: Homicide
Place of Rest: Syracuse, Sicily, near the Agrigentine Gate
Last Words: Absorbed in a geometrical compulsion, he admonished his assailant:"Stand away, fellow, from my diagram".

Archimedes, born around 287 B.C. in the Greek city state of Syracuse, Sicily, literally died a practicing scientist, slain while making a mathematical computation. In accordance with his last wish, his tombstone was etched with a diagram familiar to centuries of later geometry students; a sphere inscribed in a cylinder. It symbolizes his discovery of the relationship between the volumes of the two objects (the former being two-thirds that of the latter), and it was the achievement Archimedes was proudest of.though he had many impressive accomplishments.

Cleopatra: d. 30 B.C., age 39
Cause of Death: Suicide by poison
Place of Rest: Beside her lover, Mark Anthony, in atomb beneath the modern city of Alexandria.
Last Words: As a venomous asp was brought to her: "So here it is!".

Cleopatra's suicide, to avoid the humiliation of being paraded thorugh the streets of Rome as a captive, marked two endings: the ending of her life and the end of the Macedonian dynasty that ruled Egypt from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., until Egypt's annexation by Rome in 31, B.C.

William the Conqueror: d. 1087, age 59
Cause of Death: Festering internal abscess from being injured on his horse.
Place of Rest: St. Stephens' Church, Caen; grave later desecrated, bones scattered.

On his way to a reducing spa, the obese king of England was injured on his horse. He acquired an internal absecess that festered, killed him, and at his funeral cause him to explode, the stench of rotted innards driving worshippers from church in haste.

Joan of Arc: d. 1431, age 19
Cause of Death: Burning at the stake
Place of Rest: Remains thrown into the Seine
Last Words: As flames ignited her robe:" I have great fear you are going to suffer by my death ....Jesus! Jesus!"

Jeanne D'Arc, Jeannette to her family, was the youngest of the five children, born of well-to-do peasant parents at Domremy in te French duchy of Bar. She received no formal education, coulkd neither read nor write, and worked as a housemaid and a shepherdess. Intensely pious and patriotic, she was disturbed by the ongoing Hundred Years War between her homeland and England.

At the age of 13, something miraculous -- or at least medically significant -- happened to the religious teenager. She heard voices and saw visions of St. Michael dressed as a knight, attended by St. Margaret and St. Catherine. For three years the numina whispered in her ear. In 1428, when Joan was 16, the voices bade her to go to the dauphin, Charles VII, and reveal she had a divine mission: to drive the English and Burgundians from his country, to dedicate the cleansed kingdom to the service of God and see the dauphin's coronation (which has occured 11 years earlier)finally consecrated. The dauphin liked what he heard. He entrusted the fervent teenager with his troops.

Christopher Columbus: d. 1506, age 55
Cause of Death: Rheumatic heart disease
Place of Rest: Columbus monument, Cathedral of Santo Domingo
Last Words: "Into Thy Hands, O Lord, I Commend My Spirit".

Pain, gout, poor vision, arthritis, delusion and delirium plagued Christopher Columbus at the end of hsi life. In a sense, they were broguht on or aggravated by his ardous voyage to a new land that would ultimately be named not for him but for another explorer. When he landed in Spain at the end of his last ocean crossing, he could barely walk unaided. Each trip had brought the tall, freckled, red-haired discoverer of the New World one step closer to death.

His first health complaint was minor. Gone from Europe for 225 days, he recorded in his journal only "sore eyes" or "opthalmia" as an early biographer called it. The conditiin, today known as trachoma, is brought on by long exposure to the glare of the bright sunoight, and Columbus is knonw to have spent caountless hours gazing toward western horizn. Minor though it was, the ailment plauged hims for the rest of his life.

Giovanni Casanova: d. 1798, age 73
Cause of Death: Kidney infection caused by acute prostatitis and toxic venereal disease treatment
Place of Rest: St. Barbara Chapel Cemetery, Duchcov, Czechoslovakia
Last Words: On receiving exteme unction: "Bear witness that I have lived as a philosopher and die as a Christian."

It is perhaps fitting that history's best known seducer-- who said "A woman is like a book which, be it good or bad, must begin to please with its title page "-- met his end through venereal disease infections and their accompanying toxic treatments. Before the age of 40, Casanova was treated for now fewer than eleven bouts of syphilis and gonorrhea in time his kidneys failed and his prostate became acutely inflamed. The last 13 years of his life were chaste, his only pleasure eating, of which a biographer noted: "Since he could no longer he god in the gardens, he became a wolf at the table".

Francisco de Goya: d. 1828, age 82
Cause of Death: Stroke, after suffering a bizarre viral disorder, or severe load poisoning.
Place of Rest: Interred in a singel coffin along with the remains of a friend, though only one head is present,; Church of San Antonio de la Florida, Madrid.

His paintings had been skilled, charming, some cloyingly picturesque. But the Goya who emerged from the illness, deaf and partially blind, was a tormented soul with a new perspective. His works were now filled nightmarisly with despair, vice and cruelty -- all depicted with originality and genius. Yhe illness, who nature has confounded biographers, marked the end of the conventional paitner and the emergence of a revolutionary one. Syphillis acquired in youth might account for some of he symptoms, but not his almost miraculous recovery.

Lord Byron: d. 1824, age 36
Cause of Death: Complication from Malaria
Place of Death: The family's ancestral vault, Hucknall Torkard Church, Nottiongham,England
Last Words: "The damned doctors have drenched me so that I can sacarcely stand. I want to sleep now."

A fortune teller told Byron's mother that her inant son would die at age thirty-seven, a prediction off by only one year. The augury made no mention that the death would be surrounded by such sensational sexual scandal that Byron's body would be denied burial in Westminster Abbey.

The incarnate symbol of romanticsism, George Gordon Noel Byron create through his poetry the "Byronic hero": typically a mysterious, gifted, lonely, youg man, defiantly hiding some unspeakable sin. Byron had no shortage of unspeakbale offenses including a penchant for pubescent boys (the thought of sex with adult males repelled him),the procuring of female prostitutes (two hundred by his own count), and transgressing the ultimate sexual taboo, incest, by seducing his married half-sister, Agusuta Leigh, fathering a daughter, Medora. To mention a few.

Ludwig Van Beethoven: d. 1827. age 57
Cause of Death: Cirrhosis of the liver, with chronic pancreatititis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Place of Rest: Central Cemetery, Vienna.
Last Words: When wine be requested was slow in coming: "Pity pity-- too late!".

The first great ending in theline of Ludwig van Beethoven was his tragic loss of hearing, perhaps the worst fate that can befall a composer. His deafness, along with the liver failure that killed him, was long attributed to syphillis. But a modern evaluation of medical evidence reveals another cause for the impairment that sunk one of the world's greatest composers into maddening silence.

Born in 1770 into a musical family of Flemish descent. Beethoven became the first important composer to make a living from his music, the first to receive a salary with no strings, enbaling him to compose whatever he liked.

Beethoven beagn composing -- with full and acute hearing -- at age eleven, the pupile of Mozart and Hadyn. The first reference to his deafness is contained in a letter dated June 29, 1801, when the composer was thirty-one : "For two years now I avoid all society for I cannot say to people 'I am deag'." He was only hard of hearing, for he confess, "At the theatre I must sit quite near the orchestra in order to follow the actors."

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: d. 1861, age 55
Robert Browning: d. 1889, age 77

Cause of her Death: Acute bronchitis and lund absecess
Cause of his Death: Heart Attack
Her Place of Rest: The Protestant Cemetery, Florence
His Place of Rest: Westminster Abbey, London
Her Last Words: Quoting from a poem: "Knowldege by suffering entereth, And life is perfected by death".
His Last Words: Informed of a favorable review of a poetry collection: " How gratifying".

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's life closed twice before her death. After fallin of her pet pony, the young Elizabeth was a partial invalid from the age of 15; she was complete invalid from the age of 32 to forty. Then in, 1846, Robert Browning persuaded her to elope with him. Her health dramatically improved, and the couple, residing mainly in Florence, enjoyed 15 years of happiness, despite the fact that from taking prescribed medication she was a morphine addict.

In her lifetime, her poetry was more esteemed that her husband's, today the situation is reversed.

Robert Browning, survived his wife by 28 years. He had written for the stage, though with no success, and his early, emotion-laden poetry received harsh criticism: John Stuart Mill condemned the poet's exposure of raw emotion and the exploitation of his own inner feelings as "intense and morbid self-consciousness".

Though Robert Browning enjoyed excellent health, in November of 1889, walking in a light drizzle on the Lido in Venice, he caught a cold that developed quickly into bronchitis.He was nursed by his son, nicknamed Pen, but the 77 year old poet, who still painfully missed his wife, grew weaker.

He had completed a collection of verse, Asolando, and on November of 1889, a telegram arrived from London announcing the bood had garnered favorable reviews. His heart had been failing steadily, and he responded to the telegram, "How gratifying".He smiled, then drifted into sleep. A few hours later, without walking, he suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Walt Whitman: d. 1892, age 73
Cause of Death: Cerebral hemorrhage, also present, advanced tuberculosis.
Place of Rest: Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey
Last Words: Voluble throughout life, he boasted on his deathbead, "Garrulous to the very last".

Born Walter Whitman, on May 31,1819, at West Hills, Long Island, the author of Leaves of Grass reamained a bachelor all his life. He preferred the company of men, addressed men in a florid terms of endearment, and, in what has been called "the nudity of his verse" flamed the suspicion he was gay, though latent lifelong. Never was he humble: "I will be your poet, I will be more to you than to any of the rest".

Today it is an accepted belief that Walt Whitman was a homosexual. But the evidence marshaled after his death to support the claim says much of the times, and how they've changed. Turn-of-the-century biographes pointed out that Whitman "bathed in eau-de-cologne" that he was "fond of cooking" that he possessed an"infantile configuration" (read, boyish),"delicate skin" (read, feminine),that there was "something womanly in him"(red, sissy), and that he harbored an "attitude and behavior toward sex that could not be considered 'normal'. (read, perverted). One physician asked, with great delicacy, "Could he have been eunuchoid?"

Guy de Maupassant: d. 1893, age 43
Cause of Death: Advanced syphillis
Place of Rest: Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris
Most Memorable Words: "I dont' want to survive myself!"

The celebrated French writer with a prodigous sexual appetite -- once called " a foul mouthed, offensive individual, totally destitute of a sense of decency"-- met a tragic end though syphillis. His extended farewell to life encompassed a 16 year slide from health launched by a disease he might have picked up from his teenage exploits with prostitutes or that he might innocently have inheritied.

Maupassant was scarred by two events in his life. The first was theseparation of his parents when he was 11 years old. Raised by his strong, neurotic mother,(whome he adored), Maupassant hated his father, despised all husbands, and remained a bachelor.

The other traumatic event, syphillis, he first discovered as a young man of 24. Already sexually promiscous, he was treated for the disease's skin lessions and mistakenly believed he was cured. Even when the alarming truth became known, he continued to seduce women, hundreds by his recoking, boasting of his sexual stamina: "I'm as tired after two to three times as I am after twenty. After two or three times you exhausted your stock of semen so you can go on afterward without firther loss."

Edgar Allan Poe: d. 1849, age 40
Cause of Death: After suffering from diabetes and alcoholism, he died of cerebral edema following a drinking binge.
Place of Rest: Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery, Baltimore, Marykland
Last Words: "Lord, help my poor soul".

Master of the macabre tales and originator of modern American detective fiction, Edgar Allan Poe, fought a long battle with the alcoholism that would finally end his life. Biohistorians have recently argued, however, that Poe actually suffered a great intolerance for alcohol, such that a single drink could produce violent, discriptive behavior.

What lead Poe to drink? Fear is one popular hypothesis, though not the macabre dreads that poe used so effectively to terrify his readers. Rather, hear of sex. Chaste himself, hemarried late, at age 27, and the bride was his 13 years old virginal cousin, Virginia Clemm. Their relationship is thoguht tohave been entirely platonic. She was a frail, sickly, innogent girl, and friends of the couple claimed that his role was really that of a foster father. Poe professed great devotion for his wife, and her slow and torturous death from tuberculosis did not help his drinking problem. Of how her illness affected him he wrote:" I became insance, with long intervals of horrible sanity... I drnak; God knows how often or how much."

Charles Darwin: d. 1882, age 73
Cause of Death: Heat attack following the plagued of chronic illness
Place of Death: Westminster Abbey, London
Last Words:"I am not the least afraid to die."

Today we know that stress, by undermining the body's immune system, can precipitate real and serious illness. Among scientists, Charles Darwin is probably the classic example of a man made sicj by the originality and unorthodoxy of his own discoveries. For fofty of Darwin's sevetny-three years, the pioneering British biologist live with heart palpitation, vmonitng, lassitude, migraines, eczema, boils, chills, tics,trembling, painful flatulence, and hellish insomnia. He suffered from what might be called "the shock of the new" evolution and natural selection of species, which were then balsphemy.

After Darwin's deathe in 1882, many physicians and biographers suggested causes for his protracted illnesses. The spectrum was broad; parasitic Chagas disease (South American trypanosomiasis), which weakens the heart; arsenic poisoning; allergic reaction to his beloved peigeons; "simple hypochondria" emotional distress -- the latter for decades regarded as the least likely possibility. But that has changed given the current evidence of the stress health conection.

Florence Nightingale: d. 1910, age 90
Cause of Death: Heart failure after fifty four years as an invalid
Place of Rest: East Wellow Church Cemetery, Hampshire, England
Near the End: "I am becoming quite a tame beast".

Most people are familiar with the story of Florence Nightingale; the high-born lady who carried the lamp of hospital reform; the nurse whose selfless devotion brougth comfort, and often lie, to thousands of sick and wounded British soldiers in the Crimean War; the tireless woman who single handedly transformed nursing from a lowly thankless chore to a skilled and respected profession. That is the stuff of upbeat biography.

After returning to England from heroic service in the 1854-56 Crimean War, the 36 year old dean of Nursing was never quite the ame woamn. For reasons seamingly mysterious. Nightingale became an invalid. She was at war for 632 days and came home with an extraordinary reputation that would last her all her life, yet she chose to spend that lfie -- all 54 years of it -- in bed. From her bed, she issued a steady stream of orders that were carried out by devoted followers.

Rudolph Valentino: d. 1926, age 31
Cause of Death: Perforated gastric ulcer and peritinitis from a ruptured appendix
Place of Rest: Hollywood Cemetery, California
Last Words: "Don't pull down the blinds! I want the sun to greet me".

The screen idol and great lover of the 1920s was struck down at all the height of his career. His final farewell and funeral were every bit as dramatic, flambouyant, and exaggerated as his brief life had been.

The events that would take his life began on Saturday, August 14, 1926, when the screen idol was resting in his suite at New York's Hotel Ambassador. Valentino flet a sharp and sudden pain in his lower abdomen. Grippin his stomach, he fell to the floor in agony. He refused to go to a hospital, passing the night feverish and fitful. When his temperature soared the next day, he was rushed to Polyclinic Hospital and Valentino's appendix had ruptured and infection was spreading rapidly throughout his peritoneum.

Word that Valentino was hospitalized caused nationwide concern. Later word that he was on the critical list and might not recover produced mass hysteria. Women -- teenagers and adults -- wept openly; hundreds promsied to kil themselves if Valentino died. For eight days suspense built as the public fed on a stream of medical bulletings alternating between hope and gloom. For sheer melodrama, press sotries outdid any of the scripts Hollywood had tailored for the silent screen star.

"The pastor of St. Malachi's Church ... was called to the bedside of Valentino" and the "public sinner" confessed all. Thus the church claimed that it was privy to the screen star's actual last words, which it would keep as secret as the Virgin's Fatima message. "Since Valentino died a Catholic", the edictorial reasoned, "he was entitled to a Catholic burial. The Church gave him what she gives all her children, simply this and nothing more".

Thomas Edison: d. 1931, age 84
Cause of Death: Urenic poisoning
Place of Rest: Glenmont, West Orange, New Jersey
Last Words: Coming out of a coma: "It is very beautiful over there".

Edison's death emphasized the importance of his greatest inventions, the light buln and the power plant, in a waay that would surely have delighted him. Suggestions were made that on the day of his funeral, October 20,1931, electric power across the U.S. be tuirned off for a few solemn minutes. But Congress determined that the loss of electricity on so large a scale, even briefly, could precipitate a national disaster and pose a security risk. Thomas Edison, in a little more that foru decades, had made a nation, indeed a world, totally dependent on one of his brightest ideas.

There was a great irony in Edisons' life. Whereas it is well known that history's greatest composer, Beethoven, was deaf, few people realize that the man hwo invented the phonogrpah andmade practical the telephone -- ushering in the audio age -- was himself increasingly deaf after the age of seven. In fact, as a boy, Edison was expelled from school for being retarded, when his real problem was a growing inability to head his teachers.

Edison liked to blame his partial deafness on a physical injury incurred at the age of 12 when an adult, in a reprimand, boxed his ears: "I felt something snap inside my head, and the deafness started from that time and has progressed ever since". But there is ample evidence that Edison was already deaf at the age of seven. More likely his deafness was the resylt of a juvenile bout of scarlet fever that left him with recurrent middle ear infections. His impaired hearing disposed him to enjoy solitutde, which, in turn, provided an ideal environment for his creativity to flourish. "I'm long on ideas but shore on time". he said in midlife, "I only expect to live to be about one hundred". He almost made the century mark.

Sigmund Freud: d. 1939, age 83
Cause of Death: Cancer of the jaw, palate, throat, and tongue
Place of Rest: Follwoing cremation, his ashes were placed in his favortie Grecian urn.
Last Words: To his doctor on his planned euthanasia: "You promised me you would help me when I could no loner carry on". Then to his daugther: " Tell Anna about our talk".

The Fatehr of Psychoanalysis, who establoshed new directins for understanding and treating mentall illness, died a long and agonizing death. Sigmund Freud's final years -- sixteen of them -- were a nightmare: of sperading disease, of brutal surgery (under local anesthesia), and of suffering excruciating pain, for which the stoical patient consented to take - but only in his last months - aspirin.

Freud's views on sexuality can be summend succintly: Whereas other psychiatrists observed that the penis is attached to the man, Freud observed that the man is attached to the penis. His terms "penis envy", "Oedpius complex", "libido", "death wish", "repression", "neurosis" and others entered everyday speech and sus[icion. He justified the tobacco habit that would kill him with the romantic observation that "smoking is indispensabe if one has nothing to kiss"

The perhaps in a subconscious reference to his own possible bisexuality, declared that cigars were a substitute for masturbation.

posted by infraternam meam @ 12:42 AM  
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Name: infraternam meam
Home: Chicago, United States
About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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