Death - the being

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Death is the personification of death. That is to say, he is the state of no longer being alive given human characteristics. His existence began in ancient times but the appeal of Death, also known as the Grim Reaper, is as strong today as it has ever been. So Death, this is your life.

The History of Death

The first form of Death could very possibly have been created in ancient Egypt as Anubis, the god of the dead, who was depicted as a man with the head of a jackal. Anubis was seen as a caring figure who looked after souls, and helped them to pass into the afterlife. He was often refered to as the lord of the dead or the conductor of souls.

Since then, all religions have had their own ideas on the subject of death, and many 'contemporary' religions have personified it. The early Muslims spoke of a being called Azrael, the angel of death, who will supposedly be the last living thing in existence to die. He was apparently created when Moses discovered someone who had been alive for 500 years but wasn't really enjoying themselves that much. Moses told Allah about them, and Allah sent Azrael to make sure that everyone dies after a reasonable length of time. The phrase 'the wings of Azrael' has long been used to refer to the coming of death.

New life was breathed into Death with the coming of the Great Plague throughout the Middle Ages. As people across the globe fell ill and died in their thousands the world looked for a religious explanation for their plight. Many believed that it was a form of punishment sent by God for man's wickedness and the image of Death as a scythe-wielding1 skeleton became common in the artwork and literature of the time. He was also often depicted riding a skeletal horse. Presumably the personifaction of Death became popular at this time because humanity felt the need for someone to blame for the devastaion and horror they were witnessing.

The personification of Death in literature, particularly poetry, has remained popular up to the present day. The following extract is taken from 'The Glories of Our Blood and State' by James Shirley, a 17th century poet:

The glories of our blood and state

Are shadows, not substantial things;

There is no armour against fate;

Death lays his icy hand on kings.

Sceptre and crown

Must tumble down,

And in the dust be equal made

With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

The references to Death in this extract are obvious, and many other poets have refered to him in passing whilst broaching the topic of death and dying.

Today, Death is as poular as ever, made famous by his crucial and amusing role in the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett. In these novels Death is still depicted as a skeleton with a scythe, cutting down those whose time it is to go. However, it is stressed throughout the books that Death does not do this for any malicious reason, it is simply the way the universe works and he is only doing his job. This Death doesn't like the old fashioned skeletal horses and much preffers, Binky, his white and relatively normal steed. His caring side shines through in many of the Discworld novels, a side that the ancient Egyptians saw in Anubis all along.

1A scythe is a sharp instrument with a long, curved blade and a two-handed handle which was once used by farmers for reaping wheat.

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