I have seen with my own eyes the Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked her “What do you want?” She answered,
“I want to die.”
– Satyricon, Petronius
Thus says the Cumaean Sibyl, an Apollonian prophetess, who had been granted eternal life on her request. What she forgot to ask for was eternal youth. What’s the point of living on and on if you’re old and withered and weak to the point that you have to be lowered for making prophecies for the public using a basket?
She wanted to die because she was becoming more decrepit than she could bear; the continuing degradation of her body, projected across the unlimited bounds of time ahead of her, was a terrifying prospect. Also because she was so burdened by the knowledge of the past, the present and the future. To know everything is to know nothing, because at some point the water cascades off the top of the rim.
She stands as a powerful metaphor for our own individual decline: the failing body coupled with the increased knowledge, the loss of illusions, the increasing despair engendered by a loss of faith in the human future, and one’s declining ability to do anything about it.
– Jonathan Wallace
I had first read about her in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, where she is mentioned as having asked Apollo to increase her years to as many grains of sand in her hand. I didn’t pay much attention to it then. The second time I read about her was in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, from where I took the above mentioned quote by Petronius. This aspect I found really intriguing.
Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels also claimed immortality to be a curse.
Voldemort too sought immortality, didn’t he? Horcruxes, unicorn blood, the deathly hallows, and the Philosopher’s Stone, he tried them all but nothing really worked.
Conclusion: It’s better to die, the sooner, the better.