Chicago - 12:00 PM - 12:45 PM
Doctoral Student, English Department
Graduate Affiliate, MH&B Program
The Methuselah Complex: Longevity s Past and Future
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates begins his first aphorism with a simple but resounding declaration: vita brevis, or life is short. In the centuries following, ethicists, theologians, and poets consistently praised the virtues of short life while critiquing the pursuit of longevity. That Francis Bacon needs to preface his treatise on life-prolongation, The historie of life and death (1638), with a host of apologies and caveats, suggests that the desire to live longer was neither as widespread nor as self-evident as it appears in the West today. In this talk, I read Bacon s treatise as a central node linking premodern longevity discourse to ongoing conversations in medicine, biotechnology, and culture. I argue that historicizing current longevity initiatives for example, at major universities, Mayo Clinic, the Buck Institute, and Google s California Life Company makes us better informed as to how, and whether, we should contribute to the millennia-spanning project of life-extension.