By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam
29 December 2016
He had forbidden the word ‘death’ being spoken in his presence. But when he neared the age of 60, he realised that no one has ever triumphed over death!
Franco, the dictator of Spain, died after a long battle with illness. Doctors tried different things in order to try to prolong his life. This issue generated much discussion in medical circles. When all his senses had failed, should doctors have allowed him to die a few weeks in advance? Were the doctors right in doing what they did to seek to enable him to live a little longer? Was it ethically correct to try to artificially prolong a leader’s life? Could life actually be prolonged this way?
Somewhat similar is the story of Louis, King of France, who died some 500 years ago. He wanted to live forever, and he tried everything to make that happen. But at the age of 58 he was stricken with paralysis. It then dawned on him that he would probably not live much longer. No king in his family had ever lived to witness his 60th birthday.
Louis wanted to live in peace and comfort, and so he began staying in a heavily-guarded palace, where very few people were allowed. Well-armed archers were appointed, who were instructed to kill anyone who dared to approach the palace without permission. Some 400 cavalrymen were also engaged in protecting the palace.
Inside the palace, Louis lived a life of great luxury. Beautiful paintings adorned the palace’s walls. Expert musicians entertained the king. There were dogs and birds, which the king was very fond of, kept in cages. But despite all this, Louis’s body was wasting away. He would sit on a chair in a pitiable state, staring into a garden spread out before him.
Even though Louis was now very weak physically, he still ruled his people with an iron hand. He wanted them to know that he was indeed a powerful ruler. What he feared most was some ambitious minister of his overthrowing him and grabbing the throne.
In his old age, Louis began doubting everyone. He even started suspecting his old servants, whom he dismissed and replaced with foreigners. Even the latter he began regularly changing. Fearing that his subjects might forget that he was still alive (since he was no longer able to participate in the affairs of governance), he did everything he could to remind them that he was still around—such as dismissing officers and appointing new men to take their place, or lowering someone’s salary and increasing someone else’s.
But none of this worked.
Louis was fond of hunting. He was also fond of animals. He sent representatives to other parts of Europe to buy horses and dogs, paying for them more than the market-rate. The animals would be delivered to his palace, but because of his ill-health, he could not even see them, nor even speak to the men who had bought the animals for him. Still, he knew that in the whole of Europe there was great discussion happening about these grand purchases of his.
Louis was so desperate to recover his health that he ordered that the word ‘death’ never be uttered in his presence! He paid his personal physician an enormous salary of 10,000 gold crowns a month, something that in those times in Europe even a military officer would never earn after 40 years of service. Louis was willing to give away his entire treasury to anyone who could prolong his life by a single day.
When, in 1483, he was approaching his 60th year, Louis was so ill that he was barely able to lift a morsel of food into his mouth. At that time, an idea hit him. He began distributing thousands of gold coins to churches and religious leaders. He also dispatched three ships to an island to bring back some very large sea-turtles, which, he had been told, possessed life-granting properties. Louis tried every religious means he could to extend his life. A mendicant from Naples was brought to his court in the hope that his prayers would help Louis’ wishes to be granted. But this, too, failed. Yet, Louis so desperately wanted the mendicant to be with him that he ordered the head of his treasury to ensure that this happened, even if he had to empty his entire coffers.
But despite all these efforts, Louis died. His last words, it is said, were, “I am not as ill as you think I am.”
Truly, as Louis was finally forced to realise, no one can triumph over death!