the fountain of youth


Ten or twelve years ago, when I was visiting Berlin, Stan Persky took me to see Cranach the Elder’s painting of the Fountain of Youth at the Gemäldegalerie. It is a medium-sized canvas that depicts, in excruciating detail, a rectangular swimming pool seen in perspective full of happily cavorting men and women. Old people are arriving from the left in carts and wheelbarrows; youths emerge naked from the other side where a series of red tents await them, like those bathing-machines of which Lewis Carroll’s Snark was so inordinately fond. The Cranach painting led Stan and me into a discussion on whether we would like to extend the time of our lives, if such a thing were possible. I said that the foreseeable end did not frighten or worry me; on the contrary, I liked the idea of living with a conclusion in mind, and compared an immortal life to an endless book which, however charming, would end up seeming tiresome. Stan, however, argued that living on, perhaps forever (provided he were free of sickness and infirmities), would be an excellent thing. Life, he said, was so enjoyable that he never wanted it to end.

more from Alberto Manguel at Threepenny Review here.