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
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
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!
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