Death mingles and confuses itself with our life throughout. Decay anticipates its time, and even insinuates itself into the course of our growth. (Michel de Montaigne, "On Experience," Essays 3.13; trans. J.M. Cohen)
There are perhaps two major themes I have seen arise in most of the works of literature that we have studied this year in my Literature Humanities class. The first is the power, duplicity, and ambiguities of language; the other, death. From the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, etc., to Montaigne's Essays, Death interweaves itself, or, in Montaigne's terms, insinuates itself throughout my entire fall and spring syllabus, whether in the attempt to overcome it through undying glory (Iliad), establishing great works (Epic of Gilgamesh; Aeneid), gaining or failing to gain immortality (Gilgamesh; Genesis), or seeking a beatific afterlife (Divine Comedy) or, here, through the complacent acceptance of its inevitability. In this more mature vision of death, Montaigne writes that living itself is the process of dying (or vice versa). Perhaps Umberto Eco, in his essay, "On Some Functions of Literature," was right: above all else Literature teaches us how to die.