“Youth is wasted on the young,” according to Oscar Wilde. Perhaps that is because the value of youth is not realized until it has past. It is the old man and old woman who long for youth, desiring their past physical prowess to complement knowledge and wisdom attained with age and experience. Youth is also longed for once it is lost because the allure of regaining youth includes the ability to ward off an inevitable death.
Some people have managed to ward off death longer than others. While it is doubtful that China’s Li Ching-Yuen lived to be 197 as he claimed to be, much less the 256 years he was claimed to have lived by others, there are verified accounts of a man living to the age of 116 (Jiroeman Kimura) and a woman passing away at age 122 (Jean Calment). Such longevity always encourages the hope that there are controllable factors to ensure long life. Still, postponing death is not the same as remaining young.
The quest for eternal youth has been perpetuated in modern film. Highlander (1986) which included sequels and a television series, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Tuck Everlasting (2002), and the revived BBC television series, Dr. Who (2005), are just some examples which include a character who either has or is seeking eternal youth. But there is a common legend from which most modern examples of the quest for eternal youth likely derive, and that is the legend of Juan Ponce de León and his search for the Fountain of Youth.
Juan Ponce de León
Juan Ponce de León was the first governor of Puerto Rico and a Spanish conquistador, one of countless adventurers in the service of Spain and Portugal who traveled across the ocean conquering and colonizing land for the Castillian people. In 1513, he financed and led an expedition looking for new territories, which led him to Florida. It was during this expedition that legend claims Ponce de León was searching for a fountain of youth, long believed to restore youth and vitality to whomever would drink from it.
The legend of Ponce de León’s search for the Fountain of Youth has existed since the late 16th century. However, the existence of such a fountain is not the only point of skepticism. Experts are highly skeptical that Ponce de León ever even searched for such a fountain, believing instead that gold and land were far more likely the treasures he sought. A lack of reference to the fountain in documents and writings of the time relating to the voyage, as well as theories involving mistranslation and miscommunication between Ponce de León and the natives, give historians interesting fodder for debate. However, a resolution will likely never be reached.
Whether or not Ponce de León searched for the Fountain of Youth, stories of life-giving waters have existed throughout recorded history and will continue to thrive in one version or another. After all, the allure of youth and eternal life is everlasting.