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Julius Beethoven Da Vinci
A sub-set of Beethoven Was an Alien Spy. Long-living, nigh-immortal characters are a staple of Speculative Fiction. Of course, there's the question of how they didn't get found out. Easy enough, actually — move around a lot, take on a new name every so often, and you're golden, especially in times when written records were rare and getting census information from anywhere further away than the next village required an Epic Quest. Having psychic and shape shifting powers helps a lot too. Compare with Ancient Conspiracy.

It's surprising, though, how often those temporary names end up in the history books...

Sometimes, it seems that every great thinker was an immortal genius who created an identity. Every so often, they're all the same one.

See also In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous for the related Time Travel version. This character is sometimes prone to saying I Have Many Names.

Don't ask how many of these people have firmly established childhoods.

Examples

    open/close all folders 
    Anime/Manga 
  • Odd variation in Blade of the Immortal, in which the 200-year-old immortal Shizuma has plans along these lines, but Rin tells him that if he's never held power in his long life so far, he's never likely to. This makes him go into Who Wants to Live Forever? mode when it's time for Manji to kill him.

    Comicbooks 
  • Vandal Savage, from The DCU, was Cheops, Alexander the Great, Gaius Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Vlad The Impaler, and Blackbeard. At least that's his story. Every so often there'll be a retcon in which another immortal will say he's making half of it up.
    • Final Crisis has revealed him to have been (and subsequently forgot that he was) Cain. The biblical Cain. Who in DC continuity is now revered as the inventor of crime (being that he committed the first murder). This contradicts what had been established about Cain in the Sandman series (it might be a case of Canon Discontinuity).
      • The Sandman title exists outside of the main DC universe as part of the Vertigo line, and tends to move between being canon and not being canon depending on whoever happens to be in charge of DC at the time. It can generally be assumed that many of the things established in the Sandman books are not considered to apply to normal DC continuity.
      • That Cain is from a different earth anyway, according to a comment Abel made before being interrupted. Also, Word of God (in the Sandman Companion) hints that Cain and Abel aren't real people, more like anthromorphic personifications of murder and victimization.
      • Latest retcon - Savage wasn't Cain at all, he "stole" the Mark of Cain from a man who was passed it by Cain.
  • The Immortal of Invincible went by Abraham Lincoln at one point. And yes, he did serve as president. However, he seems to have a fairly average human memory, and so remembers very little of his distant past — he has only a faint recollection of being Lincoln, and a far-future version of him barely remembered anything about his present-day life.
  • The Eternals of Marvel Comics have been everything from kings to Gods. One even goes by the name Gilgamesh (he also performed one of Hercules' Labors, having been mistaken for the man himself, along with Samson and Atlas at other times). Their hideously deformed enemies the Deviants have been the inspiration for various mythical monsters and demons.
  • This is how the big bad of the first "Abe Sapien" series got around through the entirety of human history. His cover is maintained through copious amounts of body hopping since he didn't actually live for thousands of years, but had his soul possess the bodies of many great figures in history.
  • In Lillim, the children of Lilith (the titular Lillim) have been masquerading as gods for centuries. And so Odin has been Set, Zeus, and Enlil; Friga has been Hera and Kali; Cain is also known as Hod; and Loki (the protagonist and hero) has been Apollo, Prometheus, Gilgamesh, Horus, and the serpent that tempted Eve.
  • The DCU magic user Madame Xanadu was originally named Nimue.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has some unusual metafictional examples of this trope.
    • Orlando, the centuries-old transsexual from Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name, has been the Greek mythological figure Bion, the Arthurian knight Roland, the French paladin Orlando (romanticised in Orlando innamorato and Orlando furioso) and the title character of Anne Desclos' Story of O. He even became Orlando the Marmalade Cat following a curse.
    • Oliver Haddo from W. Somerset Maugham's The Magician is established to have had multiple identities; sometimes he faked his death and took on a new name, other times he outright possessed people. In all, he's been Karswell Trelawney (a double reference to M.R. James' Casting the Runes and Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time), Hjalmar Poelzig from Universal's The Black Cat, Mocata from Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out, Adrian Marcato from Rosemary's Baby, Kosmo Gallion from The Avengers, Charles Felton from Robert Irwin’s Satan Wants Me and finally Lord Voldemort. The linking factor is that most of these characetrs were based on Aleister Crowley.

    Fan Fiction 
  • This Wold Newton Universe essay, one of a series speculating that John Carter of Mars was also Edwin Lester Arnold's Phra the Phonecian (continuing from Philip Jose Farmer's theory that he was Burroughs' Norman of Torn), adds that he was King Arthur and Robin Hood.
  • The article the Face Stealer, also part of the Wold Newton Universe, speculates that historical figure Alessandro Cagliostro/Joseph Balsamo (1743-1795) was actually an immortal. Having the ability to switch host bodies over the ages, while gaining partial memories of the new identity. The author speculates that some of his identities included an earlier Joseph Balsamo, Marius Rennepont, John Melmoth, the Count of Monteleone, revolutionary leader Francis II Rákóczi (1676-1735), occultist Count of St. Germain (c. 1712-1784), Abbot Faria, Edmond Dantes, The Count of Monte Cristo, guerrila leader Michele Pezza/Fra Diavolo (1771-1806), Colonel Michel Bozzo-Corona, Arthur Gordon Pym, Captain Nemo, and Cyrus Smith.
  • Son Of The Warp adds Carl Sagan to the list of The Emperor's aliases.

    Film 
  • Mr. Winters from the TMNT movie.
  • The immortals of Highlander may not have been anyone particularly famous, but most of them did have a hand in major events over the centuries.
    • One was actually Lord Byron, although that appears to be his original identity.
      • In some Expanded Universe materials, it's implied that one of his later identities was Jim Morrison of The Doors.
    • A semi-regular character Methos is revealed to have been the inspiration for the biblical character of Death, along with his three immortal friends who became known collectively as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. How much more famous can you get?
  • In Dracula II Ascension, when asked who he is, Dracula rattles off a long list of historical figures including Emperor Caligula, Gilles de Rais, and Vlad Tepes. But his original identity was revealed as Judas Iscariot. Seriously.
    • In The Librarian movie series Judas is the original vampire.
      • Same in Dracula 2000; this was a major reveal, as it provided clues as to killing him.
      • Would be awfully hard for Dracula to be Vlad Tepes and Gilles de Rais considering that Tepes was born in 1431 and de Rais was executed in 1440. Unless he was lying, or there was a covert replacement.
      • For that matter, Caligula lived from 12 AD to 41 AD, which would make being Judas rather difficult.
  • The Man from Earth has this with the main character, although he's usually a 'friend' or 'student', or otherwise indirectly involved with some historical figure. (And he points out even that doesn't happen very often, since he can only be in one place at a time and has to move on every 10 years or so to avoid any questions about why he's not aging.) He does turn out to be Jesus, though. Bit of a misunderstanding, that.
  • The original script of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie includes a line about how Caligula was a vampire and later became Jack the Ripper.
  • In Twelve Monkeys, a psychiatric patient claims to be from the future, here to avert a disastrous, human-inflicted plague. At one point, his psychiatrist diagnoses him with Cassandra syndrome, a disease she identified based on historical examples. What the viewer can tell and she can't is that all those historical examples are him, living in various times when his time machine malfunctioned.

    Literature 
  • Both Arisians and Eddorians (Bergenholm and Gharlane of Eddore, in particular, but also various Atlanteans, and the Emperor Nero, to name a couple of other notables) do this in the Lensman books.
  • Lazarus Long, aka Woodrow Wilson Smith, Cpl. Theodore Bronson, from Robert A. Heinlein's future history plays this role, though he fails to leave the continuity of Heinlein's works and enter into more traditional history.
    • Most of the "famous" identities he has been are only famous in the future, in other words not yet famous. His past identities are not famous.
    • However, he only became involved with those events after Heinlein had already established them in canon. He writes a book in 1957, then in 1977 he publishes something that tells us Lazarus was involved.
  • Ferris Renfrow in Glen Cook's The Instrumentalities of the Night. He takes the form of the "old" Ferris Renfrow's son over and over, though nobody remembers him being young. Also he's a god.
  • A variation exists in Michael Moorcock's works, where several major historical or legendary heroes were incarnations of the Eternal Champion, most notably King Arthur and the Carolingian knight Roland.
    • One of the Elric stories features a crossover in which several incarnations (including Elric himself) are pulled together by fate to fight alien wizards. It managed to be even more epic than it sounds.
  • One of the Magical Arts teachers at Superhero School Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe claims she was Circe. The thing is, everyone else in the Magical Arts department insists she really is Circe.
  • According to The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Jesus, Simon Magus, Herbert Hoover and Jean-Paul Sartre were all actually different personas of the same shape-shifting immortal trickster known as Malaclypse the Elder.
    • Later on in the series, it's revealed that Jesus was actually a student Gruad Greyface A.K.A. the Deley Lama, who faked his own death in order to avoid being deified by his followers. Mal then took it upon himself assume Jesus' identity, as well as that of Simon Magus, just to fuck with the newborn religion.
    • Illuminatus! co-author Robert Anton Wilson later went on to pen an introduction to the Principia Discordia claiming that the book's author was actually a "time-travelling anthropologist from the 23rd Century," who "has visited Earth many times in the past, using such cover-identities as Zeno of Elias, Emperor Norton, Count Cagliostro, Guilliame of Aquaitaine, etc."
  • In his longest work "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", H.P. Lovecraft writes about a necromancer by the name of Joseph Curwen, who along with at least two other members of his cabal is seemingly unaffected by age. One of his confederates, who lived in Salem (during that time, you know what I'm talking about) moved away then returned, masquerading as his own son at Curwen's urging. Curwen himself, doesn't bother with this trick. They both get found out eventually, and both escape, in one form or another, from those determined to do them harm.
  • In David Gemmell's ancient Greek adventure, The Lion of Macedon, the philosopher Aristotle is revealed to be a time traveling Magus. At the end of that book's sequel, Dark Prince, it is all but overtly stated that he is Leonardo da Vinci.
  • In The Night Angel Trilogy, Acaelus Thorne, also known as Durzo Blint, Gaelan Starfire, and quite a few other aliases, has been the hero of every single historical legend told on his home continent for the past 700 years.
  • In a partial subversion, Nevyn, Master of the Aethyr, in the Deverry novels has shown up to play a major role in his country's history quite a few times, but he always does it under the same identity: the shabby old herbalist named Nevyn (save for the few times he temporarily uses his birth name of Galrion). But since he generally drops out of sight for twenty or thirty years between his major appearances, those people old enough to remember the old herbman named Nevyn from his previous appearance refuse to believe that the shabby old herbman named Nevyn who just rode into town could possibly be the same man. Those people who notice the multiple Nevyns across history assume the name is inherited (whether from father to son or master to apprentice is debated).
  • In Animorphs, the Chee (Benevolent Alien Androids that are supremely powerful but physically incapable of violence) have had many identities over the centuries. When the Animorphs discover this they press for details, expecting a story about the Chee being key figures in history, but the androids actually made an effort to not affect human civilization. Erik helped build the pyramids, but he was a slave who quarried rocks, not their designer. He also claims to have coined the phrase "New Deal", but it was in a poker game while he was the White House butler, not as a Washington official. He also said he was Beetoven's helper or butler.
    • Then there was Mr.King, Erek's 'father', who suggested pasteurization to Louis Pasteur.
  • There is an old science-fiction short story which claimed that Martians have been disguising themselves as humans since at least the 15th century, as a way to explain the "chains" of great men in a field being born in the same year that another died. The only Martian appearing in the story apparently took the identities of Michelangelo (1475-1564), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) , Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), the protagonist's friend, and, after said friend dies, the protagonist's newborn son.
  • In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Birthright, the villain is an immortal searching for the TARDIS. At various points in time he was Thomas the Rhymer, John Dee and the Count of Cagliostro.
  • In Will of Heaven, The Guest of Canghai, who helped Zhang Liang in his assassination attempt on the First Emperor, is revealed to be Qian Keng, an obscure legendary immortal who serves the alien dragon deity who calls himself Fuxi. His other identities include the Gentleman of the East Sea, whom the First Emperor sought in his quest to gain immortality.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Emperor of Warhammer 40,000 is said to have been several influential people in Earth's history. So while He may be the Crystal Dragon Jesus in the game's universe, there's a possibility that, in His universe, He was the Jesus Jesus, too.
    • It appears from one of the newest books that He was Saint George.
    • Calling his flagship the Bucephalus hints He was likely Alexander the Great (which makes a lot of sense, given His Great Crusade).

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed II has Altaďr musing in his codex about such a phenomenon. Wild Mass Guessing has them be the mysterious, exceedingly human-like but very long-lived Those Who Came Before, or humans granted longevity through the Pieces of Eden.
  • Kane of Command & Conquer is a partial example in that he is hinted to be the Biblical Cain, but has not assumed any other identities between that and his present one (as far as we know).
    • He seems to favor variations of his name. So much so that the closest he has to an alias is 'Jacob Caine'.
      • In the original Red Alert, which was meant to be a prequel to Tiberian Dawn, Kane appears as Josef Stalin's right-hand man. His name is never mentioned, but in the ending, Nadia quotes the biblical verse where Kane is cast out of the garden, and specifically mentions the Brotherhood.
      • He may also be deliberately invoking this trope for the benefit of his followers, since the alien Scrin are already familiar with him and it's implied his true origins are quite a bit more complex.
  • It may simply be symbolic, but the protagonist (there is enormous controversy over exactly who is saying this) of Marathon says of himself, "I have been Roland, Beowulf, Achilles, Gilgamesh; I have been called a hundred names and will be called a thousand more before the world goes dim and cold."
    • Another interpretation is that it's related to Moorcock's "Eternal Champion" above, and on top of being all these figures, he was also the lead character of Pathways Into Darkness (possibly literally, as they're hinted to take place in the same universe, and the lead character is implied to be a military-grade cyborg), and Master Chief from Halo (more likely in a metaphorical/alternate incarnation sense, as they do not seem to take place in the same universe).

    Web Original 
  • Circe of the Whateley Universe has apparently lived for thousands of years, and claims to be the original Circe of Greek mythology.

    Western Animation 

    Other 

    Real Life 
  • George Patton, one of the great American army generals of World War II, thought he was an incarnation of the greatest generals in history (i.e. Gaius Julius Caesar, one of Napoleon Bonaparte's generals, etc.). He believed had been reincarnated multiple times to take part in almost all of the wars fought.
  • It has been suggested, in a largely tongue-in-cheek manner, that The Duke of Wellington's given name, "Arthur", signifies him as the reincarnation of King Arthur, who, according to legend, would return to defend Britain in its hour of need. This is also believed of Winston Churchill, which both could be true seeing as Churchill was born twenty-two years after the Duke died.
  • It has been suggested that Keanu Reeves may in fact be immortal. Pictures of him between 1994 and the late 2000s give almost no indication of aging, and it's been pointed out that he bears a striking resemblance to a late 19th century actor who disappeared rather mysteriously and the medieval King Charlemagne, who also had a rather suspicious death. See for yourself.
  • An American Civil War-era photo recently surfaced bearing an uncanny resemblance to Nicolas Cage, causing some to speculate that he may be a Vampire.
  • What some New Age groups believe about the Count of Saint-Germain an Alchemist who was famous in late 18th century France.
  • The controversial and eccentric occultist Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers (1854-1918) believed that King John IV of Scotland never died and had somehow found immortality. According to some of his contemporaries, Mathers claimed that he himself was James IV, although he publicly denied this.


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