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Julius Beethoven da Vinci

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Chloe: I came here for help, not to be cut open by some Jack the Ripper wannabe!
Curtis Knox: I was Jack the Ripper.

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.

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.

A Subtrope of Beethoven Was an Alien Spy and Historical Domain Superperson. See also In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous for the related Time Travel version and My Grandson, Myself for cases where the character takes the identity of a younger family member. This character is sometimes prone to saying I Have Many Names. Compare with Ancient Conspiracy.

Just don't ask how many of these people have firmly established childhoods. Unless Reincarnation is involved.


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    Anime and 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.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU: Vandal Savage was Cheops, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Vlad the Impaler, and Blackbeard. And if there's any famous conqueror that he wasn't, he probably at least advised that person. At least that's his story. Every so often, another immortal says he's making half of it up and Savage will also occasionally contradict himself (he has both claimed to have been Caesar and to have killed Caesar).
    • Final Crisis revealed him to have been (and subsequently forgot that he was) Cain, who in DC continuity is now revered as the inventor of crime (being that he committed the first murder), though later retcons have it that Savage wasn't Cain at all, he "stole" the Mark of Cain from a man who was passed it by the real Cain.
  • The Dead Boy Detectives: in the 2004 series The Count of St. Germain is stated to be one of the aliases of Gilles de Rais, who had escaped his execution and maintained his immortality.
  • Doctor Who: In the comic story Voyager, mad time-traveller Astrolabus claims that "El Diablo", "Robin Hood" and "Santa Claus" were all names by which he was known over the years. The Doctor believes him to be a fellow Time Lord, while he claims to have originally been the royal astrologer of Ptolemy of Egypt before acquiring space-and-time-travel capabilities from Ancient Astronauts.
  • Invincible: The Immortal 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: The Eternals 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.
  • Hellboy: 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.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The series has some unusual metafictional examples of this trope.
    • Orlando, the centuries-old transgender from Virginia Woolf's novel of the same name, Orlando 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 (1960s), Charles Felton from Robert Irwin’s Satan Wants Me and finally Lord Voldemort. The linking factor is that most of these characters were based on Aleister Crowley.
  • 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.
  • Madame Xanadu: Madame Xanadu was originally named Nimue.
  • The Phantom Stranger: Depending on which of the never-meant-to-be-resolved and several, contradictory, accounts of the origins of the Phantom Stranger you elect to believe, The Stranger may have been The Wandering Jew. Post-New 52, the Phantom Stranger is Judas.
  • X-Men:
    • Apocalypse was the in-universe inspiration behind several historical deities, including Set (Egyptian God of Disorder & Violence), Sauru (a demon from Persian Mythology), Huitzilopochtli (Aztec God of War & Sacrifice), and the Kali-Ma (a Hindu deity known as "The Dark Mother").
    • It was implied for decades and later confirmed in Immortal X-Men that Mystique was Sherlock Holmes and Destiny, whose real name is Irene Adler, was the Irene Adler.

    Fan Works 
  • This Wold Newton Universe essay, one of a series speculating that John Carter of Mars was also Edwin Lester Arnold's Phra the Phoenecian (continuing from Philip José 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.
  • Jasmine Potter has taken on many names throughout A Long Journey Home, notably including Wadjet of Egypt and Muirgen the teacher of Merlin.
  • This is the big plot twist in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic Wise Beyond Her Years. While studying Equestrian history, Twilight Sparkle realizes that various zebras had an outsized influence by intervening in several key events throughout the centuries. What initially looks like a shadowy zebra conspiracy turns out to be just a single zebra, a very old friend of Celestia and Luna, who just doesn't want ponies to realize she's immortal. And Zecora is her latest identity.
  • The Coffin of Roboute and His 20 Sisters: In addition to identities like Alexander the Great and Saint George like it's hinted in canon, The Emperor was also Heracles (he slayed the Nemean Lion) and he knew beings such as Odin (who he describes as an old man and arrogant sorceror-king wielding a spear called Gungnir) and King Arthur (he mentions he had a horse named Gringolet, the steed of Sir Gawain, while in service to a king with a fine-looking sword and persuasive smile whose kingdom fell to the bastards of two sorceresses).

  • The immortals of Highlander may not have been anyone particularly famous (they try to avoid that on account of fame making it harder to cover up their immortality), 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 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. note 
      • 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.

  • 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 Buonarroti (1475-1564), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) , Arthur Schopenhauernote  (1788-1860), Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), the protagonist's friend, and, after said friend dies, the protagonist's newborn son.
  • 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 Beethoven's helper or butler.
    • Then there was Mr. King, Erek's 'father', who suggested pasteurization to Louis Pasteur.
  • 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 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.
  • The Ever Expanding Universe: The leader of the good aliens (who's also the heroine's grandfather), Byron, was both Lord Byron and James Dean.
  • 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.
  • According to The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Jesus, Simon Magus, Herbert Hoover and Jean-Paul Sartre were all actually different personas of the same Shapeshifting Trickster immortal 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 to 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."
  • 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.
  • In David Gemmell's ancient Greek adventure, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Casca: The Eternal Mercenary was originally Casca Rufio Longinus, the Roman soldier who stabbed Jesus in the side, for which he got cursed with immortality. Later he went to central America and inspired the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, and came back centuries later as an anonymous soldier under Cortez (who was mistaken for Quetzalcoatl).
  • Circe of the Whateley Universe has apparently lived for thousands of years, and claims to be the original Circe of Greek mythology.
  • One of David D. Friedman's 'story suggestions' involves a popular writer - he suggests Leslie Charteris or Mickey Spillane - who is actually an immortal storyteller who changes his identity every fifty years or so to avoid detection and whose critics would be shocked to hear that he was, among others, Geoffrey Chaucer and Homer.
  • Along with Everyone Is Related, and Legacy Character this is one of the central tropes of Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Universe. Doc Savage is also R.J. MacReady and H.G. Wells's Time Traveler. Joseph Balsamo later became The Count of Monte Cristo and then Arthur Gordon Pym (inventing fictitious sympathetic backstories for both identities) before using alien super-science found at the North Pole as Pym to become Captain Nemo, Robur the Conqueror, and eventually Doctor Morbius (though Professor Moriarty briefly posed as Nemo without Balsamo's knowledge or permission before changing his name to Wolf Larsen).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dean Cain appeared in the Smallville episode "Cure" as Doctor Curtis Knox, an immortal who had been, among other people, Napoléon Bonaparte and Jack the Ripper, and is also very likely Vandal Savage mentioned above under Comic Books.
  • Flint, from the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Requiem for Methuselah", claims to have been Johannes Brahms, Leonardo da Vinci, Merlin, Lazarus, Alexander the Great, King Solomon, and Methuselah, among others, in addition to "a hundred other names that you do not know". His birth name was Akharin, a Sumerian soldier. In the (presumably non-canonical) Star Trek/Legion of Superheroes crossover comic series published by IDW, Flint also turns out to be the Trek universe doppleganger of the immortal DC Comics villain Vandal Savage (see Comics, above).
  • The eldest still living Goa'uld in Stargate SG-1 and the only one not to pose as a deity had the identities of both Yu the Great and the Jade Emperor.
  • A weird case in an episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, which takes place in modern day with the cast and crew of the Hercules show. The star of the show, Kevin Sorbo, turns out to be secretly Hercules himself, still alive, and occasionally comments on the show's plot being different from what he remembers. So, it's Hercules pretending to be Kevin Sorbo pretending to be Hercules.
  • The 2nd half of season 4 of Warehouse 13 has a trio that were turned immortal in the 1540s. Since then they've regularly taken on new identities to keep hidden. However, while their later identities aren't famous, one of them was originally the Count of St Germain.



    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).
    • According to some fan theories, he was also Doomguy.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • Assassin's Creed II has Altaïr 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.
    • Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag introduces the idea individuals who have the genetics and thus memories of one of the Abusive Precursors, Aita. This means that numerous historical figures (and potentially countless unknown persons) have been a variation of the same individual. Most purported Sages are unnamed, but in addition to Bartholomew Roberts and the Count of St. Germain — who play major roles in Black Flag and Unity — they also seem to include the legendary Wandering Jew, Jacques de Molay, and (seemingly) David Bowie.
  • 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).

    Western Animation