On a Lack of Decay

The body had been declared dead six days earlier. Yet, it showed no signs of decay or decomposition. The weather had been warm and moist. Any normal body would begin to show signs of death. Yet, nothing seemed changed despite the passage of time. People began to talk and speculate as to why there was such a lack of decay.

You may well be wondering why someone would allow a body to lie uncovered and unburied for almost a week after a declaration of death. Well, the situation was complicated. There was some considerable conflict over exactly who would take possession of the corpse. That question had to be answered before the authorities would release the body to be interred. The young man was indeed loved, had a mother and siblings. His mother, well, the young man once said that she was so nosy in his life that she charged high rent for only 9 months of occupancy. Also, the young man had a large a coterie of friends who all felt that they should be the ones tasked with the embalming and burying of him. In fact, some unseemly fights broke out between some of those who claimed to be the ones who loved the young man more than the others.

His own wife and child, however, weren’t considered, oddly enough. They were more, well, ornamental than practical to the man. His life was his career, his work, and everyone who knew him understood that. We don’t talk much these days of destiny and fate, but people around this particular young man certainly saw him as being fated for success. And, indeed, he was successful in his chosen career. Maybe too successful.

The young man worked extremely hard, often worked harder and longer than others who were under him, but then, when work was over, he also partied hard, longer and later, than any others, too. That was part of the reason there was some dithering over the body. Nobody, including the doctors, were sure what he died of. Could it be that the excesses of his hard drinking and partying caught up with him? We still don’t know. We do know that he was cut down at the young age of 33 after rising to the top of his profession.

What most people today think is that, whatever he died from, quietly and in his own bed, we have an idea why his body didn’t decay. The best theory is that the young man wasn’t, in fact, dead at all. He may have had an auto-immune condition named Guillain-Barre Syndrome. That can manifest itself by extreme muscle paralysis–the patient mimics death by having such shallow breathing that he may seem to not be breathing at all.

And that’s why it only seemed that his body didn’t decompose. Oh, all those around him thought that the lack of decay meant that he was a god. But now we know the truth.

In other words, it might well be that Alexander the Great didn’t actually die until his friends had him cut open and disemboweled in preparation for his embalming.

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