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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 of Julius Beethoven Da Vinci include:


  • 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).
      • Note that this contradicts what had been established about Cain in the Sandman series (it might be a case of Canon Dis Continuity).
        • 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.
  • Odd variation in Blade of the Immortal, in which the 200-year-old immortal Shizuma has plans along these lines, but one of the protagonists tells him that if he's never held power in his long life so far, he's never likely to.
  • 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.

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.


  • 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 of course Vlad Tepes. But his original identity was revealed as Judas Iscariot. Seriously.
  • 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. 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.


  • 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.
  • 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 Super-Hero 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", HP 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 just about every single historical legend told on his home continent for the past seven hundred 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 (unfortunately I forget the title) which claimed that Martians have been disguising themselves as humans since at least the fifteenth 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 Virgin 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.

Live-Action TV

Tabletop Games

  • The Emperor of Warhammer 40000 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 very good chance that, in his universe, he was the Jesus Jesus, too.
    • It appears from one of the newest books that he was Saint George.
    • Jesus is actually about the least likely person for him to have been. The man has a serious hate for religion and straight up outlawed it when he was directly in charge.
      • Agreed, chances are Jesus was another very powerful Perpetual with a different philosophy to the Big E.
    • Calling his flagship the Bucephalus hints he was likely Alexander the Great.

Video Games

  • It may simply be symbolic, but the protagonist (note that 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).
  • Kane of Command and 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.
  • 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.

Western Animation

  • Futurama parodied this when Calculon revealed he was all the great acting robots; Acting Unit 0.8, Thespomat, David Duchovny...
    • Fanon suggests Calculon is either crazy or lying, as we have seen the head of David Duchovny before.
      • Not to mention he would have had to have been David Duchovny before being the robot assembly arm
    • No, not that David Duchovny, the other one.
  • Norman from Mighty Max. At the very least, he was both Hercules and Thor.
  • Zarm from Captain Planet and the Planeteers claims to have been possessing every major tyrant/dictator in human history. There's no evidence he was possessing Der Fuhrer during his appearance though.


  • Mr. Lordi of the eponymous band Lordi is supposed to be a half goblin, half demon who has been, among others, Genghis Khan and Vlad the Impaler. As well, Ox was apparently the original Minotaur.
  • In one of David D Friedman's 'story suggestions' involves a popular writer - he suggests Leslie Charteris or Mickey Spillane - who's actually an immortal storyteller who's changed his identity every fifty years or so to avoid detection and who's critics would be shocked to hear that he was, among others, Geoffrey Chaucer and Homer.

Real Life

  • Alan Moore has been Poseidon, Odin, and Rasputin. Don't believe me? Look at a picture of him.
    • And the reason From Hell is so accurate? He is Jack the Ripper, too. He wrote the notes because he knew he would end up an author, and he'd want to write about himself.
    • Not to mention John Brown.
  • 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, Napoleon Bonaparte, etc.).
    • Patton didn't actually believe that he was Napoleon however he did believe that he had been reincarnated multiple times to take part in almost all of the wars fought and that he had been a general for Napoleon.
  • 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.
    • No, no, wasn't that Sir Winston Churchill?
    • Could be both of them, depending on the turn-around time on reincarnation. Churchill was born 22 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. 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.