Memento Mori: Remember Your Mortality
Memento mori; remember mortality, is derived from a Latin phrase as a reminder to “remember your death”, “remember that you are mortal”. During ancient Roman times it was customary to maintain a slave behind a victorious general whose task it was to remind the general that today he was victorious but tomorrow may have a different outcome. In other words, to remind the general that although he has lived through this battle, tomorrow he may not be as lucky.
With this in mind the concept of carpe diem also became popular. “Eat, drink and be merry, live for today for tomorrow we die”. With the rise of Christianity and the emphasis on judgment being Heaven or Hell, death was brought to the forefront of everyone’s mind. This mindset served to emphasize this life as only temporary and to focus more on the reality of death and an afterlife. While many rites are in the forefront, the most common of these is the Catholic rite of Ash Wednesday. Ashes are placed on the heads of worshipers with the words “Remember Man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return”.
For many, the time for memento mori comes when a loved one or friend has passed. As a people we tend to go about our daily tasks with the thought that death only attends to the sick and elderly. As we attend services for the departed we are then reminded that life is fleeting. During the fifteenth century it became fashionable with the wealthy to be placed in a cadaver tomb. This then became a stark reminder of death as the tomb reflects the decayed corpse. Also gaining momentum as a literary theme, memento mori became well known in English prose with works such as Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and Holy Dying, Thomas Gray’s elegy Written in a County Churchyard.
While most people tend to reflect on death as they grow older some individuals tend to become overly obsessed with it. Each waking moment is taken with thoughts of dying or death in general. While it is healthy to maintain a good attitude and realization of death, a constant and steady flow of these thoughts only succeed in depriving and depleting an individual of his or her humanity. Death will catch up to us all at some point, take time to enjoy loved ones, smell the roses and know you have lived life to its fullest with Memento Mori as our companion.
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