Quantum Pranx


Memento Mori: Remember that you are a mortal man

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from Jesse’s Café Américain
Posted 24 July 2011

IT IS SAID THAT DURING THE ROMAN TRIUMPH, in which a great hero was recognized by a procession through the city, generally for a military victory, a slave was positioned behind them, whispering in their ear:

“Memento mori,”  roughly speaking  ‘Remember that thou art a man.

As you may recall, Rome had become a Republic, after the overthrow of its monarchy, and enjoyed a period of Hellenistic influence, both in science and philosophy. In its decline into the reign of the imperial, god-like emperors and their increasingly idiot and sociopathic successors and sons, the elite became utterly distinct from the people by self-decree. ‘They would become as gods’ is a hallmark of an empire on the road to decline and decay, repeatedly endlessly through history.  It is the logical end of the will to power, in which none will be served but oneself, with power as an obsessive distortion of self-preservation and ego.

Death is the great leveler, and the balancer of the scales of fortune. Perhaps a member of the middle class can whisper this to the financiers and the politicians, those newly made masters of the universe, as they bask in their moments of power and triumph, and forget their commonality with the people.

Better to have someone whisper in your ear, than succumb to the excess of self-delusion and have the crowd cut it off with your head. But madness has no discourse with logic.

Roman Art: Memento mori, a philosophical theme during the Hellenistic period, an allegory of death that has rebalanced and weighs the same as all people regardless of their wealth and social status, with symbols of Life and Death.

Illustration above: Mosaic from Pompeii. 2nd style. 47×41 cm Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples



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  1. Yes, they are mortal men these people – but their actions were not for their mortal ends. Herostratus did not burn down the Temple to Diana because he hated Diana – he went down as the first man in history to do something that would lend his name to posterity. He paved the way for people like Alexander, born on that very day what is more, and who still has cities named after him two thousand years later despite his early death at age 33.

    George Bush has an aircraft carrier named after him. How long will that legacy last? Twenty years of naval ratings wondering who he was in the manner of the British seamen who called their battleship “Egg and Bacon” because they didn’t know who Agamemnon was?

    Julius Caesar is still better known than many political leaders today, and he died before Christ was born. Who remembers James Monroe save for a few scholars and those who had to learn the list by rote? To equate Ronald Reagan with Caesar – still a name to conjour with to this day – is impetinence beyond the normal. Who is going to call their king “Ronald”? (With the possible exception of Mc Donald’s) – but for centuries the Germans had their Kaiser, which is the Germanic corruption of his name.

    A man who fights for his country does so for himself, does it for what he himself believes in. Cynical politicians will be forgotten once this electronic age has passed and people live a more normal life.

    Gemma Laming

    30/07/2011 at 10:27 am

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