Memento Mori: Remember that you are a mortal man
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