In a world where we’ve created endless fantasies of immortality, from classic mythology to tales of vampirism, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the reality that we will all one day die. While thinking about our deaths can feel strange and unsettling, there’s a lot we can gain from reflecting on our mortality and the phrase memento mori is one way to bring this into mind.
What does memento mori mean?
The literal translation of the Latin phrase memento mori is “remember that you must die.” The expression is thought to have originated in ancient Rome, where slaves followed generals on victory marches and quietly said the words to keep their commander’s mortality in mind. The sentiment was said in hopes of humbling their leaders and stopping them from becoming consumed by pride.
Memento mori is symbolised in art through depictions of death and time that show the fragility of life. These symbols often include:
flowers plucked from the stem
What is the point of memento mori?
Memento mori encourages us to actively stop and think about death. While it might seem morbid, setting aside a moment to contemplate death can positively shape our lives. The philosophy behind memento mori reminds us how important it is to appreciate what we have right now. It can help give us a new perspective and encourage us to seize opportunities. The more we comfortably reflect on death, the more we can live life to the fullest.
By taking time to think about death every day, you might:
push yourself to take risks
place more value in your time and energy
recognise how much life and death are connected
open yourself up to difficult conversations
plan for the unexpected
appreciate the love and wonder in your life
find humour in the little obstacles along the way
enjoy the mystery life has to offer
Is memento mori religious?
Many faiths and cultures have connected the sentiment of memento mori and similar concepts to their own teachings about the afterlife. The practice has informed moral guides and spiritual traditions, spanning across ancient Greece and Rome to early Christianity and Buddhism. The reflective phrase has continued to influence philosophy, art and literature over the centuries outside of religious traditions.
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