Perhaps it was the weather outside, falling/fallen leaves or the sheer lack of sunlight I get to see these days being a 9-to-5’er in a large office reminiscent of nuclear bomb-shelters probably built during the cold war era (not factually checked) – or perhaps it’s just another case of seasonal affective disorder. Whatever the reason, it got me thinking about death. Not mine in particular or that of the inconsiderate neighbour in the building who last night decided 11:30pm might be just the right time to vacuum their floor. (Although for a second… no). I mean just the idea of death in general.
Believe or not it was quite a challenge to google my way to any ‘cheerful’ piece of writing about death. I think ‘Feeling suicidal? – samaritans.org’ was the first entry that came up when I typed in ‘death’ in google. Or was it suicide? (stay with me – it does get better, though marginally). Then I came across this phrase; ‘memento mori’, meaning, ‘remember you will/must die’. The same phrase is used to describe a genre of paintings popular in the 16th/17th European fine art, whose basic form took a portrait with a skull and other objects symbolising death, fragility and finiteness of fleeting life.
I’d like to put the esoteric fine art genre aside, and go back to the original phrase and its origin, because it makes a pretty fascinating story; apparently in ancient Rome when a victorious general entered Rome in all glory and pomp (probably after yet another military conquest) while being cheered by jubilant crowds, they would arrange a slave or servant to whisper in the general’s ear:
“Respice post te.
Hominem te esse memento.
“Look past you(r time) .
Remember you are (but) a man.
Remember that you (will/must) die.”
For a second I thought it was a little harsh raining on someone’s victory parade but then maybe they thought some sobering is good for the soul I’d guess. ‘But how is this cheerful?’ you might ask. Well this Roman general thing led me to the popular medieval Persian phrase ‘this too shall pass’. This winter or SAD too shall pass.
Have fun this Friday but memento mori as this too shall pass (come Monday)