Memento mori (Latin for 'remember that you [have to] die') is an artistic or symbolic trope acting as a reminder of the inevitability of death. The concept has its roots in the philosophers of classical antiquity and Christianity, and appeared in funerary art and architecture from the medieval period onwards.
Memento is the 2nd person singular active imperative of meminī, 'to remember, to bear in mind', usually serving as a warning: "remember!" Morī is the present infinitive of the deponent verb morior 'to die'.
The expression memento mori developed with the growth of Christianity, which emphasized Heaven, Hell, and salvation of the soul in the afterlife.The 2nd-century Christian writer Tertullian claimed that during his triumphal procession, a victorious general would have someone (in later versions, a slave) standing behind him, holding a crown over his head and whispering "Respice post te. Hominem te memento" ("Look after you [to the time after your death] and remember you're [only] a man."). Though in modern times this has become a standard trope, in fact no other ancient authors confirm this, and it may have been Christian moralizing rather than an accurate historical report.
The thought was then utilized in Christianity, whose strong emphasis on divine judgment, heaven, hell, and the salvation of the soul brought death to the forefront of consciousness. In the Christian context, the memento mori acquires a moralizing purpose quite opposed to the nunc est bibendum (now is the time to drink) theme of classical antiquity. To the Christian, the prospect of death serves to emphasize the emptiness and fleetingness of earthly pleasures, luxuries, and achievements, and thus also as an invitation to focus one's thoughts on the prospect of the afterlife. A Biblical injunction often associated with the memento mori in this context is In omnibus operibus tuis memorare novissima tua, et in aeternum non peccabis (the Vulgate's Latin rendering of Ecclesiasticus 7:40, "in all thy works be mindful of thy last end and thou wilt never sin.") This finds ritual expression in the rites of Ash Wednesday, when ashes are placed upon the worshipers' heads with the words, "Remember Man that you are dust and unto dust, you shall return."
Memento mori has been an important part of ascetic disciplines as a means of perfecting the character by cultivating detachment and other virtues, and by turning the attention towards the immortality of the soul and the afterlife.
The most obvious places to look for memento mori meditations are in funeral art and architecture. Perhaps the most striking to contemporary minds is the transi or cadaver tomb, a tomb that depicts the decayed corpse of the deceased. This became a fashion in the tombs of the wealthy in the fifteenth century, and surviving examples still offer a stark reminder of the vanity of earthly riches. Later, Puritan tomb stones in the colonial United States frequently depicted winged skulls, skeletons, or angels snuffing out candles. These are among the numerous themes associated with skull imagery.
Another example of memento mori is provided by the chapels of bones, such as the Capela dos Ossos in Évora or the Capuchin Crypt in Rome. These are chapels where the walls are totally or partially covered by human remains, mostly bones. The entrance to the Capela dos Ossos has the following sentence: "We bones, lying here bare, await yours."
In the late 16th and through the 17th century, memento mori jewelry was popular. Items included mourning rings, pendants, lockets, and brooches. These pieces depicted tiny motifs of skulls, bones, and coffins, in addition to messages and names of the departed, picked out in precious metals and enamel.
Memento mori is also an important literary theme. Well-known literary meditations on death in English prose include Sir Thomas Browne's Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial and Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living and Holy Dying. These works were part of a Jacobean cult of melancholia that marked the end of the Elizabethan era. In the late eighteenth century, literary elegies were a common genre; Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard and Edward Young's Night Thoughts are typical members of the genre.
Apart from the genre of requiem and funeral music, there is also a rich tradition of memento mori in the Early Music of Europe. Especially those facing the ever-present death during the recurring bubonic plague pandemics from the 1340s onward tried to toughen themselves by anticipating the inevitable in chants, from the simple Geisslerlieder of the Flagellant movement to the more refined cloistral or courtly songs. The lyrics often looked at life as a necessary and god-given vale of tears with death as a ransom, and they reminded people to lead sinless lives to stand a chance at Judgment Day. The following two Latin stanzas (with their English translations) are typical of memento mori in medieval music; they are from the virelai ad mortem festinamus of the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat from 1399:
The danse macabre is another well-known example of the memento mori theme, with its dancing depiction of the Grim Reaper carrying off rich and poor alike. This and similar depictions of Death decorated many European churches.
Colonial American art saw a large number of memento mori images due to Puritan influence. The Puritan community in 17th-century North America looked down upon art because they believed that it drew the faithful away from God and, if away from God, then it could only lead to the devil. However, portraits were considered historical records and, as such, they were allowed. Thomas Smith, a 17th-century Puritan, fought in many naval battles and also painted. In his self-portrait, we see these pursuits represented alongside a typical Puritan memento mori with a skull, suggesting his awareness of imminent death.
Another manifestation of memento mori is found in the Mexican "Calavera", a literary composition in verse form normally written in honour of a person who is still alive, but written as if that person were dead. These compositions have a comedic tone and are often offered from one friend to another during Day of the Dead.
The Buddhist practice maraṇasati meditates on death. The word is a Pāli compound of maraṇa 'death' (an Indo-European cognate of Latin mori) and sati 'awareness', so very close to memento mori. It is first used in early Buddhist texts, the suttapiṭaka of the Pāli Canon, with parallels in the āgamas of the "Northern" Schools.
The vanitas and memento mori picture became popular in the seventeenth century, in a religious age when almost everyone believed that life on earth was merely a preparation for an afterlife. However, modern artists have continued to explore this genre.
Why do cells have so many ways to die? Why does "cellular suicide" exist at all? In the war against pathogens and rogue cells, organisms developed cellular suicide as a last resort. Fighting an evolutionary arms race, cell death pathways have adapted and multiplied to cover the complexity of the foes the immune system faces. In this review, we discuss the different types of cell death, the underlying signaling events, and their unequal ability to trigger an immune response. We also comment on how to use our knowledge of cell death signaling to improve the efficacy of cancer treatment. We argue that cell death is integral to the immune response and acts as a beacon, a second messenger, that guides both immune system and tissue micro-environment to ensure tissue repair and homeostasis. Memento mori-"remember you must die"-as failure to do so opens the way to chronic infection and cancer.
Since memento mori and related images were created to encourage people to think about death in terms of Christian salvation, there are plenty of demons to be found in medieval images of death, particularly in deathbed scenes. For example, here are demons tempting the sinner in his last moments, and distracting the ill man from the counsel of the angels. Demons were thought to be always at the ready to drag sinners down to hell.
Another sub-genre of memento mori art is called vanitas. This artistic motif was particularly popular among Dutch Golden Age artists of the 16th and 17th centuries. The famous passage from chapter 1 of Ecclesiastes on the fleeting and impermanent nature of our mortal life is cited as the inspiration for this morbid art.
Reflecting on death is not a morbid affair, it is a healthy and often healing practice that helps us accept the inevitable with hope. The practice, however, can bring complex emotions to the surface. For this reason, it is important to thoughtfully integrate memento mori into your spiritual life.
As you integrate memento mori into your life, you will find more fruit in the practice if you are able to connect with those in the community of the Church who are on the same journey. Talk with family and close friends about your journey. Share some of your reflections and reactions with the wider online community with the hashtags #mementomori and #livemementomori.
Observe a remote panel featuring Memento Mori curator, Heather Nameth Bren, along with artists in the exhibition as they discuss their visual responses to the theme of memento mori, in the wake of a modern global pandemic.
As the others leave, Pike asks La'an to stay a moment, and asks how she is holding up. La'an says simply that the enemy doesn't care about her feelings, so she doesn't waste her time having any. Pike concedes that may be true, but it doesn't seem that way to the crew. La'an has made clear that she does not care what the crew thinks about her, and that she has always been blunt, but Pike points out that right now, her job was not just about orders, it was about hope. He considers belief to be the difference between victory and defeat, and if one got a crew to believe in miracles, they might just deliver one. La'an accepts she has to make an adjustment, but makes clear she will not lie to the crew. "The best miracles are born from truth," Pike assures her. Since there was not much on the official record pertaining to the Gorn, he asks if there was anything she could recall that might help. She stammers that her memories were inhibited by trauma, as she again sees Manu, standing behind Pike. The captain simply asks her to tell if anything came to mind. 041b061a72