Memento Mori, a Latin phrase, translated as Remember you must die, or Remember your mortality.
Earlier this year, I saw a wonderful exhibit here in Lyon, once the capital of Gaul, under the Roman Empire. The title of the exhibit: Post Mortem, at the Musée Gallo Romain. It’s not about autopsies or forensic medicine, but the funerary rites of the ancient Romans. The exhibit takes the visitor through the steps from the death to the laying to rest of a citizen.
Walking through a Roman cemetery, or passing the grave markers by the side of the road, an ancient Roman could read the epitaphs extolling the virtues of the defunct and thus bring him or her back to the world of the living, even if only briefly. The ancient Romans did not believe in the possibility of a pleasant afterlife and death was considered the opposite of life, a cold gray place. Many epitaphs sent a message to passers-by, encouraging them to enjoy life, and reminding them that they too would someday join the ranks of the dead. As you are, I once was…as I am, so shall you be.
The living would return to the grave of a family member once a year and share a meal at the grave site. Remembering. It will soon be time for us to remember too, with the autumn holidays such as Halloween, All Souls’ Day and the Mexican Day of the Dead.
A bit depressing perhaps, but nonetheless useful to give a thought to one’s own mortality every so often. Thinking about the impermanence of life, we can enjoy each moment and let go of petty problems and fleeting issues.