From the beginning of time to the end, death is the one universal inescapable commonality. Kings or peasants, brilliant or stupid, everyone dies or is dead. Some try not to think about it. But for others, the certainty of death is kept at the forefront of thought. So that they might really live. The idea has been central to art, philosophy, literature, architecture, and more throughout history. Let us postpone nothing. Let that determine what you do and say and think. The Stoics used Memento Mori to invigorate life, and to create priority and meaning.
They treated each day as a gift, and reminded themselves constantly to not waste any time in the day on the trivial and vain. Memento Mori is believed to have originated from an ancient Roman tradition. After a major military victory, the triumphant military generals were paraded through the streets to the roars of the masses. The ceremonial procession could span the course of a day with the military leader riding in a chariot drawn by four horses.
There was not a more coveted honor. The general was idolized, viewed as divine by his troops and the public alike. But riding in the same chariot, standing just behind the worshipped general, was a slave. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori! The slave served to remind the victor at the peak of glory, this god-like adoration would soon end, while the truth of his mortality remained. Of the seven ancient wonders of the world, only one remains intact — the Great Pyramid of Giza. How the ancient Egyptians transported over , tons of limestone to erect the pyramid continues to puzzle archaeologists, but the why is better known.
Preceding the pointed smooth-sided pyramids were bench-shaped mounds called mastabas, built atop the tombs of early kings and pharaohs. The Great Pyramid displays an advancement aesthetically, but not symbolically. Excavated mummies, tombs, and pyramids reveal that remembering death was entrenched in ancient Egyptian culture.
Egyptologists maintain the preservation of dead bodies and the building of elaborate death chambers were an act of celebrating life, and a reverence for its ephemeralness. In the height of celebration, Egyptian custom was to set remembrance to the frailness and fleetingness of festival. Through the visual of the skeleton and the pronouncing of the chant, celebrators reeled in the jollity to acknowledge the moment would soon pass so not to take it for granted. Mindfulness of death is a central teaching in Buddhism.
Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme. The Bible is the most read book in the world. The most read book of the most read book is the book of Psalms from the Old Testament.
It is also the longest book of the Bible, and the most quoted book in the New Testament. Theologists attribute its reverence to capturing human emotion, not just in the joys of life, but in the struggles as well. Lewis devotes a chapter to the transitory nature of life.
The fall of the Roman empire in the fifth century lead to a tumultuous period of conflict, plague, and political crisis. Without a strong central government to maintain order, the Catholic Church surged as the most powerful institution.
Kings, queens, and other leaders derived power through their allegiance to and protection of the Church. Devotion was proven by the building of grand cathedrals, churches, and other ecclesiastical monuments. Funerary art displayed to compel visitors to reflect on the gift of life.
Crucifixes and tombs were most common. Remembering the inevitability of death is a core Biblical theme. It remains prevalent today far beyond the written word.
The Late Middle Ages was a period of devastation. A catastrophic plague, the Black Death, devastated Europe, killing an estimated 25 million people — one-third of the population.
Out of the grim horrors and fight for survival grew an art genre called Danse Macabre, meaning Dance or Death. Like plague, Danse Macabre illustrates the all-conquering power of death.
Paintings include kings with peasants, young with old, to convey that death comes for everyone. Danse Macabre in St. La Danse Macabre by Alfred Rethel. Cras Tibi. Tomorrow you. Life is fleeting so best to not waste it on meaningless goods and pleasures. Artists emphasized the emptiness and futility of earthly items. Skulls, candles, hourglasses, watches, rotting fruit, wilting flowers, and fraying books sat atop a table to remind viewers just how precious life is.
Allegory of Vanity by Antonio de Pereda. Plagues, wars, and massacres aside, people of the Regency and Victorian eras dealt too with some of the highest infant mortality rates in history. Without vaccines to control illness, mothers lost the life of their newborn, and sometimes their own, at an alarming rate.
Documentation started to be kept in a yearly Bill of Mortality. Memento Mori rings were worn by everyone from Queen Victoria to the impoverished. Skeletal bands and skulls wearing a crown reminded wearers that death is the master of all. Handcrafted in California. While Memento Mori has fallen from consciousness compared to its historical relevance, mortality motivation is practiced modernly in fueling successful entrepreneurs, artists, athletes, authors, among others.
Almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Writer and media strategist Ryan Holiday carries around a Memento Mori medallion to remind him of his mortality. Click here to learn more about the memento mori medallion. As Holiday says:. Billionaire author, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and life coach Tony Robbins has said:. Rather than fearing it, it can become one of our greatest counselors. So, if this was the last week of your life, what would you cherish most? How would you live? How would you love? What truth would you tell today?
Tim Ferriss ,best selling author, entrepreneur, and host of one of iTunes most listened to Podcasts, shared an image on Instagram of his Memento Mori coin, with a caption explaining how he reminds himself to not take any day for granted:. In Damien Hirst created one of the more famous modern art examples of Memento Mori with his For The Love of God , featuring over 8, diamonds laid out on a human skull. The world-renowned fashion brand, Gucci, recently used Memento Mori as a theme in their Gucci Cruise 19 show.
The show was held in a graveyard in Arles, France. And Mac Miller , whose promising music career ended prematurely, let us with the reminder. Just 8 weeks before his tragic passing, he shot his final music video which included a scene of him carving the words M emento Mori in a coffin. The screenshot below captures the moment before Mac punches through the coffin. The scene progresses to Mac freeing himself from the coffin, climbing atop a pile of dirt, to the verse:. BJ Miller, a hospice and palliative care physician, and a triple amputee survivor of a near-death electrocution accident, says meditating on death has become taboo in our culture but is the secret to living:.
The secret is that paying attention to the fact that you die can help you live a lot better. My colleagues and I are very aware of the clock. The truth is, we have all been given a fatal diagnosis. And neither do you. So keep the reminder of Memento Mori with you. Includes an introduction to Stoicism, best books to start with, Stoic exercises and much more!
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