What does “Memento Mori” mean? It is Latin for ‘remember that you must die’ [one day].

The most successful generals in ancient Rome were awarded a “triumph” entry into the capital city on their return from victorious campaigns. It was a magnificent spectacle and parade that was meant as a ceremony to honor and appreciate the war won by a commanding general. The triumph was the biggest tribute awarded to a military commander in Rome. It was usually the peak of a general’s long military career. It was a thank you from the legions and population as an act of appreciation and respect.

While this was created to reward the current general and help motivate future generals aspire to greatness it worried the Roman senate that this could cause a general to grow too ambitious and power hungry. The senate had an idea to help keep a general’s ego in check during this process. While the honored general would be in his chariot adored by the Romans, a slave would remain sitting behind him and whisper in his ear “Memento Mori”. Many believe that this was had a larger meaning like many Latin phrases and could be fully translated into English as “Remember that you are a mere mortal and that you will die one day.” This phrase was said by a mere slave to remind the ambitious general that power and fame aren’t permanent, and that he would eventually die.

This was done to create a realistic perspective for someone who at the height of their power and success may be deluded into thinking they are a god or invincible. It was hoped to keep their ambitions in check as they realize they could go from a god in their mind to a corpse in a grave in a short amount of time. 

This is a good reality check for traders, investors, executives, entertainers and politicians who have the delusion of invincibility that could lead to arrogance causing them to fall from the pinnacle of success to the rock bottom of failure and even in some cases death. 

Remembering that you are a mortal and will one day die can help you keep a realistic perspective during your greatest success. Pride comes before the fall but staying humble can keep pride from becoming a weakness. 

memento mori meaning
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay