Latin for "Remember that you must die." The skull on the poet's desk is the most well-known memento mori, though in medieval and Renaissance times it was common to wear jewelry with a skull and bones or some other reminder of mortality. For example, Mary Queen of Scots had a pendant watch shaped like a coffin.

When Caesar was at the height of his popularity and power, the legend is that someone whispered to him "Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal."

The memento mori is not only a reminder that God will someday judge you. It is a warning against hubris. The Elizabethan fashion to keep a skull on your writing desk served as a reminder of the futility of human endeavors, of life's brevity and uncertainty. Remember Hamlet's "Alas, poor Yorick." speech.

"I make as good use of it (Bardolph’s face) as many a man doth of a death’s head or a memento mori."
"Do not speak like a death’s-head, do not bid me remember mine end."
- both quotes from Shakespeare, Henry IV. Death's-head meant skull.

As tribbel puts it, carpe diem was something of a replacement for memento mori.

The X-files

Memento Mori
Episode: 4X15
First aired:2/09/97
Written by:Chris Carter, Frank Spotniz, John Shiban, and Vince Gilligan
Directed by: Rob Bowman

A very important episode in the X-files mythology.

Scully shows Mulder an MRI x-ray indicating a cancerous mass has been detected on the wall between her sinus and cerebrum. The tumor is inoperable and if it grows, the chance for survival is slim. Instead of requesting a leave of absence, Scully opts to follow another avenue of investigation: contacting a group of purported female abductees who experienced similar symptoms after having implants removed from the base of their necks.

The agents travel to the home of Betsy Hagopian in Allentown, Pennsylvania where Scully had met these women before. A realtor informs them that Hagopian (one of the female abductees) passed away two weeks earlier. While searching through Hagopian's house, the agents realize someone is downloading computer files via phone modem. The call is traced, and the agents apprehend Kurt Crawford, the man who downloaded the files. Crawford explains that he and Hagopian were both members of the same UFO network and downloaded Hagopian's files because the government is out to destroy them. Crawford also reveals that all of the women who claimed they were abducted by aliens died of similar tumors, with the exception of Penny Northern, who is now hospitalized and near death from cancer.

Scully visits Northern at the hospital, who reveals that Dr. Scanlon, who has been treating her cancer, may have isolated the cause. Seeing her future self in Penny's condition, Scully checks herself in and Dr. Scanlon begins treating her cancer. Meanwhile, Mulder and Crawford search through hard files in Hagopian's basement. They discover that all of the woman abductees, including Northern, were treated at the same fertility clinic in Pennsylvania. When Scully asks Mulder to bring her overnight bag to the hospital, Mulder leaves Crawford in the basement to attend to Scully. Later that evening, the Gray-Haired Man (the same man who killed X) shows up and kills Crawford, whose body melts into a pool of green liquid.

Meanwhile, Mulder breaks into a federally-subsidized fertility clinic where all the female UFO network memmbers were patients. Inside, he discovers Kurt Crawford (Mulder is unaware of the other Crawford's death). They access a computer terminal and download a directory containing Scully's name. Near the breaking point, Mulder demands that Skinner arrange a meeting with The Cigarette-Smoking Man. But Skinner refuses, insisting The Cigarette-Smoking Man deals only in lies. Nonetheless, Skinner secretly enlists The Cigarette-Smoking Man's help.

Mulder turns to the Lone Gunmen, who tell him that the fertility clinic's mainframe is housed in a high-security federal research facility. The foursome infiltrate the research facility, and once inside, Mulder realizes Dr. Scanlon is on staff. He instructs Byers to find Scully and stop her treatment immediately. As he continues through the building's corridors, Mulder encounters additional Crawfords and realizes Kurt is a clone. He finds several of them dressed as doctors inside an incubator room housing tanks containing human forms, including those of Samantha. One of the Kurts shows Mulder a cold storage room containing vials of human ova--including a vial with Scully's name on it. The eggs were harvested from women during their abduction, which were later used for reproduction. Mulder realizes the women are the Kurts' birth mothers and the clones are actually working to save their mothers' lives.

The Gray-Haired Man arrives at the clinic and traps Mulder between two security doors in a quarantine wing. The Gray-Haired Man opens fire, slowly cracking the bullet proof glass that stands between himself and his prey. Working feverishly, Frohike breaks a computer code from a remote location, allowing Mulder to open the outside door and run to safety.

When Mulder returns to the hospital, he finds Scully at Penny's bedside. Byers arrived in time to stop Scully's treatment, but Penny Northern had died and Dr. Scanlon was gone. Scully tells her partner she has decided to fight the disease and continue her work.

Important Quotes:
Scully (over voice) -- "For the first time I feel time like a heartbeat, the secnds pumping in my breast like a reckonging; the numinous mysteries that once seemed so distant and unreal threating clarity in the presence of a truth entertained not in youth, but only in its passage. I feel these words as if their meaning were weight being lifted from me. Knowing that you will read them and share my burden as I have come to trust no other. That you should know my heart, look into it, finding there the memory and experience that belong to you, that are you is a comfort to me now as I feel the tethers loose and the prospects darken for the continuance of a journey that began not so long ago and which began again with a faith shaken and strengthened by your convictions if not for which I might never have been so strong now as I cross to face you and look at you incomplete, hoping that you will forgive me for not making the rest of the journey with you.

Mulder(giving Scully flowers) -- "Scully? I uh, I . . . stole these from some guy with a broken leg down the hall. He, uh, won't be able to catch me."

Mulder -- "Going through some of those hard files before stuff starts disappearing and call me an early bird but I think I found something."

Scully -- "I think we both know that . . . right now, the truth is in me. And that's where I need to pursue it, as soon as possible."

Mulder (to Skinner) -- "They've taken a turn. A pretty big U turn by the looks of it. This is a file directory from a federally operated fertility clinic. Agent Scully's name is on this file. Although I'm pretty sure, pretty damn sure she's never undergone treatment for infertility."

Mulder -- "pick out something black and sexy and prepare to do some funky poaching."

CSM -- "You think I'm the devil, Mr. Skinner?"

Scully (in her diary) -- "Mulder, I hope that in these terms you might know it and know me. And if the darkness should have swallowed me as you read this, you must never think there was the possibility of some secret intervention - something you might have done. And though we've traveled far together, this last distance must necessarily be traveled alone."

Back to The X-files: Season 4

I have come to like the term "living memory." I'm not sure if I've invented the term, invented this particular usage, or done absolutely nothing at all other than sort of claim to have done one of those two things.

That isn't really important. What I mean by living memory is the way we can remember things in such vivid detail and color that we can relive them in our imagination. We can feel the joys and sorrows of the past in the present. We can use the emotions that come from those memories to guide ourselves into the future. These living memories can serve us well. They can also be detrimental to our personal journeys when they are dark or unresolved.

The rate of change began to significantly accelerate in December, 2013.

My physical functionality was changing before that, with noticeable increases in overall fatigue and seemingly random aches and pains I attributed to the natural course of aging and the amount of hard mileage I'd put on my body. In December, 2013, the aches and pains became more acute accompanied by swelling in my joints, hands and feet. There was so much swelling at times I would freak people out. I just shrugged and said, "Weird, huh?" The fatigue became worse as time passed. My cognitive functioning was becoming sluggish. My memory was being affected and I started having panic attacks for no apparent reason over things I could not define.

Over the next six months my symptoms worsened until I was almost crawling to get around at work and at home. My vertigo symptoms, which I've had for over fifteen years, became more intense and more frequent. Then came horrible pains in my abdomen, like someone stabbing me repeatedly with a superheated knife, and still I tried to carry on. I would not be defeated.

"Something very bad is wrong with me," I told a trusted co-worker. "I'm a bit frightened as to what it is but I'm not going to be able to compensate and carry on much longer."

"You're probably just getting the flu, and since you haven't been sick at all for twenty years that would probably be pretty freaky."

"I have a superhuman immune system. Something is penetrating it. That can't be good."

A trip to a doctor's office had me rushed to the emergency room along with serious questions of how I was still functioning. That emergency room visit led to twelve days in the hospital. No one could figure out what was wrong with me. They concentrated on the pain in my gut, which had become the most prevalent issue. Dozens of doctors, scores of tests, all kinds of this and that and eventually I was discharged none the wiser.

"Probably some weird intestinal virus," shrugged the doctor.

A month later I was diagnosed with lupus, very high up on the severity scale. I was an unusual case for my new rheumatologist. He was a lupus specialist and he'd never seen anything like me before. My blood tests were like those of a dead man. Insert joke here.

"I haven't been sick for almost twenty years. My superhuman immune system defeated anything that so much as looked at me wrong. And now it has turned on me?"

It has been fifteen years since the end of the period of my life known, in my personal mythology, as The Age of Miracles. I listened to a recurring dream, a dream that was stalking me for three years, and ended up following it. The living memory of that time period used to sustain me in times of trouble or when I began to question my value in this world.

It all continues to exist in my memory, but more like a history book than as memory. It is as if I have memorized names, dates and historical data along with helpful anecdotes and tangents, but I can no longer feel it. It becomes work to reconcile who I am now with who I was before. The loss of living memory, which may be connected to the neurological effects of my lupus, is disturbing to me. It is especially disturbing because this happened before, quite a long time ago.

Trauma tends to mess up living memory and play tricks with memory in general. My suicide and death experience in 1994 did strange things to my memory. Things got jumbled and other things didn't make sense. Some time in therapy shined some light on what was wrong with my memory. I was so changed by my experience with death that my pre-death behavior no longer made sense to my brain in the context of who I had become. My brain discarded memories it could not reconcile. It simply did not compute. When I regained those memories many of them had inconsistencies and errors. Dates and places were often shown to be wrong later on and the wrong people were often cited in roles they never played.

The reason so many mistakes were present in the reconstruction of my pre-1994 memory was that I had a handful of data on the past but no living memory of the past. Back then it wasn't important to me to retain data on my history. I had been quite miserable and suffering from self-hatred for many years, which led to my suicide. A person in that situation rarely keeps documentation unless it is for "Why I hate myself and the world around me" diatribes scribbled down in the form of a suicide note.

I can remember lying on the grass between two rocks with a woman named Margrette. I remember her singing to me. We went to weddings together. We spent a great deal of time together sorting out the nature of existence. We worked in earnest together on an ill-fated plan to pull a friend of hers out of the downward spiral of drug addiction. We laughed when people accused us of being a couple. I can no longer remember what she meant to me. Facts are easy to remember. So are details, but art loses meaning when it no longer elicits emotion from those who look upon it.

I measure the accomplishments of my life by how many people I was able to have an impact on. Some people have characterized my existence since 1994 as a never ending carousel of women. The historical record might very well bear this out, but without an understanding of the purpose of it all, making impact with another soul and changing its course in some way, it sounds very empty and self-serving. At times it begins to now feel that way to me. I have to find ways to remind myself.

In March of 1997 I met a woman who had gotten such bad press on me from her sister, who was dating my roommate at the time, that she spat venom during our first meeting. I was a seducer of women. I had a harem. I used women like tissues and threw them away when I was done with them. I was a bad, bad man, and she made it very clear to me she knew all this about me when we were introduced.

Oh, well. That was my reaction. The only issue was she would be around all weekend and I didn't want to make her uncomfortable. I wondered if she really thought I was going to spend the weekend trying to get her into bed.

After the St. Patrick's Day parade and a great deal of drinking amongst the friends of my roommate and his girlfriend we were at a friend's house and Christine and I were the only sober people. Everyone else seemed intent on passing out while she furiously washed dishes she hadn't been asked to wash and I smoked cigarettes and stared out a window.

"You want to get out of here and get something to eat?" I asked her.

She gave me a look that said, "Okay, so now he's starts with his game." She paused, put down the dish she was washing and said, "Yeah, why not." We stepped over the bodies that were strewn about on the floor like Jonestown and I drove her to an Italian restaurant. There is nothing quite as dead as an Italian restaurant on St. Patrick's Day in Massachusetts.

"I am never, ever going to sleep with you. I meant that when I said it."

"I know. I just wanted to eat something."

"I'm just saying, if this is part of your plan to seduce me..."

"You know, three years ago I killed myself. In part it was because I couldn't figure out women. I didn't know how to get them to like me. All my relationships ended in disaster and I became this sort of creepy stalker dude who tried anything to hold on to women. I didn't like myself, or who I had become, and so I killed myself. Then I came back and everything changed. I stopped caring whether anyone liked me or not and somehow that seemed to cause people to like me more. I don't try to get women to go to bed with me and I really don't sleep with as many women as your sister thinks I do. When I meet someone I try to figure out what part I could play in their life and what part they could play in mine. I never try to get someone to do anything against their wishes or be anything they aren't meant to be. My life is just a journey I am on and I go where the path takes me."

"You killed yourself?"

"I knew you would focus on that part of the story."

"Well, it is the most shocking part of your story and you know that."

"I like to casually throw it in there like that for dramatic effect. The point is, if you don't want to sleep with me then I have no interest in trying to convince you otherwise."

The thing about passion is it is derived from strong sentiments and firm convictions.

After dinner I drove back to my house.

"Why are we going to your house?"

"You want to go back to that other house and stare at the pass out gang? I can drop you off, but I'm going home."

"I'll go with you."

"I have these dreams. Ever since my suicide I've had them. There is this beautiful blonde woman in a cabin who says I need to find her to understand why I am still alive. She says I have to go where there is no snow to find her. I've been looking, off and on, but there are a lot of places where there is no snow."

"You think I am this woman and because I live in Orlando... wow, that is one hell of a line."

"No, you aren't her. I know exactly what she looks like after seeing her in my dreams for almost three years. I'm just going on with my story. If you want me to stop I will."

"No. Go on. I'm listening."

"I figure if I find her the dreams will stop. Sometimes I have these dreams while I am awake, which is pretty freaky."

"So, she is your so-called dream girl?"

"It isn't like that, really. The whole thing is more like a riddle or a puzzle. Still, I think it is why I've stayed out of long-term exclusive type relationships over the past three years."

"You're trying to convince me you aren't a bad guy, aren't you?"

"I feel like it might matter at some point."

"I don't think you're a bad guy."

A few hours later, after we finished having sex, she told me what she thought. I was supposed to go where there was no snow to find this woman who would explain something important to me. She lived in Orlando, Florida, where there was no snow. If I came there to visit her I could see if Orlando was the right place. Something inside told her it was the right place and that she had come into my life to guide me there.

"You're as crazy as I am," I told her.

"If you really believe she is out there, it couldn't hurt, and we'd get more time together. What do you think?"

I went to Orlando late in March of 1997. Christine met me at the airport. It was late, we went back to her apartment so I could change into land without snow clothes and then went out for drinks.

It was then that I had the most life changing experience of my life. The waitress was the woman from my dream and she acted quite peculiar. It was as if she went into a trance, staring at me, constantly asking if I needed anything and acting as if Christine was not even there. It wasn't like she was playing me for a better tip or somehow enamored with me. It was like she knew me and didn't know why. I'd find her again eight months later and for the next three years I would see her at the bar at this particular Chili's and we would talk. Our last conversation involved her telling me I'd given her the strength and self-confidence to get through nursing school, that I'd convinced her there was more to life than what she saw in front of her, that I'd given her faith and a belief in the impossible.

"Because," she said, "I have no other way to explain everything that has happened since you started showing up here."

Now that seems like a story. I can no longer feel it. And that really sucks.

Sometimes it feels like slow death, being in constant pain and feeling like I am losing touch with my own realities. My myths become dreams and the dreams that shaped the reality of my mythology change to more passive content. I float through them, meeting people but being unable to interact with them in any meaningful way.

There is a house in my dreams. It is filled with people in the midst of some kind of never ending party. I move amongst them, barely noticed, except by two women. One is raven-haired with a sort of 1950s pin-up sensuality. She is always trying to seduce me. She insists being with her will make me feel better. I keep moving away from her and gravitate towards a mousey woman with a baby who tells me there is nothing I can do for her, that she is damned to some kind of fate. For some reason she always tells me her name is Lindsey at some point in our conversation and it always feels like we are meeting each other for the first time.

That is how it always has been. You always choose the broken one.

"We're all broken. Some just accept it more openly than others. They are easier to work with."

Ever wonder how many thought the same when it came to you?

A personal view

All you that do this place pass bye
Remember death for you must die
As you are now so then was I
And as I am, so that you be. x
Thomas Gooding's gravestone in Norwich Cathedral

Thomas Gooding had been a mason in life and probably worked on the cathedral in which he is now inhumed, buried upright to facilitate his easy resurrection. His epitaph is a reminder to all who pass that life is to be lived. Accepting that death exists should not be a morbid thought or philosophy, but an inspiration to live one's life to the fullest.

This concept surrounding death has been familiar to me since I was about seven years old. A near neighbour died, and my parents had a conversation with me about what it all meant. Death to my parents wasn't scary; they were truly Christians and believed that the good people would find favour with God and go to heaven. Sunday School teachings backed this up for me, so I wasn't afraid either. What did happen was I became aware of my own mortality. Each tumble from my bike, each crossing of the road, all hammered home my frailty. WHen a schoolmate was it by a car, it reinforced for me that one day my number would be up and I'd die too. It is fair to say that whilst the prospect did haunt me for a while, I was never really afraid, other than feeling that there were future experiences and adventures that I'd miss out on.

I decided to live in the moment, enjoy every breath and step, seeking to extract as much as possible from every experience, hoping that it would help me grow and develop. My curiosity was unbounded. I read everything within reach, asked questions of my parents and teachers, cast my net wide. At the age of seven, my parents gave me a seven-volume encyclopedia, The Book of Knowledge, and I would stretch out on the floor just turning pages and soaking up everything I could. Even now, sixty years on I can still close my eyes and see the pages of words and pictures that piqued my interest and added not just to my knowledge, but enhanced my desire for even more. Seizing the day became such a habit that I ceased fearing death itself.

This was amplified as I grew up, and by the time I moved to Norwich and saw Thomas Gooding's grave in Norwich cathedral, I had no fear of death and a carpe diem philosophy. Reading this gravestone punched home the lesson even more. I had learned to enjoy life without becoming a hedonist, never forgetting to touch grass, hug trees and enjoy each sunrise and sunset. (By the bye, if you want to see the grave image, it's here.

I hear many people talking about "living their best lives", but honestly don't see may people doing it, sharing it. And the sharing is enjoyable too. It's one of the reasons I write here, and plan to continue. Valar Morghulis ("all men must die", but don't fear death; embrace life and share it, because on the other hand there's Valar Dohaeris ("all men must serve"), be that ourselves or others.

My own recent brush with death has amplified this. There's nothing like having a stroke to recognise that life is short, and it's with renewed vigour that I climbed out of my sickbed and dived back into gaining and sharing knowledge and philosophy with those I love, and reminding them, like Gooding before me, that all must one day die. Someone recently bought me a memento mori challenge coin (image on my homenode!) and I have added a valar morghulis coin to my Amazon wish list. Doubtless both will become part of my every day carry. P.S. Many thanks to Ducthess for the coin!

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Me*men"to mo"ri (?). [L.]

Lit., remember to die, i.e., that you must die; a warning to be prepared for death; an object, as a death's-head or a personal ornament, usually emblematic, used as a reminder of death.


© Webster 1913

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