It is said that during the Roman Triumph,
in which a great hero was recognized by a procession through the city,
generally for a military victory, a slave was positioned behind them,
whispering in their ear:
roughly speaking 'Remember
that thou art a man.'
As you may recall, Rome had become a
Republic, after the overthrow of its monarchy, and enjoyed a period of
Hellenistic influence, both in science and philosophy.
In its decline into the reign of the imperial, god-like emperors and their
increasingly idiot and sociopathic successors and sons, the elite became
utterly distinct from the people by self-decree. 'They would become as gods'
is a hallmark of an empire on the road to decline and decay, repeatedly
endlessly through history. It is the logical end of the will to power, in
which none will be served but oneself, with power as an obsessive distortion
of self-preservation and ego.
Death is the great leveler, and the balancer of the scales of fortune.
Perhaps a member of the middle class can whisper this to the financiers and
the politicians, those newly made masters of the universe, as they bask in
their moments of power and triumph, and forget their commonality with the
Better to have someone whisper in your ear, than succumb to the excess of
self-delusion and have the crowd cut it off with your head. But madness has no discourse
Roman Art: Memento mori, a philosophical
theme the Hellenistic period, an allegory of death that has rebalanced and
weighs the same as all people regardless of their wealth and social status,
with symbols of Life and Death.
Mosaic from Pompeii. 2nd style. Sun 47×41 cm Museo