In Q:What does memento mori actually mean? there does not appear to be a natural conclusion. Apposite contributions appeared as comments but were not developed. Perhaps it was believed that the Q. had been answered. There still seems to be more to discuss.

The well-established translations: "Remember you must die" & "Remember you are mortal": firstly, the original Latin does not include "you" and/or a second-person singular verb, the translations do include "you", which may explain how confusion arises. Secondly, these two are essentially the same. Mortality is a susceptibility to death. If "you are mortal" then "you must die", by definition. Pavel V and Cerberus gave the literal translation "Remember to die" (In case we forget?) which, for them, includes an implied obligation: "Remember you must die" (sounds familiar) a veritable cascade of congruence possibly pointing to the correct answer.

Implied obligation: an English equivalent could be: "Remember to wash the pots." then "You'd better wash the pots." therefore "You must wash the pots." As geomars indicated there is an implied threat, here, as well as an obligation.

To introduce obligation, without threat, the gerundive (of an intransitive verb, used impersonally): nunc est moriendum = now one must die; or, mox erit moriendum = soon one must die; continuing (thanks to brianpck) "moriendum est omnibus" = "all must die". Alternatively, "tu es mortalis, morieris"; or, just "tu morieris" = you will die. It may be more prosaic; but, directly to the point; no equivocation; no implications.

A most interesting point was made by C.M. Weimer; "memento mori" may be treated as indirect. This solves the problem of the inclusion of pronoun "you", in the Latin. The man-in-the-chariot (interlocutor) advising our all-conquering hero:

"dicit memento te mori" = "he (interlocutor) says remember you are dying";

present tense accusative-infinitive construction.

Sanguine about death, Seneca, in his interpretation of Roman theology ("Epistle 1") counselled the wise use of time (hence life) as it passes, only to be scooped-up by Death, in His unrelenting approach to the individual:

"quidquid aetatis retro est mors tenet." = "Death holds whatever of a lifetime is behind us."


"...qui intellegat se cotidie mori." = "...he, who may understand that every day he is dying.";

present tense, indirect statement with accusative reflexive pronoun.

The warning (indirect speech): "Remember you are dying." appears to be compliant with a Roman mindset.

Noteworthy, also, the second offer from Cerberus; "Remember Dying"; as a present participle; "Remember (I see you) dying."; as a gerund; "Remember the dying (of the light/ of the mortal.)"

Concluding: either "memento mori" is to be translated literally, with its implied obligation, giving: "Remember to die." = "Remember you must die."; or, as indirect speech: "(he says) remember you are dying."

Any thoughts?


2 Answers 2


I accept the proposed explanation that memento (te) mori means "remember that you are dying." My only caveat is that in English, the present tense "is/are dying" usually implies that someone is currently close to death, which is clearly not the intention of the Latin phrase.

Here's a parallel from Plautus, where the infinitive is used without a subject accusative:

Tyndarus has just said (my paraphrase) "I'm doing you a big favor."

Philocrates: Scio.

Tyndarus: at scire memento, quando id quod uoles habebis. (But once you get what you want, remember you know.)

  • The point (Seneca) is that the individual is dying, on a day-by-day basis, as (the figure of) Death approaches without relent. The officer, in the chariot, is advised that either he is dying; or, soon he will die. Soon could be tomorrow; next week; twenty-years down the road. Whichever, the time will pass quickly enough for the Roman, as it will for us.
    – tony
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 13:32
  • 3
    This is a good point. I would naively expect, "Memento (te esse) moriturum" rather than "mori". However, "memini" seems to have a preference for the present infinitive, even when the action remembered is clearly in the past. This idiom is pretty clear in the examples given in Lewis and Short. "Memini Pamphylum mihi narrare" (I remember Pamphylum told me). This preference for the present seems to override the logical tense in the case of the future as well. I think "Remember you will die" is a perfectly defensible translation.
    – Figulus
    Commented Mar 20, 2020 at 18:34

"Memento" is a present imperative of the 2nd person singular, so I think your second, indirect speech interpretation (viz. "(he says) remember you are dying") is simply not viable.

"Memini" is a so-called "verb of speech and thought", and thus can receive its direct object as an Accusative plus Infinitive clause. Here we have only the infinitive of a deponent verb, while the accusative ("te") is implicit: "Memento te mori", i.e.:

  • Remember that you die.

Or, if you will:

  • Remember that you are mortal.

Still since the regent verb is in the imperative mood, it can also be translated as you suggest:

  • Remember to die.

However, I prefer the former one.

  • 1
    Are there other examples of an accusative subject (te) being omitted in indirect discourse? Greek does this when the referent is the same as the subject of the matrix clause, but I don't think I've seen it in Latin.
    – TKR
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 0:58
  • NVaughan: Am not clear; is yourself saying that "memento mori" cannot be treated as indirect speech? C.M. Weimer (better at Latin than I) gave "memento + acc. + infin.", where "te" is dropped (understood); meaning "Remember that you can die." Of course "can" = "to be physically able"; axiomatic: all living creatures are susceptible to dying--are mortal. Therefore, I translated "memento te mori" as "Remember you are dying."
    – tony
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 10:55

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