I'm wondering what memento mori actually means. From Wikipedia, I see the meaning is "you must die" but that makes it sound like a threat. Legend said that one of the war prisoner use the word for mocking the Caesar.

Is there any better translation or meaning for it? Many Christian priests use it for Sunday service speech opening, to remind us that we're only mortals. So in my comprehension it means [remember that] "you/everyone will die someday". Is that correct?

  • 4
    -1 - this doesn't seem much better than ordinary translation question, which IMHO should be accepted, but shouldn't flag what is considered good manners here, which is the purpose of private beta questions/answers.
    – Pavel V.
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 22:00
  • 1
    @PavelV. Seems like the historical context and semantics aspect to the question makes it a good one. Just needs improved formatting. Those tags are no good, though.
    – hBy2Py
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 22:14
  • 4
    On meta: What do we do with translation requests? Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 0:13
  • @geomars It might be helpful to specify whether you want a "better translation or meaning" in the sense of present-day usage, or instead as it would have been used back in ancient Rome. Or both, in case you want answers to compare/contrast.
    – Aiken Drum
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 16:06

6 Answers 6


"Memento" means "remember". Literally it's "remember to die", which means: "Remember you must die."

The Christian meaning is not just "remember you are a mere mortal", but especially "remember you will face Lord in the day of judgment". That's why this was the Cistercians' motto.

  • 3
    Literally, it means "remember dying" or "remember to die".
    – Cerberus
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 22:20
  • 3
    Memento mori in Latin, regardless of religious beliefs of Christians or pagans, has the force of "remember that you are mortal". The infinitive is flexible like that. The mortality of the triumphant general (all of this is later legends, btw) was a given in Republican Rome (and even under the empire with the sole exceptions of the emperors).
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 22:37
  • 3
    One final note, memento + acc. + inf. could also be an indirect statement. Since te is often dropped, it can also simply mean, "remember that you can die." Same force, slightly different grammatical approach.
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 0:19
  • 3
    @ C. M. Weimer can you give another example for memento + acc. + inf which sometime cause ambiguity?
    – geomars
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 3:48
  • 1
    @geomars You need to drop the spaces when you tag someone. I never saw this. Anyway: dextram cohibere memento from Juvenal 5.71 "Remember to restrain your right hand;" his injunction is in advice on preparing food. He's not ordering someone to do it, rather it's more hortatory.
    – cmw
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 13:13

"Memento Mori" means "Remember you will die", however, it comes from a Roman Imperial custom and, only much later, became a Christian motto with a different meaning and goal. In early Imperial Rome when an emperor or General, would return to Rome after a successful campaign (military or political) he would cruise the streets on a chariot surrounded with an ecstatic applauding crowd. Behind him, on the chariot, a man was constantly whispering him: "Memento Mori". This was a rule and not a random event. Its reason: remember the hero that his life was just like everyone else, and to maintain the current success he had to be humble, honest and useful to the people of Rome and the empire.


Source: Memento Explained

Memento mori translates to "remember you must die". It is a medieval Latin Christian theory that focuses reflections on death not as a morbid practice but as an inspiration to truly live.

The philosophy intends its practitioners to live for a cause rather than in the pursuit of earthly goods as everything is temporary. It is also apt for the movie as the protagonist’s main reason for living is to avenge his wife and all his memories are temporary, allowing him to adopt any purpose he wants as long as it is based around vendetta.

Memento, the word, also means – “an object kept as a reminder of a person or event”. In the movie of Memento, the protagonist uses a series of written notes, Polaroid photos, and tattoos to constantly remind himself of his wife, the new stories he accrues, the people he meets and what his next step should be.


Consider "remember to die" in the sense that if you are a hero and invincible or immortal even, that there is a necessity for you to remember to die because death prevents you from becoming something unnatural or undesirable. For example if you send your soldiers on a suicide mission, they should not forget that they are supposed to not come back. This will lead them to a superhuman feat. Namely that in the most perilous situation, fear is wrong because it is not of their own choosing and only when they can choose their death, they must decide for it. I think "remember that you will die" is kind of a moot point.


Memento Memori coins or tattoos act as reminders to not obsess over trivialities, or trying to become famous, make more money than we could ever spend, or make plans far off in the future. All these are negated by death. It’s time we stop pretending otherwise.enter image description here

  • 3
    Welcome to the site! I believe the question was about the meaning of the phrase in Latin from a more syntactical point of view. Nevertheless, this answer is a good reminder of one of the modern-day uses and meanings.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 7:44
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Given that the questioner asked if there was "a better translation or meaning for it", without specifying whether they wanted the current or original meaning, I think this was a reasonable answer to give, though perhaps it would have been better to first ask the questioner which they meant.
    – Aiken Drum
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 16:03

It means remember that you must die, remember that you are mortal. That you are human. The full phrase from the epic was "look behind you, remember you must die" that you are not anything more than a man and today may be the day you might die... because everyone must die (battle scene)

  • 5
    Welcome! I hope you'll consider adding sources to this answer to back up your analysis; doing so would significantly improve it. Thanks! Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 4:01

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.