memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for April 27, 2011

Memento Mori

During the heyday of the Roman Republic the Senate had the constitutional governance, in the name of the People, of the robust and burgeoning city-state – SPQR. The policy of expansion was gradual and steady but not without some setbacks – the Carthaginian general Hannibal hauling his armoured elephants through the Alpine passes and then drawing up his army on the plains of Lombardy certainly took the Romans by surprise. But Roman arms prevailed and in due course the famed and beautiful city of Carthage, in the then fertile lands of northern Africa, was laid waste, plundered and the ground sewn with salt.

The commander of victorious Roman armies at the end the Punic wars, Publius Cornelius Scipio was descended from the gens. Cornelli – one of the six great patrician families of Rome. The Senate voted the agnomen Africanus be added to his name and granted him a Triumph.

Picture the scene: the cheering crowds, tramp of the legionnaires, the flowers thrown in front of the triumphant general’s chariot as, with a circlet of laurel-leaves on his brow, he enters the Forum and drives up the ramp in front of the Senate House to receive the plaudits of the Senate and the acclaim of the people … but wait! There is another man on the chariot behind him, a slave, who at the height of the frenzy, leans forward to his master and whispers in his ear –  MEMENTO MORI – remember that thou art mortal.

Memento Mori - Painting - Thomas Milner

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