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Mors (mythology)

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Personification of Death
ParentsNox and Scotus
Greek equivalentThanatos

In ancient Roman myth and literature, Mors is the personification of death equivalent to the Greek Thanatos.[citation needed] The Latin noun for "death," mors, genitive mortis, is of feminine gender, but surviving ancient Roman art is not known to depict death as a woman.[1] Latin poets, however, are bound by the grammatical gender of the word.[2] Horace writes of pallida Mors, "pale Death," who kicks her way into the hovels of the poor and the towers of kings equally.[3] Seneca, for whom Mors is also pale, describes her "eager teeth."[4] Tibullus pictures Mors as black or dark.[5]

Mors is often represented allegorically in later Western literature and art, particularly during the Middle Ages. Depictions of the Crucifixion of Christ sometimes show Mors standing at the foot of the cross.[6] Mors' antithesis is personified as Vita, "Life."[7]

Roman mythology[edit]

In Latin literature, Mors is sometimes identified with the Roman gods Mars,[8] god of war; Dīs Pater, god of the Roman underworld (later, also known as Pluto) and Orcus, god of death and punisher of perjurers.

Mors is not immune to persuasion, resistance or trickery. In one story, Hercules fought Mors in order to save his friend's wife. In other stories, Mors serves Dis by ending the life of a person after the thread of his or her life has been cut by the Parcae, and of Mercury, messenger to the gods, escorting the dead person's soul, or shade, down to the underworld's gate.[citation needed]

Christian mythology[edit]

Mors has another prominent role, this time in Christianity, where he appears as the "Pale Horseman":

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come." I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death (Mors); and Hades (Pluto) was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the Earth, to kill with sword and with famine (Fames) and with pestilence (Phthisis) and by the wild beasts of the Earth.

— Revelation 6:7–8 (New American Standard Bible).[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Karl Siegfried Guthke, The Gender of Death: A Cultural History in Art and Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 24 et passim.
  2. ^ Diana Burton, "The Gender of Death," in Personification in the Greek World (Ashgate, 2005), pp. 57–58.
  3. ^ Horace, Carmina 1.4.14–15.
  4. ^ Avidis ... dentibus: Seneca, Hercules Furens 555.
  5. ^ Tibullus 1.3.3.
  6. ^ Guthke, The Gender of Death, pp. 24, 41, et passim.
  7. ^ Guthke, The Gender of Death, pp. 45–46.
  8. ^ Remigius of Auxerre, In Martianum 36.7: "Mars is called so as if mors (death)," as cited by Jane Chance, Medieval Mythography: From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, A.D. 433–1177 (University Press of Florida, 1994), p. 578, note 70. The etymology-by-association of Remigius should be distinguished from scientific linguistics.
  9. ^ "Apocalypse of John", The King James Bible, retrieved 2023-11-05
  10. ^ Rev 6:8