Personification of Death
|Parents||Nox and Scotus|
|Siblings||Somnus, Invidia, Discordia, Tenebrae, Somnia, Charon, Dirae, Parcae, and many others|
In ancient Roman myth and literature, Mors (also known as Letum) is the personification of death equivalent to the Greek Thánatos and the Mara (Hindu goddess). 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. Latin poets, however, are bound by the grammatical gender of the word. Horace writes of pallida Mors, "pale Death," who kicks her way into the hovels of the poor and the towers of kings equally. Seneca, for whom Mors is also pale, describes her "eager teeth." Tibullus pictures Mors as black or dark.
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. Mors' antithesis is personified as Vita, "Life."
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In one story, Hercules fought Mors in order to save his friend's wife. In other stories, Mors is shown as a servant to Pluto, ending the life of a person after the thread of their 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.
- Handbook of Latin Synonymes by Ludwig von Doderlein, 1858, pg. 142
- Karl Siegfried Guthke, The Gender of Death: A Cultural History in Art and Literature (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 24 et passim.
- Diana Burton, "The Gender of Death," in Personification in the Greek World (Ashgate, 2005), pp. 57–58.
- Horace, Carmina 1.4.14–15.
- Avidis … dentibus: Seneca, Hercules Furens 555.
- Tibullus 1.3.3.
- Guthke, The Gender of Death, pp. 24, 41, et passim.
- Guthke, The Gender of Death, pp. 45–46.
- 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.