A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 332: Memento Mori


“Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.”  (“Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”) – From the Roman Catholic liturgy, based on Genesis 3:19, traditionally spoken on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Yesterday I had a post in praise of the latest Marvel Comics Netflix series, The Punisher. There is a moment in the series when another character sees Frank Castle, the Punisher himself, spray painting the iconic skull image onto the front of his bullet proof vest. He says to Frank, “You know what that is? That’s a Memento Mori.

Nothing like a little Latin with your pop culture.

What is a Memento Mori exactly? Literally, a reminder of death. Of course, The Punisher wears it to let the bad guys know what’s coming for them. But in art history a Memento Mori was used not so much as a judgment upon others but as a reminder to oneself. Most often in the form of a skull or skeleton, these were works of art meant to lead the viewer to considering their own mortality, which in turn would lead to humility and  thankfulness to God. The concept of the Memento Mori goes a long way back in the history of Christianity and can be seen in many churches and cathedrals, monasteries and covents. It is a common motif in Western culture.

I came upon a blog called Funeral Zone that had this to say of these reminders of mortality: “Memento mori primarily had a moral and religious purpose: to remind its owner or viewer that the afterlife awaited, and to not be overtly attached to material pleasures, in light of the prospect of divine judgment.”

In our popular culture, skulls and skeletons are Halloween decorations or used to convey some kind of badass image or played up for comedy. It is interesting, however, that though we don’t consciously use them as reminders of mortality anymore, they’re still with us, almost impossible to ignore, popping up in many different places and forms.

Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to be reminded that we are all destined to die. We seem to be people driven to do whatever we can to never think about it, to worship at the altar of eternal youth and beauty instead. But wouldn’t we all be better off, more humble, more aware of the preciousness of each day, if we were more aware of how little time we each had on this earth?

I realized after I had looked into the history of the Memento Mori that I created one myself that now hangs in the TV room in my basement. It is a mosaic I made from craft foam after I saw a similar mosaic from the third century with a similar sentiment recently discovered in Turkey:


If you want to read more about the history of the Memento Mori, check out the link to the article I’ve quoted above from Funeral Zone:


A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 331: Loving the Punisher


This past weekend I finished watching the brutal and brilliant Netflix series The Punisher. Growing up a huge Marvel Comics fan, the run of series on the streaming service based on characters from the comics has me geeking out routinely. So far, the series have been hit or miss, with some great ones, like The Punisher, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil, some that are flawed but mostly work, like The Defenders and Luke Cage, and one that can be skipped entirely, Iron Fist. 

None of them have been family-friendly viewing but instead more “graphic novel”-like in their grittiness, adult themes, and violence. This is comics for grown-ups and the creators, for the most part, treat their audience as such. In The Punisher there are no super-powers, no wise-cracking side-kicks or bright, spangly outfits; instead, we are treated to Jon Bernthal’s performance as Frank Castle/The Punisher, which is so spot-on in its creation of a character who can kill bad guys creatively and with no remorse yet has a huge heart and intense loyalty for the people he loves. Because of the brutality, you don’t want to like this violent character but Bernthal makes it impossible not to grow to love him, even see him, in some ways, as a character to emulate.

I was reminded – watching this exceptional actor taking what could possibly be a very one-dimensional character and making him incredibly complex – of the power of this form of art. It is a collaboration, of course. The writing is fantastic, the directing excellent, the actors in other roles performing at the top of their games, but without that main character being believable and, yes, likeable and relateable the whole endeavor falls apart. What Jon Bernthal accomplishes is artistic genius, it is watching someone take all those things they’ve learned and all that creative instinct they have and turning it into something that makes the viewer feel and empathize and internalize.

This may seem a lot to say of an actor in a comic book role but it is clear that nobody who worked on The Punisher, least of all Bernthal, saw this as just a comic book story.  To them they were making art, bloody and tough to watch at times, yet art indeed. Bravo.