I personally have a healthy appetite for reading things that pertain to mortality. I realise that as time has shifted over the years, responses to talk of death and the hereafter, sometimes fall on deaf ears. I feel that is a great shame, because the inevitable will reach every single one of us sometime, so best prepare in an informed manner is my mantra. As a result of my interest, I have collated many books on the subject, this one being a more recent publication (2018) by Peter Jones, who taught Classics at Cambridge and Newcastle University’s before retiring.

The book entitled ‘Memento Mori’ it is what the Romans can tell us about Old Age and Death. A rather absorbing presentation, explaining how ancient Rome regarded death in all its majesty. To begin with, the book tends to wallow a little in relative statistics in comparison to today’s U.K. equivalents. Life expectancy tends to feature significantly here. Surprisingly, it mentions that it was not uncommon for ages reaching well over 100 years back in Roman times. Probably amongst the higher echelons of society I have to point out though.

The book then branches off into factual evidence of infant mortality, adult mortality, and various deaths’ by gladiatorial combat, illness, senility, poison, suicide, drought, crop failures, plagues, wars, political intrigues, the list continues. Then we have a treatise on burial/disposal of remains, tombs, epitaphs and memorials that still survive to this day.

I enjoyed the book on several aspects, lots of surprising facts that still resonate with our society even today. Belief in religious iconography, gods and leaders that were classed as deities themselves i.e. Caesar, Nero et al. The sheer number of people that died from all walks of life, together with the social aspects of life in the Holy Roman Empire whilst it existed, the inequalities surrounding class, sex, finance, educational standards and so on, all get examined.

It is not the easiest of reads, to be honest. For the casual book user, it resides somewhere between a scholastic treatise, and a reference book for the history buff. I engaged with it well, but I am biased toward history anyway. I found it well worth the purchase based on my tastes, and I am glad to have read it, and own it.

Reg Seward 4/1*

Memento Mori by Peter Jones
9781786494801 Atlantic Books Ltd HBK 2018