10 Latin epitaphs
to give your drab tombstone
a little class
Increase your knowledge of Latin by learning some epitaphs to place on your gravestone
If you favour the snotty epitaph, as I do, this little line of Latin terseness may please you:
Tu fui, ego eris
(implied words not expressed are between brackets)
“What you are (alive), I was. What I am (dead), you will be.
(Nyah nyah na nyah nyah!)
2. This may be too portentous for an ordinary epitaph, but a strong personality might indeed think that visiting a person’s tomb induces a reminder of death’s finality.
Taceant colloquia; effugiat risus. Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae.
This is a common and very apt statement at the entrance door of a coroner’s laboratory: “Let idle babble be silenced. Let laughter be banished. This is the place where the dead teach the living (their secrets).”
3. You might wish to repeat what gladiators shouted to the Roman emperor as they entered the arena to probably be killed by fellow gladiators or by wild beasts. You might wish to change imperator to Deus, so that it would read: “We who are about to die, salute you, God” (and thanks a lot for our mortal nature)
Nos morituri te salutamus, imperator! “We who are about to die salute thee, O emperor!
Or, for pouty Christians,
Nos morituri Te salutamus, Deus.
4. Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo.
Literal meaning: ‘I was not; I was; I am not; I care not.’
Extended meaning of the terse Latin: ‘Once I did not exist, then I was born and existed, now I do not exist and I don’t give a damn.’
5. Perhaps you want to show off and have a “deep thought” about death on your tombstone. Ancient Greek then is much more impressive than mere homey Latin. How about this little brain stretcher by one of the smarter Roman emperors?
Μὴ καταφρόνει θανάτου, ἀλλὰ εὐαρέστει αὐτῷ, ὡς καὶ τούτου ἑνὸς ὄντος ὧν ἡ φύσις ἐθέλει.
“Think not disdainfully of death, but look on it with favour; for even death is one of the things that Nature wills.”
- - - extracted from the Meditations of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. ix. 3.
On a long-ago visit to Rome, to read some Latin epitaphs out on the once-cobbbled roadway of the Via Appia, I happened across one tombstone whose naïve and gentle kindliness touched me. As I recall, the Latin inscription began: Siste, viator. Tibi gratias ago ad sepulcrum meum visitare.
“Pause briefly, traveller. Thanks for stopping by, to visit my tomb.”
7. Sit mihi terra levis.
“May the earth lie light upon me.”
The implication has nothing whatsoever to do with the possibly heavy clay soil of a cemetery. The line means that, even if there are few things I did wrong while on earth, I hope that, after my death, these minor infractions will not count too heavily against me when final divine judgment occurs.
I, Bill Casselman, always liked the way the ancient Egyptians symbolized this common mortuary thought. The departed’s soul (his or her Ba) was weighed by Anubis in a scale against the feather of truth.
8. Vivamus vitam in totum, ita ut mors cum noctu ad vitam furandam nos visitet, furari nihil relinquatur.
“Live life so fully that, when death comes for you like a thief in the night, there will be nothing left for him to steal.”
9. Firmum in vita nihil est.
“Nothing in life is permanent.”
10. Requiescat in pace.
“Rest in peace.”
R.I.P. This is the most common Latin epitaph. The verb form is an optative subjunctive whose sense, spun out to a pleasing amplitude, is: I hope and I wish that she or he may rest in peace.
As for me, Bill Casselman, were I to inscribe my own epitaph, it would not read R.I.P. (Latin Requiescat in pace ‘May he rest in peace’). It would read:
Requiescat in Pace Quaerendo
“May he rest in a peace that keeps asking questions.”
Bill Casselman, January 04, 2017
Text Copyright 2017 William Gordon Casselman
At the Wording Desk