Hour Mortis: Living Well and Dying Well
We will briefly explore the supreme moment of death, hora mortis (the hour of death) and the good life in the ancient Egyptian worldview, as well as in the Platonic, Stoic, Christian traditions and the Theosophical literature.
Ancient Egyptians disliked the notion of mortality and used euphemisms such as to tread the ways of rejuvenation to refer to death. In this vein, hora mortis was not so relevant to them. Nonetheless, the good life was an important aspect of their thought because it would lead to immortality. This is exemplified by the mythical depiction of the Confession of Innocence in the Hall of Ma’at, where the deceased needs to prove he lived a good life in order to enter the blessed realm of the gods. In the Platonic tradition, hora mortis was emphasised in Phaedo, a dialogue occurring on the last day of Socrates’ life. This dialogue explores questions such as whether death is a good or bad thing, the nature of afterlife and more. Within this context, Socrates expressed one of his most puzzling thoughts to practice philosophy is to learn to die, and claimed that his entire life was a preparation for the moment of his death. In the Stoic tradition, the notions of good life and death are of crucial importance. For instance, Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations, focuses on the examined life and contemplation of death as
two crucial factors to living and dying well.
In the Christian tradition, during the Late Medieval period, hora mortis was emphasised by way of macabre sermons and iconography such as the dance of death for instance. This aimed at conveying a method of moral pedagogy which can be summarised in the words of Saint John Chrysostom in the following manner: “in all that you do, remember your end and you will never sin.” Another important aspect of the Christian tradition is that hora mortis was a moment of redemption or damnation because the devil used all sorts of trickeries to make the dying person to succumb to temptations and be dragged into hell. In the Theosophical literature, hora mortis is mentioned by KH as an important moment when the feeling of the dying person will fashion either the bliss or woe of his future existence.