An old Latin
phrase, literally "The fear of death confounds me," but in meaning closer to "distresses me". It originates from the Catholic liturgical
prayers known as the Office of the Dead, which date back to the seventh or eighth century
Peccantem me quotidie, et non me paenitentem, timor mortis conturbat me:
quia in inferno nulla est redemptio, miserere mei Deus, et salva me.
Sinning daily, without repentance, the fear of death troubles me.
Have mercy on me, O God, and save me, for in hell there is no redemption.
These four words struck a chord in the late medieval Danse Macabre
, the fragility of life and the inevitability of death, and they appear in a number of poems from the period. Best known and most appreciated is the Scotsman William Dunbar
's haunting Lament for the Makers
from 1508, which Gritchka
presents marvellously in its writeup, the more archaic expressions explained in pipelinks.
There are several versions floating around the Internet, some highly comprehensible to the modern reader,*
the faithful ones not so much.
The one on E2 should be fine for native speaker
s of English.
In more recent times, T.H. White
s work The Once and Future King
has introduced it to two generations of bookworm
s (doubtlessly few of whom recognized what they read) in a passage far underchronicled. Here the young King Arthur
is turned into a merlin falcon
and taken to his home castle's aviary
to hear the secret speech of the raptors:
The hawks stood still in the moonlight, while the spar-hawk
counted "One, Two, Three."
Then all those curved or toothed beaks opened in their hoods to a brazen unison, and this is what they chanted:
Life is blood, shed and offered.
The eagle's eye can face this dree
To beasts of chase the lie is proffered:
Timor Mortis Conturbat Me.
The beast of foot sings Holdfast only,
For flesh is bruckle
and foot is slee
Strength to the strong and the lordly and lonely.
Timor Mortis Exultat Me.
Shame to the slothful and woe to the weak one,
Death to the dreadful who turn to flee.
Blood to the tearing, the talon'd, the beaked one.
Timor Mortis are We.