Mors, the goddess of Death

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In ancient Roman myth and literature, Mors is the personification of death equivalent to the Greek Thánatos.

The Latin noun for “death”, mors, genitive mortis, is of the feminine gender, but surviving ancient Roman art is not known to depict Death as a woman. Latin poets, however, are bound by the grammatical gender of the word. Horace writes of pallida Mors, “pale Death,” who kicks her way into the hovels of the poor and the towers of kings equally. Seneca, for whom Mors is also pale, describes her “eager teeth.” Tibullus pictures Mors as black or dark.

Related article: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome

In later Western literature and art, notably throughout the Middle Ages, Mors is frequently portrayed allegorically. In some representations of Christ’s crucifixion, Mors is seen standing beneath the cross. Vita, “Life,” is a representation of Mors’ opposite.

Mors is frequently equated with the Roman deities Mars, the god of battle; Dis Pater, the deity of the underworld; and Orcus, the god of death and the punisher of liars. Mors is susceptible to deception, resistance, and persuasion. In one tale, Hercules battled Mors to save the woman of his comrade. In some tales, Mors serves Dis by severing a person’s life after the Parcae has severed the life’s thread, and Mercury, the gods’ messenger, escorts the deceased person’s spirit, or shade, to the entrance to the underworld.

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