De mortuis nil nisi bonum is well and good but upholds the victor’s narrative

NeroIt’s probably older than Latin. “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” is a propriety imposed at death, as if to offer the deceased a false comfort that, however fraudulent the pretense of their reputation in life, they can take it with them. Well, most commonly, “Don’t speak ill of the dead” is a reminder not to rehash petty grievances in the face of another’s mortality, death being after all mankind’s mutual adversary. It’s a pact I suppose that’s meant to benefit everyone equally. But the tradition does sort of cement history as written by the victor, where revisionists dare not speak truth to power while that authority is alive.
 
I saw the adage used in a disturbingly upbeat eulogy for Margaret Thatcher in this week’s New Yorker. Disturbing because it was fair handed enough, but mired like New York City, insulated by the growing wealth and cultural disparity, in the Western master narrative. I find that not speaking ill of the dead is completely irresponsible with historic figures like Margaret Thatcher and Henry Kissinger. If we are prevented from hanging them to hasten their death, we must at the minimum garrotte their memory before it’s set in stone. To beat a dead horse.

1 thought on “De mortuis nil nisi bonum is well and good but upholds the victor’s narrative

  1. AvatarDar

    Good point raised, but I think that the phrase is meant to be only temporary.

    Don’t speak ill of the dead…atleast for a few weeks.

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