363 • Famous Last Words

363 • Famous Last Words

A monk who had jumped from Ben Nevis
Left his suicide note in a crevice.
Hand-lettered in gold
And five hundred years old
Ars longa,’ it claimed, ‘vita brevis

Illuminated lettering – such as we find in masterpieces such as The Book of Kells – was not normally used for personal communication, but in this instance the author had no choice. An ordinary hand-written message would not have been ‘ars’, so his Latin text would have been irrelevant. Likewise, of course, if the doleful memo had been discovered the following morning, ‘longa’ would not have been apposite. And if he’d simply climbed the mountain, hidden the note, then gone home to the nunnery or wherever he lived, ‘vita brevis’ would have been nonsensical. And the choice of a secure crevice to hide it in, rather than just leaving it to blow about on the mountainside, ensures that it’s not found until ‘longa’ is appropriate. All in all, then, a well-thought out farewell to a no-doubt exemplary life.

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