The origins of “Carpe Diem”

Hallo and Happy Easter to everybody! Because of the day, it may be a good chance to avoid speaking again about politics in our Political Arenas and just speak about something more relaxing. Such as poetry…

One extremely well-known Latin phrase to most people is the “Carpe Diem”, which means “seize the day”. Very important to its spreading was also the notable movie “Dead Poets Society”, where “Mr. Ceating” turned this phrase into a life motto for his students.

He didn’t mention however where this phrase stems from. It was the Roman Lyric Poet Horace who wrote four books with “Odes” and the 11th Ode of his first book was the following:

You should not seek — to know is a sin — which end

the gods have given to me, which end to you, Leuconoe, nor

should you test Babylonian numbers. How much better to suffer

whatever will be, whether Jupiter assigns many winters, or the last (day),

which now the Tyrrhenum sea weakens with the opposite

pumice (stones). Be wise, strain the wine, and cut back hope

for a long life in a short time. While we talk, envious time will

flee: seize the day, trusting as little as possible to the future.

(the English translation has been taken from this blog)

Let’s travel mentally to the sea cottage of Horace or maybe of his girlfriend, just a few decades before Jesus Christ’s birth. Horace and his beloved Leuconoe have just completed their love and they are hug sitting in the “veranda” gazing the waves that hit the opposite stones.

Horace has started thinking of Liverpool’s match on Sunday. According to the Historian Suetonius, Horace was an official member of the Reds’ fan club (at those years Liverpool used to win a championship from time to time in contrast to nowadays).

Leuconoe disturbs his thoughts by speaking again about the future. In a period that astrology was popular to some people, Leuconoe was nervously looking for Babylonian astrologists who calculated with their numbers (imagine it like the tarot) when the death of each person would take place.

That’s when Horace gets inspired the poem that Grosso modo says: “You should not seek, Leuconoe, which end the Gods have decided for us. It’s much better to just “endure” it when the time comes. We could live many more decades or this winter might be our last one. You just try to be wise, strain fast the wine so that we can drink it and stop thinking of the future. While we speak, the envious time will have already fleed. Carpe Diem (seize the day) trusting as little as possible the future”.

The “message” is clear: no matter what plans, wishes, dreams etc. each one of us may have, the most important thing to enjoy what we have TODAY. Future is uncertain and time runs.

Horace’s advice? We should (try to) be more wise, drink our wine (well, that’s controversial. Maybe beer could also work for some people or ouzo as well) and seize each and every day as if it was the last one.

If you liked this text, you can also try to read about the two different worldviews behind the “Lion King” story.

Happy Easter to everybody and have fun with the people around you!

The original, latin text:

Tu ne quaesieris — scire nefas — quem mihi, quem tibi
 finem di dederint, Leuconoë, nec Babylonios
 temptaris numeros. ut melius, quicquid erit, pati!
 seu plures hiemes, seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
 quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
 Tyrhenum. Sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi
 spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
 aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.

Konstantinos Grollios, Horace: the Odes, Estia, Athens 1986

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