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1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Carpe diem

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One of the advantages that ancient poets and writers in general have is that their work is not as extensive as some of the modern writers. So if we wanted, we could read their complete poetry in a few days. To the requirement of classical perfection, which only allows a very polished production, we have to add the havoc of time that makes us to have lost many extraordinary creations.

One of the most remarkable poets for his maturity and reasonable Epicureanism is Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus).

He is the author, among several other famous classic sayings, of the phrase “carpe diem”, quoted extensively, that has been used and abused constantly since Antiquity. It means "takes the opportunity, enjoy the moment ...

Horace uses it in his Ode number 11 of the book I. The little poem, that only has eight verses in Latin, is dedicated to a woman, Leuconoe, who some authors interpret as “the woman with a lucid mind ", to whom Horace perhaps makes a subtle love suggestion.

In summary, what it says is: "Do not ask what our future will be; accept whatever comes and, as life is short, enjoy now as much as you can."

The poet expresses it much better, of course, and although poetry, specially the ancient  poetry, has some difficulties to be understood, I will offer the  English text and also in Latin, in case someone has a chance to read it in this language, which is always the best, if you can.

Do not wonder (knowing it would be a sacrilege) what end
the gods have decided for you and me, Leuconoe;
or consult the Babylonian tablets *.
The best will be to bear whatever comes.
Whether Jupiter has still given us many winters
as if this, that now hits the porous rocks of the Tyrrhenian Sea,
is the latest in our lives, be wise, enjoy your wine
and do not have a long hope.
While we're talking about, our time is escaping enviously.
Enjoy the moment and trust in the future the least as possible.

                                                            (* the horoscope ....)

Tu ne quaesieris (scire nefas) quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris números. Vt melius quicquid erit pati!
Seu plouris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum, sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. Dum loquitur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem, quam mínimum crédula postero.

Note: immemorial poem, immortal poem, as meaningful today as yesterday. We will often talk about Horace, the quiet poet, the poet of maturity.


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