Carpe is the second-person singular present active imperative of carpō "pick or pluck" used by Ovid to mean "enjoy, seize, use, make use of".1 Diem is the accusative case of the noun dies "day". A more literal translation of "carpe diem" would thus be "enjoy the day" or "pluck the day [as it is ripe]"—i.e., to enjoy the moment.
Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
Don't ask (it's forbidden to know) what end
Perhaps the first written expression of the concept is the advice given by Siduri to Gilgamesh, telling him to forgo his mourning and embrace life although some scholars see it as simply urging Gilgamesh to abandon his mourning, "reversing the liminal rituals of mourning and returning to the normal and normative behaviors of Mesopotamian society."34
In Horace, the phrase is part of the longer "carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero", which can be translated as "Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow (the future)". The ode says that the future is unforeseen and that one should not leave to chance future happenings, but rather one should do all one can today to make one's future better. This phrase is usually understood against Horace's Epicurean background.5 The phrase "carpe diem" is often used differently in contemporary popular culture, to justify reckless behaviour (YOLO, you only live once). The meaning of "carpe diem" as used by Horace is not to ignore the future, but rather not to trust that everything is going to fall into place for you and taking action for the future today.6
The phrase ?ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי "And if not now, then when?" (Pirkei Avoth 1:14).
"Collige, virgo, rosas" ("gather, girl, the roses") appears at the end of the poem "De rosis nascentibus"7 (also called Idyllium de rosis) attributed to Ausonius or Virgil. It encourages youth to enjoy life before it is too late; compare "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" from "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time".
Nunc est bibendum ("now is the time to drink") from the Odes of Horace: "Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus" ("Now is the time to drink, now the time to dance footloose upon the earth").
De Brevitate Vitae ("On the Shortness of Life"), often referred to as Gaudeamus igitur, ("Let us rejoice") is a popular academic commercium song, on taking joy in student life, with the knowledge that one will someday die. It is medieval Latin, dating to 1287.
Horace himself parodies the phrase in his satire "The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse". He uses the phrase carpe viam meaning "seize the road" to compare the two different attitudes to life of the person (or in this case, a mouse) living in a city and in the countryside.
Related but distinct is the expression "memento mori" ("remember that you are mortal") which carries some of the same connotation as "carpe diem". For Horace, mindfulness of our own mortality is key in making us realize the importance of the moment. "Remember that you are mortal, so seize the day." Over time the phrase "memento mori" also came to be associated with penitence, as suggested in many vanitas paintings. Today many listeners will take the two phrases as representing almost opposite approaches, with "carpe diem" urging us to savour life and "memento mori" urging us to resist its allure. This is not the original sense of the "memento mori" phrase as used by Horace.
Similarly, "ubi sunt" ("where are they [now]?") invokes transience and meditation on death, but is not an exhortation to action.
An American punk rock band, Green Day, made a song called "Carpe Diem". The chorus is
"Carpe Diem, a battle cry, are we all too young to die? Ask for reason, and no reply, are we all to young to die?"
In the movie Dead Poets Society, the English teacher John Keating, played by Robin Williams, famously says:
"Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary"
This usage has generally been interpreted as "just do it, because you don't know what tomorrow will bring" and thus, is used to justify making reckless, inadvisable or uncharacteristic decisions. However, in the movie, Robin Williams's character John Keating, was trying to motivate his students to study hard today, so they could lay the foundation for a successful future.
- Lewis, Charlton T. (1890). "carpō". An Elementary Latin Dictionary. New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago: American Book Company.
- Ode I-XI: "Carpe Diem" by Quintus Horatius Flaccus.dead link
- Ackerman, Susan (2005). When Heroes Love: The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David. Columbia University Press. pp. 130–131. ISBN 978-0231132602.
- Perdue, Leo G. (2009). Scribes, Sages, and Seers: The Sage in the Eastern Mediterranean World: The Sage in the Mediterranean World. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co KG. p. 57. ISBN 978-3525530832.
- Harrison, S. J. (2012). The Cambridge companion to Horace. Cam Press. pp. 154, 168. ISBN 978-0-521-83002-7.
- Jacks, Lorra (February 17, 2013). "The 5 Most Frequently Misused Proverbs". Cracked.com. Retrieved 2014-01-02.
- "De rosis nascentibus" in a collection of the works of Virgil under the note "Hoc carmen scripsit poeta ignotus ("This poem was written by an unknown poet"); Bibleotheca Augustana (de), Augsburg University of Applied Sciences
- Media related to Carpe diem at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of carpe diem at Wiktionary
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