What Philosophy Is Reflected in the "Carpe Diem" Theme of Many Poems by Horace?
Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 B.C.- 8 B.C.), also known Horace, was a Roman poet. The phrase, “carpe diem” comes from Horace’s famous poems in “Odes Book I,” which uses agricultural metaphors to urge people to embrace the day. The “carpe diem” philosophy reflected in of many of Horace’s poems represents Epicureanism.
In English, the Latin phrase “carpe diem” is often translated as “seize the day.” This translation implies that a person should act only for today, almost ignoring one’s future. Therefore, this translation is not entirely correct. More precisely, “carpe” literarily means “pluck,” referencing the plucking of fruit. The full phrase, “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero,” means “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.”
Origins of Carpe Diem Theme
The more precise translation of “carpe diem” means pluck the day while it is ripe, or embrace the day instead of simply believing that it will all work out in the future. In this respect, the meaning of “carpe diem” is similar in meaning to many familiar English proverbs such as “strike while the iron is hot” and “the early bird catches the worm." The origins of this “carpe diem” theme lies in Epicureanism, a philosophy in which Horace believed and was inspired by.
Epicureanism is a philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus. This philosophy, which originated around 307 B.C., was materialist in nature and attacked notions of superstition and divine intervention. Epicurus believed that pleasure is the greatest good, and the way that people attain pleasure is to live a modest life, gaining knowledge about the world and its limits. According to Epicureanism, leading this type of life led the person to a state of tranquility, or ataraxia, which allowed him to be free from fear. Furthermore, it also lead him to a state of being which was absent from bodily pain, or aponia. The combination of these two states of being allowed the person to reach a state of total happiness.
Carpe Diem and Epicureanism
Just as the notion of “carpe diem” is often misused and misunderstood, Epicureanism as a philosophy is also often confused with the idea of hedonism. Epicureanism, like hedonism, values pleasure as an intrinsic good, but Epicureanism emphasizes the idea of living a simple life and calls the absence of pain the greatest pleasure. The meaning of “carpe diem” reflects the real meaning of Epicureanism, and it is this meaning that Horace aimed to incorporate into is odes.
Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.