Carpe Diem – Some Thoughts on this Philosophy

Carpe Diem – Some Thoughts on this Philosophy

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Mr John Keating, played by Robin Williams in the 1989 film ‘Dead Poets Society’ famously urged his students thus:  

Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

Williams was quoting a famous Roman poet, Horace who wrote in the 1st century BC. One of Horace’s works, ‘Odes’ includes the line:

carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero

This line is translated as:

sieze the day, trusting as little as possible in tomorrow.

A more literal translation of carpe diem would be ‘pluck the day, [for it is ripe]’.

Another beautiful Latin phrase – first appearing in a work written by Isidore of Seville in the 7th century AD has a similar philosophical message:

Disce Quasi Semper Victurus, Vive Quasi Cras Moriturus

Which translates as:

Learn as if you were going to live forever; Live as if you were going to die tomorrow.

The modern equivalent of the above phrases may be ‘YOLO’ – you only live once. But this is a rather non-poetic way, quick and simple way of saying the same thing, However, it doesn’t seem to have the same message, with the same implications as carpe diem. Indeed, the abbreviation itself, YOLO may emphasise its message – that we only live once, so live fast? (And shorten eloquent phrases to simple abbreviations whenever possible?)

However, YOLO itself may be contrary to the premise of carpe diem – that in living fast we are not truly enjoying the moment.

What are the Implications of Carpe Diem?

Whether we use the literal or the loose translation of carpe diem, the phrase still has the same powerful meaning – seize the day, seize the moment, live for today, the here and now. Tomorrow might not happen. That we must make the most of each and every moment. Take chances, take risks. But what if we are not risk takers? What if we would rather bide our time?

Does Carpe Diem suggest a rather pessimistic view of one life? Could it imply that there is no afterlife? That our actions in this life have no consequences in the afterlife because it does not exist?

Seize suggests take hold of and to grab. By implication, make the most of every opportunity. It also means to take charge, to take charge of one’s own life and destiny. To rid ourselves from the shackles of doubt and be the masters of our own destiny. Does this then need a hint of courage to pull us through and to fulfil this command?

The phrase also assumes that we have control of our own destiny. Can this philosophy then be applied to everyone? Slavery was rife in Horace’s time, in the Roman Empire – could slaves really live by carpe diem? Or was this a philosophy merely reserved for the upper classes in the empire? Even now, are we in charge of our own destiny, or has society with its norms, values, conventions and expectations taken away our ability to think for ourselves? And our ability to make our own decisions in life?

And, by implication, the phrase refers to taking each day as they come. Is it not better to plan ahead of time and be prepared for the future? Indeed, the phrase suggests that there could be no future, no tomorrow, that we ought only to live for the here and now.

The Roman Empire

Life expectancy in the Roman Empire differed according to social status. From the evidence, we regularly see men reaching the age of 60 and beyond. Some even lived into their 80s and doubtless older. Infant mortality was high in the ancient world, 50% of children did not reach their 10th birthday. Horace himself died at the age of 56.

Siezing the day suggests living for oneself in the moment rather than planning for the future. Parents are expected to provide for their children following their own death and this was even more essential in the ancient world. Where landed property and goods had an extremely high value and were relied on and expected from one’s heirs. With such high infant mortality rates, Horace was undoubtedly mindful of the fragility of life and the uncertainty of having an heir to succeed you.

Horace

Horace himself led a remarkable life – the son of a freed slave, he was educated in Athens and became embroiled in the Roman wars following the murder of Julius Caesar. He remarked with embarrassment on the day he fled battle without his shield at the Battle of Phillippi. In fleeing from the fight he could certainly be said to have seized that particular day. To use another common phrase, to live to fight another day. Or, was Horace acting contrary to the philosophy of carpe diem and in fleeing concerning himself with his future existence rather than fighting for glory and honour?

When Horace returned from war, he learnt that his father’s lands had been confiscated. He was poor and landless until he made his fortune through his own talents. The planning for his son’s future had taken much of Horace’s father’s time, energy and money in the end, needlessly. His father, a freed-slave, would have been better to have lived in the moment, to spend his wealth and enjoy his freedom.

Could carpe diem mean then to abandon your responsibilities to the future generation, to care only for yourself? If we were to abide by this philosophy, crime would undoubtedly soar. But could the phrase refer to a form of escapism? To indulge in the vices that make us forget our own mortality. To drink the wine and eat the food that makes us feel good for there is only the here and now. We ought not to concern ourselves with our health and old age?

Carpe Diem for Me

In the hectic 21st century, our lives revolve around work. We’re far too busy, or tired, for leisure often times. And what do we work for? To pay the bills, to save for the future? To provide for our children and ensure we have left something behind for them. Perhaps a little spontaneity and risk-taking, a little carpe diem would be a healthy addition to our lives. Have we forgotten to enjoy life?

The pictures I have used in this blog come from one of my recent carpe diem moments. We were throwing stones into Loch Ness. The whole family were in a playful mood and my children were running from the waves. We had a busy schedule but we postponed our plans to spend an hour having fun!

What if we stop and appreciate the present for a moment, rather than always thinking ahead?

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20 Comments

  1. March 21, 2019 / 1:19 am

    I was wondering was this another blog I was getting a mention in of yours 😉. I don’t think you can live by these philosophies, but embracing them doesn’t hurt. One has to stay rooted as well as live the moment.

    • Lellalee
      Author
      March 21, 2019 / 9:51 pm

      When I published the post, I did think of you!!! You’re so right, it can’t hurt to embrace a little carpe diem!!!!! 🙂

  2. March 21, 2019 / 9:11 am

    YES to this post! I loved reading it. Your words are so true, deep and inspiring.

    • Lellalee
      Author
      March 21, 2019 / 9:44 pm

      How kind! Thank you so much for reading xxx

  3. March 21, 2019 / 10:24 pm

    Great post! Totally up my alley. Love the history you provide the reader, as well as the different perspectives on a famous phrase. Thank you.

    Roger Petersen
    Mind and Love

    • Lellalee
      Author
      March 21, 2019 / 11:07 pm

      Thank you Roger xxx

  4. March 22, 2019 / 7:31 am

    This was a really thought provoking read for me! I think it’s really important to appreciate moments in our lives as they are happening, rather than thinking of, or looking forward to, what the next day, hour, week etc will bring!

    • Lellalee
      Author
      March 25, 2019 / 2:06 pm

      I’m so glad the post got you thinking xxx

    • Lellalee
      Author
      March 25, 2019 / 2:09 pm

      Thank you lovely xxx

  5. March 22, 2019 / 12:02 pm

    What an interesting post, I think looking into these quotes that people use very off the cuff is very interesting. I think it’s good to embrace but you can’t live your life by it. xo

    • Lellalee
      Author
      March 25, 2019 / 2:05 pm

      You’re right. It’s a nice motto to use when life gets you down xxx

  6. March 22, 2019 / 5:31 pm

    So educational and inspiring! Thank you for putting this out there!

    • Lellalee
      Author
      March 25, 2019 / 2:03 pm

      Thank you lovely xxx

  7. March 23, 2019 / 12:52 am

    Love the historical background you included in this post. This post made me reflect on my life. Have I really forgotten how to live? Great post!

    • Lellalee
      Author
      March 25, 2019 / 1:59 pm

      I’m so glad this post was though-provoking xxx

    • Lellalee
      Author
      March 27, 2019 / 11:19 pm

      Thank you so much xxx

  8. March 26, 2019 / 11:53 pm

    This was such an interesting post and I love your perspective! I actually have pictures so similar to yours from when I visited Loch Ness with my family when I was younger!xx

    • Lellalee
      Author
      March 27, 2019 / 11:20 pm

      That’s wonderful! Isn’t Loch Ness the most magical place xxx

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