Don't ask what tomorrow will bring (Carpe Diem!)

"BE WISE AND PoUR THE WINE. Seize the moment, place in the hours that come as little faith as you can"

Horace

 
  Lute player with wine glass, Frans Hals, 1626

Lute player with wine glass, Frans Hals, 1626

 
Leuconoë, don’t ask, we never know, what tomorrow will bring,
your fate or mine, don’t waste your time on Babylonian calculations.
How much better to know and suffer what happens,
whether Jupiter will give us more winters, or this is the last one
debilitating the cliffs of the Tyrrhenian sea.
Be wise, and pour the wine, since time is short while far-reaching is hope.
The envious moment is passing us by now, now, while we’re speaking:
Seize the moment, place in the hours that come as little faith as you can.
— Horace, Odes I.XI
 

The first reference in our journey through the interpretation of Time in literature is necessarily Horace’s Ode I.XI,

the poem that consecrated the topic of time through the perfect lyrical scheme of Carpe Diem.

Among the greatest poets of the Classic Age, Horace lived from 65BC to 8AD. In Augustus’ tumultuous Rome, he brought a deeply meditated view of the world, and life, drawing in large part from Stoicism, the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy which explains that, while we may not always have control over the events affecting us, we can have control over how we approach events.

 

The text starts with a prohibition: do not ask what tomorrow will bring. This perspective is openly and paradoxically anti-knowledge: the future is evil, terrifying, and for this reason kept distant. With this prohibition, Horace seems to state that we cannot have control on events bigger than ourselves. The exhortation is then to dilate the present moment, to generate a far-reaching hope but within a short space of time - or gain control over how we approach such events.

Time (Invida Aetas) robs us from life, from the ability to always live to our highest potential. By contrast, we try to rob Time from life, or trying to expand every moment as much as possible. It is between these two constant robberies that our life is lived.

 

Carpe diem means to rid yourself of the constant escape of the moment.

But how?

If that would be possible we would not be human, but gods, and it seems like Horace is making fun of us, laying a trap. While interpretations are endless, three other imperatives make the exhortation easier to grasp: be wise, pour the wine, since time is short and far-reaching is hope.

The same way it started, the Ode ends with another prohibition: do not place your hopes in tomorrow. Tomorrow is too vague, this could be the last winter that Jupiter (king of the gods in Ancient Roman mythology) grants us.

 

The strength and geniality of Carpe Diem’s admonition lies in its contraposition to the main subject of the text, the Invida Aetas: on one side we have the day, the moment and on the other we have the Aetas, the Time that forever passes us by, blind and even invidus, elusive and unstable. This is a profound word of difficult interpretation: invidus means “that does not see well” – the escape of time is too fast and unpredictable, and it does not allow its grasping.

Carpere then appears as an extraordinary, almost non-human act: to seize, to stop the Time, and every moment that is seized becomes redeeming, expanding our time. It makes us live to the fullest. Immortal and god-like. Even if just for a moment.

 

Take your time.

 

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