Many of us have heard the expression carpe diem (seize the day) and have equated it to “make the most of the present, don’t worry about tomorrow”. The more contemporaneous YOLO (You Only Live Once) can be said to be analogous to the Latin phrase; but is that truly what carpe diem means?
The first written record of the expression carpe diem dates from 23 B.C. by the Roman poet Horace in book 1 of his work Odes.
The phrase carpe diem appears in Horace’s Odes (I.11) as part of the injunction “carpe diem quam minimum credula postero,” which can be translated as “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.” Carpe diem has, however, become better known by a less literal translation: “seize the day.” 1
The true meaning of carpe diem as used by Horace in his poem is not to simply forget about the future, but rather to take advantage of the opportunities of the moment, because they may not be there tomorrow. From one perspective, it is a message against procrastination similar to Benjamin Franklin’s “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today”. Carpe diem however, refers to grasping those fleeting opportunities life offers from time to time, whatever they may be.
Next time you hear or read this Latin phrase, remember that it doesn’t mean to not worry about the future; but rather to take advantage of opportunitie/ life offers. Until then my friends … Carpe diem!
1 Carpe Diem. In Encyclopædia Britannica online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/carpe-diem