What is the meaning of Carpe Diem?

The Modern Meaning of Carpe Diem

When we look at the meaning of Carpe Diem today it is a sentiment of doing something grand and living for the moment.  Take that vacation you have always dreamed of, go for that dream job or tell someone how you feel and finally ask them out! These are the ideas that come to mind in the modern understanding and we have many sayings in English today that convey a similar message; strike while the iron is hot, grab the bull by the horns, time and tide wait for no man, to the more emphatic you only live once. YOLO. 

Today declaring Carpe diem could be a motto for any of the lifechanging possibilities above or used to justify not taking responsibility…… just one more shot of tequila on a school night!

Meaning ofCarpe Diem
Carpe Diem Horaces 23BC

The Ancient Origins and Meaning of Carpe Diem

The question is… what does Carpe Diem really mean and has something been lost in translation? Did it mean something different to the ancient Romans?

Classicists get very uppity about the use of Carpe Diem today saying it has been misunderstood by the masses; they will dissect a piece of ancient literature to analyse the language, they are Latin scholars and most of us are not!  So, let’s go back to basics, to the man who used it first to get an idea of what he was saying.

The first use of Carpe Diem is by Horace, a Roman poet in the 30s BC.  In his ode 11 he is offering advice to a Greek woman, possibly a slave.  She is interested in horoscopes, but Horace urges her not to try to divine the future because only the Gods can know our fate.  Life is short so it is better to live in the present.  He tells her to strain the wine and to ‘carpe’ the day; it is the last line in the poem:

‘While we are speaking, envious a lifetime will have fled: pluck the day, trusting the future as little as possible.’

Horace wrote on agricultural themes; here ‘carpe’ means pluck, harvest, or reap. In the poem he uses the metaphor of wine and fruit to suggest living for today because life is short and future plans may not come to fruition. In Latin the phrase is rich with imagery, it gives the idea of picking fruit because it is ripe, if not it will be spoiled tomorrow.

Romantic Connatations

Other Latin poets would use the same phrase with an erotic sense; ripe fruit and wine in art and literature are often used with a sexual meaning.  As in another Roman poet Catullus’ poem to Lesbia when he tries to convince her to live in the moment. Our more modern version ‘make hay while the suns shines’ can also have a romantic meaning.

One thing that is important to remember is that in ancient times is that life was incredibly short!  The average mortality was 25-27 for women 25-30 for men.  Disease, accident, hard physical labour and childbirth in women were the killers.  Ancient cultures did not plan for the future and lived much more in the present. In our modern world, particularly in the west we have the luxury of more stable lives.  Our economic conditions, urban environments, medicine and technology have improved exponentially meaning we live much longer, healthier lives.  In essence we can never fully understand either the plucking of ripe fruit, or the necessity of living in the moment as they did.

Perhaps this is why our modern translation is ‘seize the day’ to add more meaning and emphasis.  Simply because there are so many more days for us, we need reminding to take action to get the most from them!  Many will remember the film Dead Poets Society (1989) where an English teacher played by Robin Williams, famously says: “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”   “Because we are food for worms lads!” 

What is the meaning of Carpe Diem? 1
Russell with some guests at the Pantheon!

The Meaning of Carpe Diem to our Co-founders

Today Carpe Diem is about maximising our experiences in life, taking chances and grabbing opportunities.  Perhaps being brave or strong enough to do something you really want to, making the most of the moment and being the best, you can be. 

Our co-founders chose this Latin motto as our company name for that reason…. You may only come to Rome once and it should be an amazing experience. So…. Carpe Diem! Make your holiday extraordinary.

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