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For other uses, see Carpe diem (disambiguation).
A sundial inscribed carpe diem

Carpe diem is an aphorism usually translated "seize the day", taken from a poem written in the Odes in 23 BC by the Latin poet Horace, Book 1, number 11.


Carpe is the second-person singular present active imperative of carpō, "pick or pluck," used by Ovid to mean "enjoy, seize, use, make use of".[1] Diem is the accusative case of the noun "dies", that means "day". A more literal translation of "Carpe diem" would thus be "enjoy the day" or "pluck the day [as it is ripe]"—i.e. to enjoy the moment; however, in its modern-day usage, the "diem" usually gets abstracted as "opportunity."



Original usage from Odes 1.11, in Latin and English:

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi Don't ask (it's forbidden to know) what end
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios the gods have given me or you, Leuconoe. Don't play with Babylonian
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati. numerology either. How much better it is to endure whatever will be!
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam, Whether Jupiter has allotted you many more winters or this one,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare which even now wears out the Tyrrhenian sea on the opposing rocks, is the final one
Tyrrhenum. Sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi — be wise, be truthful, strain the wine, and scale back your long hopes
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida to a short period. While we speak, envious time will have {already} fled:
aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero. seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next (day)[/future].[2]

Carpe diem concept[edit]

Perhaps the first written expression of the concept is the advice given by Siduri to Gilgamesh, telling him to forgo his mourning and embrace life although some scholars see it as simply urging Gilgamesh to abandon his mourning, "reversing the liminal rituals of mourning and returning to the normal and normative behaviors of Mesopotamian society."[3][4]


In Horace, the phrase is part of the longer Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero, which can be translated as "Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow (the future)". The ode says that the future is unforeseen and that one should not leave to chance future happenings, but rather one should do all one can today to make one's future better. This phrase is usually understood against Horace's Epicurean background.[5] It is important to note that the carpe diem phrase is often misinterpreted and misused in contemporary popular culture, to justify reckless behaviour ("you only live once"). However, the meaning of carpe diem is not to ignore the future, but rather not to trust that everything is going to fall into place for you and taking action for the future today.[6]

Related expressions[edit]


The phrase ?ואם לא עכשיו ,אימתי "And if not now, Then when?" (Pirkei Avoth 1:14) carpe diem- seize the day/נצל את היום

Other Latin[edit]

An 1898 German postcard, quoting "Gaudeamus igitur"

"Collige, virgo, rosas [...]" ("gather, girl, the roses") appears at the end of the poem "De rosis nascentibus"[7] (also called Idyllium de rosis) attributed to Ausonius or Virgil. It encourages youth to enjoy life before it is too late; compare "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" from "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time".

Nunc est bibendum ("now is the time to drink") from the Odes of Horace: "Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus" ("Now is the time to drink, now the time to dance footloose upon the earth").

De Brevitate Vitae ("On the Shortness of Life"), often referred to as Gaudeamus igitur, ("Let us rejoice") is a popular academic commercium song, on taking joy in student life, with the knowledge that one will someday die. It is medieval Latin, dating to 1287.

Horace himself parodies the phrase in his satire 'The town mouse and the country mouse'. He uses the phrase carpe viam meaning 'seize the road' to compare the two different attitudes to life of the person (or in this case, a mouse) living in a city and in the countryside.

Related but distinct is the expression memento mori ("remember that you are mortal") which carries some of the same connotation as carpe diem. For Horace, mindfulness of our own mortality is key in making us realize the importance of the moment. "Remember that you are mortal, so seize the day." Over time the phrase memento mori also came to be associated with penitence, as suggested in many vanitas paintings. Today many listeners will take the two phrases as representing almost opposite approaches, with 'carpe diem' urging us to savour life and 'memento mori' urging us to resist its allure. This is not the original sense of the memento mori phrase as used by Horace.

Similarly, ubi sunt – "where are they [now]?" – invokes transience and meditation on death, but is not an exhortation to action.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lewis, Charlton T. (1890). "carpō". An Elementary Latin Dictionary. New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago: American Book Company. 
  2. ^ [1], Ode I-XI: Carpe Diem by Quintus Horatius Flaccus.
  3. ^ Ackerman, Susan (2005). When Heroes Love: The Ambiguity of Eros in the Stories of Gilgamesh and David. Columbia University Press. pp. 130–131. ISBN 978-0231132602. 
  4. ^ Perdue, Leo G. (2009). Scribes, Sages, and Seers: The Sage in the Eastern Mediterranean World: The Sage in the Mediterranean World. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co KG. p. 57. ISBN 978-3525530832. 
  5. ^ Harrison, S. J. (2012). The Cambridge companion to Horace. Cam Press. pp. 154, 168. ISBN 978-0-521-83002-7. 
  6. ^ Jacks, Lorra (February 17, 2013). "The 5 Most Frequently Misused Proverbs". Cracked.com. Retrieved 2014-01-02. 
  7. ^ De rosis nascentibus, (German) in a collection of the works of Virgil under the note Hoc carmen scripsit poeta ignotus ("This poem was written by an unknown poet").

External links[edit]

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