Latin Reading Club (3) - Horace, Ode I.11 (carpe diem)

Cato

Consularis
This short poem is the source of the well-known phrase carpe diem.

Tu ne quaesieris--scire nefas!--quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. Ut melius, quidquid erit, pati,
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrheneum. Sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces; dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero.

Linked text from Perseus
English Translation

Vocabulary/Grammar:

di - Nom. plur. of deus.
Leuconoe - Greek vocative, the name of the woman to who the poem is addressed (final o and e are separate vowels).
Ut melius - "How much better"; Ut = "how", melius is an adverb modifying pati.
pluris- -is for -es is a common substitution for i-stem nouns and adjectives in poetry.
ultimam - Assume another hiemem.
quae - Refers back to the assumed hiemem; to untangle this, try the following word order: quae nunc debilitat mare tyrrheneum oppositis pumicibus.
sapio, -ere - lit. "taste, savor", but also "be wise"; what form is this?
liquo, -are - lit. "liquefy", but here "strain, filter". Roman vintners had to filter their wine to eliminate thick sediment.
credula - "credulous, easy to believe"; the adj. is feminine because Horace is addressing a woman.
posterum, -i - "future". Or possibly postremus, -a, -um borrowing the idea of dies from the first part. What case is this?

Questions:

* What's the mood/tense for quaesieris, dederint, and temptaris (are they the same?). What does this grammar imply?
* nefas is an interesting word choice; how does it work in context?
* What do you think are the Babylonios numeros?
* Why hiemes in line 4?
* What's your impression of the side-remark concerning the Tyrrheneum sea?
* What are your thoughts on the meaning behind spatio brevi and spem longam. How does Horace amplify the contrast between the underlying ideas?
* Why is aetas described as invida?
* What image is Horace painting by using words like sapias, vina liques, reseces, and specifically carpe? Does this compare/contrast with the earlier part of the poem?
* Has the poem changed your interpretation of the famous phrase carpe diem?

Habete ludum!
 

Cato

Consularis
Horace's lyric meters may be a little unfamiliar to some. For this poem Horace is borrowing a form from the Greek lyric poet Asclepiades:

---uu-|-uu-|-uu-ux

There are a number of different Asclepiadean meters, and I can never remember them all. I usually just remember the basic Asclepiadean form is built around "-uu-".

Note the effects of this lyric: Natural breaks occur at the beginning and end of each -uu- combination (e.g. scire nefas, a parenthetical remark, is contained within a single -uu-), a feature technically known as diaresis. Also the line when read aloud has a slow/fast/slow rhythm (an exaggerated reading would go something like "Tu...ne...quaesieris...scirenefas...quemmihiquem...tibi")
 

Donaldus

New Member
* The phrase in context doesn't seem to suggest "take risks, have an adventure, today is the first day of the rest of your life!", more like "sit down and have another beer".
* Is seize a bit too gung-ho a translation of carpe?... my dictionary has "pluck", "graze", etc, and when used figuratively suggesting selection and appreciation, the same ideas that sapio and liquo suggest.
* I'm having trouble with temptaris... is it tempto, temptavi (1)? The Perseus notes say either passive present, which doesn't seem to make sense, or perfect subjunctive, but if so shouldn't it be temptaveris?
 

Cato

Consularis
[quote="Donaldus]* I'm having trouble with temptaris... is it tempto, temptavi (1)? The Perseus notes say either passive present, which doesn't seem to make sense, or perfect subjunctive, but if so shouldn't it be temptaveris?[/quote]

It is perfect subjunctive. Perfects in -avi, -evi, and -ivi sometimes contract (by dropping the v and following vowel) in front of endings that begin with an r or s, e.g. amavisti => amasti; amaverunt => amarunt.

This isn't common, and is much more prevalent in certain verbs rather than as a general rule, but it does occur. It is also (I believe) considered a bit of an archaism, sort of like the -th verb ending in an English phrase like "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away," though perhaps not as unusual as that...
 

Cato

Consularis
Donaldus dixit:
* Is seize a bit too gung-ho a translation of carpe?... my dictionary has "pluck", "graze", etc, and when used figuratively suggesting selection and appreciation, the same ideas that sapio and liquo suggest.
I certainly agree. Note in particular that the verbs later in the poem are all agricultural; straining the wine, far-off hopes are pruned (reseces), and the day is plucked like a grape. You're right, they suggest a quieter, more refined appreciation of life than the pithy translation "seize the day".

Often carpe diem is said to encourage someone to take quick advantage of a new opportunity; I think that misses the real sense of the phrase (especially in context).
 

Cato

Consularis
Regarding nefas, this word is often translated as "crime", but its more exact meaning is "sacrilege", i.e. a religious crime.

The first 2+ lines include nefas, a reference to the machinations of the gods, and Babylonios numeros - "Babylonian numbers[/i], i.e. astrology. The early theme then is religion--though we shouldn't mistake this for modern religion, since the Roman religion was little more than state-sponsered superstition--and Horace is telling Leuconoe to reject it.

Pati - "suffer, endure" then is a key verb: Whatever happens, you must endure it, and the best choice is to quietly enjoy life: sapias, vina liques, et...spem longam reseces...carpe diem. The country life is the model, as all these verbs reflect an agricultural origin.
 
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