Carpe Diem
Quintus Horatius Flaccus

Nearly everyone has heard the Latin phrase carpe diem, and it is nearly always translated as seize the day.

A quick look at Whitaker's online Latin dictionary shows the following translations for carpere:

seize, pick, pluck, gather, browse, tear off; graze,crop; tease, pull out, card (wool) separate, divide, tear down; carve; despoil, fleece; pursue, harry; consume, erode.

And the following for the noun diēs:

day; daylight; (sunlit hours); (24 hours from midnight); open sky; weather; specific day; day in question; date of letter; festival; lifetime, age; time;

So why don't we translate carpe diem as pluck the weather? Or tear down the festival? Or harry the open sky?

Because the line comes from Horace I.11, and in the context of that poem perhaps the best English translation is seize the day.

We might use pluck the day, instead. Or seize this opportunity.

It's the translator's choice, within reason. Here is my reading of Horace's poem with my own quick translation into English.

Ask yourself: How might you change my translation of the ending?

A tranlator is constantly making tough choices to approximate the meaning of the original. Translation is almost never a word-for-word excercise.


Latin Phrases similar to Carpe Diem

To get a better undstanding of the words carpere and diēs, we can take a look at similar phrases.

  • Carpe viam, seize the road (Horace)
  • Carpe noctem, seize the night
  • Carpe piscem, catch a fish


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