Seize the Day

Roman Poet and Muses

Princeton University Press has come out with an interesting series of books under the general heading Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers. A few months ago, I read the volume on Epictetus. Just now, I have finished the one on Horace’s poetry, entitled How To Be Content: An Ancient Poet’s Guide for an Age of Excess.

Sadly, I have not tried yet in any sustained way to tackle the Odes, Epodes, Epistles, and Satires, what with their reams of footnotes and textual controversies. This volume, on the other hand, makes it easier to understand what Horace is about:

May I have what I have now, less even,
      and may I live for myself
 What remains of my days, if the gods
      grant any remainder:
 May I have a good supply of books and
      corn planted for the year,
 And never hang and float in waiting for
      an uncertain hour.


To be daunted by nothing is the one and
      only thing,
 Numicius, that can make and keep you

It is a sobering thought that we have created such complicated lives for ourselves, whereas more than two thousand years ago, there were certain extraordinary poets and philosophers whose advice is as current as today’s news. It was Horace, after all, who advised us all to carpe diem (seize the day).

Horace was as philosophical in dealing with the end of days:

Order wine and perfume and the too-brief
 Flower of the rose to be brought,
 While circumstances, time of life
 And the dark threads of the three sisters
      allow it.

The three sisters, of course, are the Three Fates of ancient mythology: Clotho, who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, who measures the thread of life; and Atropos, who cuts the thread of life.