Carpe diem, “seize the moment”

Dum luquimur, fugerit invida aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero. “
‘’ As we speak, the envious time has already escaped: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in what is to come ’’

Horace, Carmina I, 11

Carpe diem, «seize the day» in the literal translation, then stabilized in the most famous expression of «seize the moment», is a verse of the Ode I of the Latin poet Horace (I century BC). It is a quote now worn out by common use, but always timely in its powerful interpretative ambiguity.

What does it mean to seize the moment?

Is letting oneself freely go into life by living an aware present, never abandoning oneself to recall a past to be dragged like a useless ballast? Or is it living in the passive wait or careful to seize the opportunities of an event that brings us the present time, to lead us into an unlikely future?

Orazio seems to invite us to enjoy the pleasures that life offers us, to appreciate what we live in the present moment and therefore directs us towards the best that can please us with what we already have. Trusting as little as possible in the future, does Orazio want to suggest the challenge to death, so inevitable, to take away his privilege of erasing our expectations? Or do you advise us to weaken our illusory projections on the actions that build the future?

Statue of Horace in Venosa
Thinking of the present as if it were the last of our days can preserve us from the restlessness of a life spent in the feverish search for happiness made of hopes and frustrated expectations? Or can this reflection lead us to the paradox of an absurd and indolent “waiting for Godot” by Beckett’s memory?

These are all interesting questions to abstract us a little from our concrete existential flow which today is increasingly filled, in all its space-time, by a continuous doing and being less and less aware. We are attracted and enchanted by the “Thousand and One Nights” of a Sherazade that projects us towards desires, often virtual, that are never satisfied. As digital sponges, we absorb projects, intentions, roadmaps, programs, ambitions and existential paths that show us labyrinthine paths to the future.

Or, are we obscure objects of others’ desire of which we unknowingly imitate the wills? Without foreshadowing Orwellian scenarios as Big Brother, even in the current illusory freedom of knowledge of the world, man has certainly reduced his essential, authentic and spiritual sphere of life. Intrigued by the pinwheel of superfluous and useless needs, clichés and imitative desires, we almost never stop to catch our moment, rediscovering its unconditional beauty.

All this leads us to drift among the debris of an “existential disposable”, the result of the abuse of “unmissable opportunities” that ultimately makes us lonely and inauthentic. Or we run after all the “missed opportunities” that never recur and that consume us psychically and physically.

Of this scenario, so little perceived in its social dynamics, it is often poets or mystics who grasp its tragedy with greater awareness. See, for example, the insights and verses of the poet Constantinos Kavafis, who invites us not to waste our lives and not to be trapped by his false myths and opinions that cloud our inner voice.

“And if you can’t the life you want
at least look for this as it is in you:
don’t spoil it in too much business with people
with too many words and in a frenetic comedy.
Don’t spoil it by carrying it around
at the mercy of the dull daily game
of meetings and invitations
until it becomes a sickly stranger. “

However, returning to the exhortation of Horace to seize the moment without thinking too much about tomorrow, it can also be understood as an indication to build one’s future existence in a serene and daily way. His message remains that of exploiting the opportunities that the present places before us in the immediate but only those that can be in tune with the expectations, the direction and the meaning we want to give to our life.

It should also be considered that man also aspires to great hopes, great imagination, great illusions and utopias that inevitably drag him into the future. When its tensions towards an ideal are pure, these energies can, in fact, conquer important results, built with extreme determination and prophetic vision of the future, beyond any reasonable possibility.

So what to do?

Perhaps the real carpe diem has remained in the time of thought that we dedicate ourselves to grasp the essence of what we are and what we really want.

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