Carpe is the second-person singular present active imperative of carpō "pick or pluck" used by Horace to mean "enjoy, seize, use, make use of". Diem is the accusative case of the noun dies "day". A more literal translation of "carpe diem" would thus be "pluck the day [as it is ripe]"—that is, enjoy the moment.
Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
Ask not ('tis forbidden knowledge), what our destined term of years,
In ancient literature
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."
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. The meaning of "carpe diem" as used by Horace 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.
The phrase ?ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי "And if not now, then when?" (Pirkei Avoth 1:14).
"Collige, virgo, rosas" ("gather, girl, the roses") appears at the end of the poem "De rosis nascentibus" ("Of growing roses", 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 Robert Herrick's 1648 poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time".
"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.
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.
In popular culture
In the 1989 movie Dead Poets Society, the English teacher John Keating, played by Robin Williams, famously says: "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary." Later, this line was voted as the 95th greatest movie quote by the American Film Institute. The television series Community later satirized the movie with the recurring character of Professor Whitman, a comedically eccentric version of Williams' character who uses "Carpe diem" as his guiding philosophy.
The American progressive metal band Dream Theater released the 23-minute epic "A Change of Seasons" on their 1995 EP of the same name. The song numerously references the "carpe diem" or "Seize the Day" aphorism as part of its storyline. The song also includes audio samples from the 1989 film Dead Poets Society and quotes from Robert Herrick's poem, "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time", all of which are conceived surrounding the concept of "carpe diem".
The soundtrack to the 2011 animated film Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension includes a track called "Carpe Diem".
The American punk rock band, Green Day, produced a song called "Carpe Diem" on their 2012 album ¡Uno!. The chorus is "Carpe Diem, a battle cry, are we all too young to die? Ask for reason, and no reply, are we all too young to die?"
The English alternative rock band, You Me at Six, produced a song called "Carpe Diem" on their 2014 album Cavalier Youth. The chorus is "Carpe diem 'til the very end. I have no regrets. Carpe diem 'til the bitter end."
- Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Carmina, Liber I, Carmen XI (in Latin)
- Lewis, Charlton T. (1890). "carpō". An Elementary Latin Dictionary. New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago: American Book Company.
- Translation by John Conington, 1882
- 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.
- 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.
- Harrison, S. J. (2012). The Cambridge companion to Horace. Cam Press. pp. 154, 168. ISBN 978-0-521-83002-7.
- Jacks, Lorra (February 17, 2013). "The 5 Most Frequently Misused Proverbs". Cracked.com. Retrieved 2014-01-02.
- "De rosis nascentibus" in a collection of the works of Virgil under the note Hoc carmen scripsit poeta ignotus (This poem was written by an unknown poet); Bibleotheca Augustana, Augsburg University of Applied Sciences
- American Film Institute. "AFI's 100 YEARS...100 MOVIE QUOTES". Afi.com. Retrieved 2015-03-25.