Tag Archives: literature

In Memory of Horace: Carpe Diem

The poet Horace (First Century BCE) was the son of a freed Roman slave. His father gave him a good education, which included philosophy, and Horace was outspoken in his Epicurean faith. He served in the Roman army under General Brutus and enjoyed the friendship of the poet Virgil and of Maecenas–a wealthy investor in the arts whose name later became synonymous with the tradition of patronizing intellectuals and artists. Although his full name was Quintus Horatius Flaccus (modern-day Spanish uses “flaco” to mean “skinny”), he was ironically and famously short and fat.

Treat every day that dawns for you as the last.
The hour that’s unhoped for will be welcome when it comes.
When you want to smile then visit me: sleek, and fat I’m a hog,
well cared-for, one of Epicurus’ herd.

Some of the Latin adages coined by Horace are still known and used today. The most famous one was the very Epicurean Carpe Diem, or “Seize the day”. Other adages are Nunc est bibendum, “Now we must drink”, and Sapere aude, or “Dare to be wise”.

In reality, Horace was more than a poet. He wrote the epistolary style of literature, as well as satires–many of which are for adults only–which praised Epicurean ideals, and his Ars Poetica is about more than the art and theory of poetry. It includes advise on writing and presenting plays–things like making sure that the emotions, gestures, and words displayed match and are presented in unison. The work was written in the style of an Epistle to the Pisos–the same family that financed the famous Epicurean Library and was taught philosophy by Philodemus in Herculaneum.

This rare constellation of famous names associated with Horace, together with the fact that many (including Maecenas) were believed to be Epicureans by conviction, indicates that here is a moment in history where we can get a unique glimpse into the imprint that our tradition has left, and where we can also juxtapose the ways in which the works and biographies of these personalities may have been informed by Epicurean ideas–as is the case with the time spent by Frances Wright and Thomas Jefferson in Monticello.

In his satires, Horace draws anecdotes from nature. While describing the hard-working tiny ant that “takes in its mouth whatever it can and adds it to the pile” in order to have food in a future season, he also praises the Epicurean virtue of contentment and self-sufficiency.

As if you had occasion for no more than a pitcher or glass of water, and should say, “I had rather draw [so much] from a great river, than the very same quantity from this little fountain.” Hence it comes to pass, that the rapid Aufidus carries away, together with the bank, such men as an abundance more copious than what is just delights. But he who desires only so much as is sufficient, neither drinks water fouled with the mud, nor loses his life in the waves.

But a great majority of mankind, misled by a wrong desire, cry, “No sum is enough; because you are esteemed in proportion to what you possess.”

Please enjoy the literary adventure that is Horace! The works of Horace can be found in poetryintranslation.com, or the Perseus Catalog. Here are some gleanings from his writings:

Be Happy Wherever You Are

Everyone Can Profit from Philosophy

In Praise of Simple Living

Dare to be Wise

Horace’s Epistle to the Pisos

The Miseries of the Wealthy

Miscellaneous Quotes

Further Reading:

 

Some Epicurean Aspects of Horace’s Upbringing in Satires 1.4, and Horace, Ofellus and Philodemus of Gadara in Sermones 2.2, by Sergio Yona

Learning the Epistolary Poem: Poems that serve as letters to the world, by Hannah Brooks-Motl

An Epicurean Year

As part of an effort to continue to produce memes and content that are relevant to the happenings at different stages of the year, Society of Epicurus is joining the initiative of the Epicurus page known as An Epicurean Year. According to its proponent, “the purpose here is to create a rotation of Doctrines, Sayings, other topics and issues to help anyone integrate Epicurean Philosophy into their lives through continuous study and practice” within the Gregorian calendar.

I have gone beyond his initial proposal and added a few celebrations. “An Epicurean year begins in February … because Epicurus’ birthday is in “Gamelion”, which corresponds (more or less) to February”.

Epicureans are known to celebrate the 20th of every month as a “feast of reason”, which is why every 20th defaults to a celebration known as eikas, or “twentieth” in honor of the request made in Epicurus’ will.

FEB 12. Charles R. Darwin birthday.

FEB 16th. Foundation of the Society of Friends of Epicurus

FEB. 20th. “A Feast for Life!”, as per initial proponent. Epicurus’ birthday.

MAR. 20th. “A Feast for Happiness!”, as the UN has declared this to be the International Day of Happiness.

MAR 21. SoFE celebrates Horace Day. The literary Legacy of Horace, a self-proclaimed “pig of Epicurus’ den”, is celebrated as part of World Poetry Day.

APR 13. Hitchens – Jefferson Day, a secular holiday proposed by a blogger based on Jefferson’s Day, where humanist books should be exchanged as gifts.

APR. 20th. “A Feast for Proper Pleasures”, as per initial proponent; perhaps because Spring, and Easter in particular, has always been associated with Venus. This usually also falls around Earth Day, so it’s a celebration of this Earth.

MAY 20th. “A Feast of the Good Desires!”, as per initial proponent.

JUNE 20th. Midsummer Feast.

JULY 20th. A Feast of Wisdom, as the Panathinaia, the Festival of Athena, the Goddess of Philosophy is celebrated in Hellenismos between July and August every year.

AUGUST 20. The ancient Athenians celebrated a festival of Panathenaea around their calendar’s version of August 13th. Since this falls closest to our 20th of August, on this 20th SoFE celebrates the literary opus of Frances Wright titled A Few Days in Athens.

AUGUST 24. HERCULANEUM DAY. On this date in the year 79 of Common Era, Mount Vesuvius erupted and the library in Herculaneum was covered in volcanic ash.

OCTOBER 1. It’s difficult to find the exact date for a festival in Taoism, since the Taoist calendar is lunar. Therefore, the National Day of China can be used to celebrate Chinese philosophers who have contributed to hedonism, and in particular can be used to celebrate Yang Chu.

OCTOBER 19. Philodemus’ library was discovered on this date in 1752

DEC 20th. HumanLight, the Humanist Solstice celebration which began in New Jersey among humanists and is now embraced widely by the American Humanist Association and others.

Please visit the original page for An Epicurean Year for more details on the project.