This selection is on the theme of Carpe diem – these days usually translated as “seize the day”, but you could equally well translate it as “pluck” the day – as if it were a flower. Most of the examples here are from the Odes of Horace, the absolute master of the genre, and they include some of his most beautiful and atmospheric poems. For contrast, the final one is by a different poet – just possibly Virgil, but more probably by a gifted but anonymous writer whose poem became attached at some point to a manuscript of Virgil’s works.

To begin, here is a famous version with some of Horace’s best descriptions of nature and the simple pleasures of life (Soracte, Odes 1.9).

Next, here is the short piece in which Horace coins – or uses – the famous phrase (Odes 1.11).

Here , Horace combines the message with another recurring theme: the ultimate futility of accumulating great wealth (Odes 2.3).

Here is another in the form of a wistful piece addressed to a friend, Postumus (“Eheu fugaces”, Odes 2.4).

The poem here, from the fourth and last book of Odes is perhaps the most sombre of Horace’s “carpe diem” pieces (“Diffugere nives”, Odes 4.7).

Finally, the theme in other hands: here is a description. possibly by Virgil but more likely not, describing the Syrian hostess of a pub which is my favourite in all literature (Appendix Vergiliana, “Copa Syrisca”).

Glande sues laeti redeunt: the pigs come home regaled with acorns … in Virgil’s rural paradise, even the livestock live off the fat of the land. The swineherd knocking down mast from the trees for his animals is from a famous late-mediaeval Book of Hours, the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

Hear Virgil’s Latin and follow in John Dryden’s charming but not very faithful 17th century translation here.

In his fourth poem about his lover, Cynthia, Propertius delivers a sharp response to an acquaintance who tells him he should be looking elsewhere. Her accomplishments include the arts, including music – and certain other things, he adds …

Hear Propertius’s Latin and follow in English here.

Saturnalia on 17 December was the Roman’s midwinter party festival. It had a definite topsy-turvy element, with masters waiting on their slaves, as shown in the illustration, and a generally indulgent attitude towards high jinks.
Today’s poem was written for a different occasion: it is an extract from one of Virgil’s pastoral poems, or Eclogues, written in 40 BCE and looking forward to a birth which will herald the start of a new golden age. It is appropriate to the run-up to Christmas because, though few if any would agree today, a strong current of opinion among early Christians and in the middle ages interpreted it as a prophesy of the birth of Christ. Hear the Latin and follow in English here.

As Horace brings the final book of his Odes to an end, an idealised Roman family of the future gathers to sing Augustus’s praises and give thanks for the peace and the imperial power that he has brought to Rome.

Hear Horace’s Latin and follow in English here.