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”).

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.

This selection introduces us to beasts and monsters, starting gently with the wolf that Horace met one day. He was clearly frightened, but with the benefit of nature documentaries we know that the wolf was probably more afraid of him.

Horace’s wolf

A wise Trojan priest pays a terrible price for warning the Trojans about the Trojan horse.


Troy is doomed to fall at the fateful moment when the horse enters the city.

The Trojan Horse

On their wanderings, Aeneas and his band encounter a flock of foul flying creatures.

The Harpies

On his journey to the underworld Aeneas sees Tisiphone, tormenter of the damned in Tartarus.


The underworld again: this time the poet is Horace, and the visitor the God Bacchus. Fortunatey he is good with dogs, as he must pass the kennel of the fearsome three-headed guardian, Cerberus.


In the illustration, the sea-nymph Thetis is using her shape-changing gift to try to escape the hero Peleus: they became the parents of Achilles.

See the index to Latin selections on here.