Pluck the new things! (carpe rem novum)   Leave a comment

Some news:

1) I’ve added categories and tags! I’m not entirely sure what the difference is, but I have both, so who cares!
2) Now that the semester is over, Open Source Vase is now a blog about me reteaching myself Latin.

I’ve been a big Latin geek since I first took a Latin class the second semester of eighth grade. Something…caught hold of me. The words, the structure, the smaller class size. Latin was the first real love of my life, and it hasn’t left me. I’m a historian because of Latin.

I took it in eighth grade, then again in eleventh/twelfth grade, then again in community college, trying to build myself back up from depression. Every time I take the class, I get excited, learn all sorts of new things, and then promptly forget everything I learned. I think I retain a little bit more each time, but the fact is, I’ve forgotten most of it at this point.

I want to take Latin 201 in Fall of 2012, so it’s time for me to relearn Latin vocabulary and grammar again. And so I’m dusting off my community college textbook and starting over. The text is Wheelock’s Latin, Sixth Edition, the standard for Latin students.

All I got done tonight was reading through the Foreword, notes on the Revised Edition, and all four introductions. I admit that I skimmed through the Foreward, which was full of Frederic Wheelock bragging about how awesome of a Latin scholar he is and using words like “infelicitous,” which confused the heck out of me. Seriously:

Caesar’s works were studiously avoided because of the view that Caesar’s traditional place in the curriculum of the first two years is infelicitous, and that more desirable reading matter can be found.

I complained aloud about it. I couldn’t get a read on “infelicitous” in that sentence. I know what “felicitous” meant: it means that whatever it is that’s felicitous is a good thing, a positive and maybe even convenient thing to happen. It’s a fairly active word. But infelicitous? It is not a happy thing to happen? “Caesars…place in the curriculum…is not a happy thing to happen”?

I decided I was overthinking it and moved on. I actually skimmed most of what was going on, until we got to the History of Latin. We were given a basic history of language (Indo-European to be specific), and then given a basic explanation of literature in the Roman world, broken down into six eras, with the Golden Age having two sub-eras. Then I skimmed the bit on alphabet and pronunciation. You recite Latin like you’re doing a really bad, stereotypical Italian accent. It’s not that hard.


With each era, he gave examples of writers and works written. In the Augustan period of the Golden Age, he gives an example of Horace, and recites a couple of phrases coined by Horace that have been dropped into common vocabulary: Curiosa felicitas, carpe diem, and aurea mediocritas.

Maybe the first and third one were common in 1956? He translated those two as “painstaking felicity” and “the golden mean” respectively, in case you’re curious. He translated carpe diem as “enjoy the day.”

“Wait a second,” I said, “Carpe diem means ‘seize the day’. Everybody knows that.”

Seriously, what are the Latin phrases most people know? Et Cetera, Modus Operandus (MO), E pluribus unum, and carpe diem. It’s all over Dead Poet’s Society, that godawful movie I didn’t even care to finish. Motivational speakers say it all the freaking time. Carpe diem! It literally translates to “seize the day!” Or perhaps “pluck the day!” Or “steal the day!”

Mom asked me what the heck I was mumbling about. I said, “Wheelock translated it wrong. He thinks that carpe diem means ‘enjoy the day’.”

“Doesn’t it mean ‘seize the day’?” she asked.

Yes,” I said. “I mean, I guess I can kind of see where he’s coming from on that.”

“I can’t,” she said.

“But it literally translates to ‘seize the day’! Horace wrote it for a bunch of new recruits about to face their first battle — you don’t tell a bunch of new recruits to go enjoy the day! It’s still an order, but…”

“It’s not right,” she said. “You’re right to be upset. If he translated that wrong, what else did he get wrong?”

I checked the index in the back. Carpo, -ere, carpsi, carptum, harvest, pluck, seize

“They got it right in the back,” I said.

“Pluck the day!” Mom said. “I guess that’s not right. Pluck the chicken!”

I looked up chicken for her, and told her she meant “Carpe pullum.”

“Of course,” she said.

Posted December 20, 2011 by agentksilver in Latin

Tagged with

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: