Think to yourself that every day is your last; the hour to which you do not look forward will come as a welcome surprise.
Horace, The Epistles, Book I, Epistle IV, lines 13-14
Omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum.
grata superveniet, quae non sperabitur hora.
The ancients did not think that this was morbid. Horace’s famous Odes IX and XI from Book I, he explicitly states (in bold below):
Vides ut alta stet nive candidum
Soracte nec iam sustineant onus
silvae laborantes geluque
flumina constiterint acuto?
dissolve frigus ligna super foco
large reponens atque benignius
deprome quadrimum Sabina,
o Thaliarche, merum diota.
permitte divis cetera, qui simul
stravere ventos aequore fervido
deproeliantis, nec cupressi
nec veteres agitantur orni.
quid sit futurum cras, fuge quaerere et
quem Fors dierum cumque dabit, lucro
adpone nec dulcis amores
sperne puer neque tu choreas,
donec virenti canities abest
morosa. nunc et campus et areae
lenesque sub noctem susurri
conposita repetantur hora,
nunc et latentis proditor intumo
gratus puellae risus ab angulo
pignusque dereptum lacertis
aut digito male pertinaci.
Horace, Book I, Ode IX
You see how high Soracte stands, bright with
snow, and no longer do the straining forests
support the burden, and the rivers have
frozen with sharp frost.
Melt the cold piling logs high upon
the hearth and more generously
draw off the four-winter wine, oh
Thaliarche, from the Sabine jar.
(θαλία – in the bloom of life, ἅρχη – means beginning or ruler of)
Leave other things to the gods, who
as soon as they calm the winds on the stormy seas
from fighting each other, they agitate neither
the cypress trees nor the old ash trees.
Avoid seeking what is about to be tomorrow, and
assign to profit whatever days Fortune will
give, and scorn neither loves
nor dances, boy,
while your bloom is absent from irritable
white hairs. Now both field and parks
and light whispers repeated under night
at the arranged hour,
and now the pleasing laughter betraying the
hidden girl in the most secret corner
and the pledge seized from the
badly resisting arms with a finger.
Lastly, in Ode XI, Book I, he urges:
Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati.
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem quam minimum credula postero.
Horace, Ode XI, Book I
Does it matter that I have not translated the poem? The name, Thaliarche, in Greek means ‘in the beginning of the bloom of life,’ i.e. young. Does it even matter what the rest of the poem says? Is Thaliarche real or some imaginary person? Think about it and then read below.
Ask not (’tis forbidden knowledge), what our destined term of years,
Mine and yours; nor scan the tables of your Babylonish seers.
Better far to bear the future, my Leuconoe, like the past,
Whether Jove has many winters yet to give, or this our last;
This, that makes the Tyrrhene billows spend their strength against the shore.
Strain your wine and prove your wisdom; life is short; should hope be more?
In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb’d away.
Seize the present; trust tomorrow e’en as little as you may.
John Conington, 1882
Theognis also has something to say about this:
Now let us rejoice over our cups, saying good things; what shall come after is for the Gods to look to.
Theognis, Elegies, Book I, Lines 1047-1048
νῦν μὲν πίνοντες τερπώμεθα, καλὰ λέγοντες:
ἅσσα δ᾽ ἔπειτ᾽ ἔσται, ταῦτα θεοῖσι μέλει.
Seneca also in his very first letter urges his friend to not waste time:
…you will find that the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose. What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily? For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. Whatever years lie behind us are in death’s hands.
Therefore, Lucilius, do as you write me that you are doing: hold every hour in your grasp. Lay hold of today’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon to-morrow’s. While we are postponing…life speeds by. Nothing, Lucilius, is ours, except time.
Seneca, Epistles, I.
…maxima pars vitae elabitur male agentibus, magna nihil agentibus, tota vita aliud agentibus. Quem mihi dabis, qui aliquod pretium tempori ponat, qui diem aestimet, qui intellegat se cotidie mori? In hoc enim fallimur, quod mortem prospicimus; magna pars eius iam praeterit. Quicquid aetatis retro est, mors tenet.
Fac ergo, mi Lucili, quod facere te scribis, omnes horas conplectere. Sic fiet, ut minus ex crastino pendeas, si hodierno manum inieceris. Dum differtur, vita transcurrit. Omnia, Lucili, aliena sunt, tempus tantum nostrum est.