À propos … YOLO (YOLARE): ‘to only live once, to do something irrevocably stupid’

Yesterday, my email inbox exploded from notifications coming in that resulted from a tweet written by Caroline Lawrence, which turned out to be immensely popular.

Here is what she posted:

CCtHvhOW8AA7uJKThere are a number of people out there, who think that Horace’s famous carpe diem (‘seize the day’) is a good translation or equivalent of YOLO (in terms of capturing the acronym’s gist).

A rather stronger advocate of the YOLO approach than Horace, however, is Catullus, who at Catull. 5 writes  –

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love, and let us disdain the gossip of those oh-so-very-stern old men ! Suns may set and return again: when the brief light of our time sets once, it is for us to sleep through an eternal night. Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred, then another thousand, then one hundred. Then, when we made it many a thousand, let us lose track, lest we know, or lest someone evil may become envious, as he would be, if he got to learn just how many kisses there were.

Its clearest expression, however, finds the phrase in Silius Italicus‘ epic poem Punica at 15.60-4 (transl. J. D. Duff):

huc aduerte aures. currit mortalibus aeuum,
nec nasci bis posse datur. fugit hora, rapitque
Tartareus torrens ac secum ferre sub umbras,
si qua animo placuere, negat. quis luce suprema
dimisisse meas sero non ingemit horas?

Attend to me. The life of man fleets fast  away, and no man can be born a second time; time flies, and the stream of death carries us away and forbids us to carry to the lower world the things that gave us pleasure in life. Who, when his last hour  comes, does not regret too late that he let slip the seasons of Pleasure?

This passage forms the end of a speech delivered by personified Voluptas–Pleasure, directed at Scipio Africanus – a speech, to which a significantly less fun-filled figure of Virtus–Virtue gets to respond, promising lasting glory through hard, self-sacrificing devotion.

Not much of an advocate for the YOLO style of life on this occasion, Scipio Africanus chooses to follow the path of virtue – just like the mythical Hercules did, when he was given the same choice (a story that Silius shamelessly plagiarised).

But then, as those who study the life and exploits of Scipio Africanus in more detail will know, Scipio in his actions, tactics, and military endeavours in real life (as opposed to Silius’ epic) does not appear to have been consistently averse to ‘YOLO = to do something irrevocably stupid’, either.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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1 Response to À propos … YOLO (YOLARE): ‘to only live once, to do something irrevocably stupid’

  1. James Warren says:

    Earlier still: Epicurus, Vatican Saying 14. Γεγόναμεν ἅπαξ, δὶς δὲ οὐκ ἔστι γενέσθαι· δεῖ δὲ τὸν αἰῶνα μηκέτι εἶναι…

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