Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Tempus Fugit

Most people, even those who have never studied the Latin language, recognize and know the meaning of the phrase tempus fugit -- "time flies." Popular culture has included the inseparable addage "when you're having fun" and so it remains.

Very few realize, though, that the original Latin phrase is tempus irreparabile fugit from Vergil's Sed fugit interea, fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore (Georgics 3.284-5) and is much closer in meaning to Horace's carpe diem than the popular expression of surprise that the evening has passed while we were eating, drinking, and being merry.

Tempus irreparabile fugit essentially means "irrevocable time flies" or, better, "time flies and it's never coming back again." So... time does fly but not because you are having fun; rather, the reverse is true: you need to have fun because time flies.

The river in the picture is the Rio Grande winding its way through New Mexico. I took this photograph while playing hooky from the 2005 ACL Institute in Albuquerque.

3 comments:

ron janoff said...

As ever, Vergil breaks&ennobles the heart...Time of course doesn't "fly"...it flees, it runs away...I never tire of reminding my students that it's not a bird image, no wings, not an angel...but more a deer, a squirrel, a rat, even a mouse: time, cowering, hunted, in flight...

Mark A. Keith said...

Of course fugere means to run away. I was trying to stick closely to the "colloquial" phrase for bigger impact. I had never thought of time running away like a mouse or deer, though... a very interesting image! I have always thought of time marched on confidently and boldly (hence my picture of the Rio Grande). Digging around in my dictionary I also find the meaning "passes away, disappears" and it cites this very line from Vergil as its source. In any case, this only furthers my cause that this common phrase is more complex than most people realize.

Unknown said...

regardless of the literal translation the use of fly implies the speed of the action compared to running
In italian is also generally translated in the same way..il tempo vola....
My Latin Teacher would have given a bad mark, probably...
ciao
erasmo