Hiraeth, Cwtch and Carpe Diem

As we enter lockdown it seems grossly unfair that we also have to set the clocks back tonight.  As someone recently said to me, for us all to actually agree to add another hour to 2020 seems like collective madness, the quicker we get to 2021 the better.

The whole concept of measuring time has been going on for millennia and we still carry with us some of the ideas they set out all those years ago.  For example, in our modern digital world where most things work around the number 10 have you ever wondered why there are 60 seconds in a minute or 60 minutes in an hour.  Surely it would be easy for us to work out timings if we had gone with divisions in sets of 10  instead?

For this we can thank the Ancient Sumerians, and Babylonians.  They decided that working in sets of 60 was a much better idea. For them 60 gave lots of opportunities to divide things into smaller groups.  With 60 you can fairly easily cut things into halves, thirds, fourths, fifths and sixths. 

Mal has been presenting the Late Night Show on Radio Wales since Chris left us earlier this year.

How do I know all this?  Well at the moment I present the late night show on BBC Radio Wales.  That means my body clock is a complete mess compared with the rest of Swansea.  I get up at midday and go to bed at 4am the following day.  Sleeping is not always easy, so I find myself listening to all sorts of podcasts.  A recent podcast about ‘Civilisations’ started by talking about Ancient Babylon and how innovative they were. in the following episode about Egypt they said that whilst being a great civilisation they didn’t come up with much new stuff, they basically took everyone else’s ideas and refined them!!

The earliest time keeping machines have been found in Egypt and although not based completely on groups of 60 they went with groups of 12, thus we have 60 seconds, 60 minutes from Babylon and 12 hours and 24 hours from Egypt.  I hope that lesson has cleared time up for us all!!!

One of the other things I’ve learnt this week involves the Latin statement ‘Carpe Diem’.  The phrase was coined by a very famous Roman poet named Horace and as we all know means ‘Seize the day’. 

Well, according to the Latin podcast experts maybe it doesn’t quite mean that at all.

Words and meanings often get lost in translation. Take for example ‘Cwtch’. It is often translated as the Welsh word for hug but anyone who was brought up in Wales and especially if they had a Welsh grandmother knows that comparison isn’t nearly strong enough. In fact, hug seems almost anaemic in comparisons.  Cwtch means, warmth and the smell of home cooking and a shawl and all of the other elements of our childhood where the word was used so liberally and in so many different ways.

Take Hiraeth. Some translate it as home sickness, or nostalgia or a yearning and longing. Yes, I suppose it does mean all of those things but none of them have the depth of feeling Hiraeth has. 

Maybe some words don’t translate into another language, they just mean exactly what they mean?

Which brings me to ‘Carpe Diem’.  The author of these words was Quintus Horatius Flaccus or to use his ‘stage name’ Horace.  Horace had a bit of a chequered past including being on the wrong side of a civil war, before becoming a favourite of the winner, the Emperor Caesar Augustus (you know the one from the Christmas story). 

He was born the son of a freedman.  Much of the Roman Empire was built on slavery. For many that was a disaster, for some it was the first step on the ladder to becoming a successful Roman family.  Romans were good at talent spotting; they often saw the potential in their slaves giving them jobs with enormous responsibility.

Horace’s father spent a great deal of money on his son’s schooling even sending him to Athens to complete his education.  Horace was forever in his debt writing a poem to thank his father claiming that anything good in his character

‘my father deserves all the credit…he deserves from me unstinting gratitude and praise’.

Horace came up with a lot of phrases that are still in use today including ‘Keep the faith’ and ‘Now is the time to drink’ but possibly ‘Carpe Diem – Seize the Day’ is the most famous.

But this week I was made to think again, maybe Carpe Diem isn’t about ‘seizing’ the opportunities that a day can give you like some elusive wild animal that needs to be hunted down. 

Maybe it’s more about enjoying every second while you can.

One of the Latin experts on the podcast explained that another translation could be ‘pluck or pick’ as if you were going to harvest a fruit.  They explained that when you pluck a ripe fruit from a tree you have to be careful; you have to make sure you do it in a way that doesn’t damage the fruit itself.

But the alternative translation that made the biggest impact on me was when I heard it translated as to ‘savour’ or ‘enjoy’.  When I heard that it really struck like a thunderbolt.  For all these years I’d seen any opportunity that presented itself as something that should be maximised; any opportunity missed should be mourned.

 Maybe the real wisdom in the phrase is to savour every moment, see the beauty and joy in every day and not think of it as just another chance to get to somewhere else.

As we head into lockdown and the long winter nights it is good to dream about the good things ahead.  To know that spring will return again next year, that there will be a vaccine for this current virus and life will return to a new normal one day.

But also, I will try my best to ‘Carpe Diem’, savour each day, pluck its ripe fruit…and of course, if a good opportunity should present itself along the way, well I’ll do my best to seize it too.