dulce et decorum est

Literary Tattoos: Wilfred Owen Odes Horace Dulce et Decorum est

This is Erik’s tattoo.

The tattoo is an abridged version of the more famous full quote “Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori” (“It is sweet and fitting/just/right to die for one’s country,” depending on how you translate decorum in the Latin). It originally appeared in the Odes of the Roman poet Horace (III.2.13), but was also reworked in a very famous WWI-era poem by the English poet Wilfred Owen. Owen, having fought in the war (he would die in it not too long after writing the poem), turns Horace’s homage to patriotism on its head by illuminating the disconnect between the realities and expectations of war by juxtaposing Horace’s lofty rhetoric with images of the barbarism of soldiers dying in WWI.

While living in the UK for a time, I had the opportunity to visit the British Library in London and hear a clip of Owen reading his poem. I thought about what I wanted to do with it for about a year, and then decided on cutting it in half and adding the question mark. It is meant to be more ambiguous and decontextualized, but it also functions quite clearly as a straight-up anti-war statement.

Carpe Diem

I’m super excited to post this tattoo, because… it’s my dad’s!

Literary Tattoos: Odes Horace Carpe Diem

He explains:

My dad was 56 years old when he died and as my 56th was approaching I decided to do something special to help me past that magic number! I signed up for a charity boxing match, trained for five months and then two weeks before the event got this tattoo. Carpe Diem is Latin with the common interpretation being Seize the Day. To me it means live your life fully every day.

Fun fact: “carpe diem” was originally from a poem by Horace, published in 23 BC.