Sex as Antidote to Uncertainty

Horace, Ode I.11

Don’t ask (it’s sin to know), Leuconoē,
What end the gods intend for you and me.
And don’t resort to Babylonian voodoo.
It’s better to accept whatever will be.

Whether Jupiter grants more winters
Or this is the final one now wrecking
The Tyrrhenian Sea on opposing pumice rocks,
Be sensible: filter the wine
and trim far-reaching cares to a small compass.

While we speak, grudging time will have fled.
Relish this day and put little faith in the next.

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoē, 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.

Note on the name Leuconoē

  • Leuconoē may be from the Greek Λευκός νόος meaning “white minded.” In Horace’s iconography, white is the color of winter (snow) and winter is symbolic of death. Leuconoē then is a fitting name for a woman preoccupied with her “end” (that of her life, that of her amorous situation), and whose time on earth is measured in winters (“hiemes”) not years. 
  • Leuc- (Λευκ-) carries echoes of Leucas, the Ionian island on whose cliffs Apollo’s temple stood. We could therefore read Leuconoē  as “having a mind of Apollo” and associate its bearer with prophesy (the fixation for which Horace chides her). 
  • Leuconoē (assuming Λευκός νόος again) could also be read as “pure minded,” a possibility reinforced by her task: “purifying” or “filtering” wine (“liques”). The slight variation “clear minded” is possible too, as that is what Horace urges her to be. And if Leuconoē is in fact “clear minded” (by Horace’s standard) at the poem’s end, does that suggest Horace succeeded at seduction? ‘

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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