“Tempus fugit” is usually translated into English as “time flies” but that’s not quite right, it’s not accurate. The correct translation is “time flees”, it escapes. And that is very different. It focuses not on the speed with which time disappears, but rather, implies that it is escaping from something it fears or dreads, hopefully towards a refuge, albeit one it may not reach or attain.
A bit of context. The expression originated with the Latin poet Virgil, he who wrote Rome’s epic, the Aeneid, but also The Georgics, a long poem divided into four books, in which a version of the expression is first found (Book 3, line 284): “fugit inreparabile tempus”, i.e., irretrievable, time escapes. The subject of The Georgics is agriculture, but not in a placid rural setting, rather, in large part, it focuses on the importance of human labor and puts me in mind of the noble, Colombian campesinos, in essence, a complex expression relating to those who till the fields, whether as small land owning farmers or their employees, but who, unlike serfs or peasants, are imbued with a bit of what a Roman might have described as dignitas, more than mere dignity, more nobly earned.
The poem is both long and complex, and practical. It deals in detail with matters that are necessary and practical in an agricultural setting, but in the context of the complex realities of the Roman Civil War following the assassination of Gaius Iulius Caesar and the ascension of his grandnephew and heir, Octavian. In that regard, for some reason, it puts me in mind of Peter Sellers’ cinematic masterpiece, “Being There”, one of my favorite films, and of the nobility of its protagonist, Chauncey, an orphan employed by a wealthy family as their gardener, a man who grows up without any education other than that which he garners by watching television and through working in his employer’s garden. Once his employer passes away, Chauncey is set adrift in the world with no possessions other than the clothing his employer bequeathed him, and the observations concerning gardening, which he shares with those he meets. They assume that such observations are metaphors, profound wisdom shared by Chauncey which applies to their own complex problems, and Chauncey is hailed by the most important and powerful as a genius, albeit a very humble genius. In reality, Chauncey is the essence of innocence possessed of a beautiful naivety which does not know that there exist impossibilities.
Perhaps time flees towards a world in which Chauncey is not the exception but the norm; one in which Yeshua the Nazarene might find comfort, as might we. Perhaps traces of that concept can be found in the lives and lore of Colombia’s noble campesinos, from whom we Colombians and others can learn so much.
“Tempus Fugit”. Perhaps an expression much more meaningful than we understand.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2023; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo (“Bill”) Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen). Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). However, he is also fascinated by mythology, religion, physics, astronomy and mathematics, especially with matters related to quanta and cosmogony. He can be contacted at email@example.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at https://guillermocalvo.com/.