Carnival in 15th century Florence was an event involving the entire city during which the cradle of the Italian Renaissance came to life with dances, tournaments, and jousting. When Lorenzo de’ Medici, known as il Magnifico, the Magnificent, came to power, he renewed the event. He added parades with masked floats, accompanied by the so-called “canti carnascialeschi”, popular songs, aimed at enhancing life and its pleasures. Il Magnifico was the first to try his hand at creating these songs, among which the most famous is undoubtedly the Triumph of Bacchus. His powerful family has always been attentive to the cultural promotion of their city. They became over the centuries a political and artistic symbol of the Renaissance. The Florentine family influenced pop culture too: in 2016, the tv series I Medici – Masters of Florence debuted for the international public with great success.

Fair is youth and void of sorrow;
But it hourly flies away. – 
Youths and maids, enjoy to-day;
Naught ye know about to-morrow.

A mythological ballad

Most of these kinds of poems jokingly alluded to sexual themes. Instead, the content of the Triumph of Bacchus is of a mythological type and follows the parade of the chariot of Bacchus, god of wine and pleasure, and his followers. Nymphs, satyrs including the old Silenus, and King Midas are presented verse by verse, accompanied by considerations on life, pleasures, vices, and virtues in a continuous hymn to joy and youth.

These blithe Satyrs, wanton-eyed,
Of the Nymphs are paramours:
Through the caves and forests wide
They have snared them mid the flowers.
Warmed with Bacchus, in his bowers,
Now they dance and leap away. – 
Youths and maids enjoy to-day;
Naught ye know about to-morrow.

The ephemeral joy of youth

The entire poem is an invitation to celebrate the present. Lorenzo de’ Medici‘s inspiration was the studies of the Neoplatonic philosopher Marsilio Ficino who combined his philosophy with Dionysian joy. However, this exaltation of pleasures is overshadowed in the two final lines of the refrain: there is no certainty of tomorrow. Therefore, the invitation is to follow the philosophy of carpe diem, aware of the fleetingness of time. The theme was very common in fifteenth-century poetry.

Ladies and gay lovers young!
Long live Bacchus, live Desire!
Dance and play, let songs be sung;
Let sweet Love your bosoms fire;
In the future come what may! – 
Youths and maids, enjoy to-day;
Naught ye know about to-morrow.