Catullus 85


Catullus 85

Catullus 85 is a poem by the Roman poet Catullus for his mistress Lesbia. Its declaration of conflicting feelings "I hate and I love" (in Latin, Odi et amo) is renowned for its force and brevity.

The meter of the poem is the elegiac couplet.

Contents

Text

Line Latin English (literal translation) English (verse)
1 odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris? I hate and I love. How can I do this, perhaps you ask? I love her, though I hate her so. You say: "how can this be"?
2 nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior. I do not know, but I feel it happening, and I am in pain. I know not, even though I feel the searing agony!

Chiastic structure

The contrast in feelings that love provokes is one of the most common subjects of today's world literature. The motif, however, is not original. Anacreon had already said:

Ἐρέω τε δηὖτε κοὐκ ἐρέω,
καὶ μαίνομαι κοὐ μαίνομαι.


I love and yet I do not love,
I am crazy and I am not crazy.

(fr. 46 Gentili)

But with Catullus there seems to be something more; it is of course the experience of trouble, like with Anacreon. But the drama is exacerbated by the sad realization that this trouble arises independently of the human will. It is beyond logic and only in the realm of feeling. The poet has perhaps no choice but to take note of the situation and suffer terribly (the verb excrucior literally means "to be put on the cross").

Settings

The poem Odi et Amo was set to music by Carl Orff as part of his Catulli Carmina (1943). It was also set by Jóhann Jóhannsson on his first album Englabörn (2002). The Dutch band Omnia has also set the poem to music (Sine Missione - 2000 & 2002, World of Omnia - 2009).

Bibliography

  • Bishop, JD (1971). "Catullus 85: Structure, Hellenistic Parallels and the Topos". Latomus 30: 633–642. 

Notes

The poem contains 8 verbs, no adjectives, no nouns, and one pronoun. This reversal of normal poetic structure (usually mostly nouns and adjectives) is thought to emphasise the drama and conflicting emotions Catullus feels.