Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Catullus 72, 75 and 85: to hate and love.

My dear niece is somewhat lagging behind with Latin due to a prolonged fatigue. She has recovered now but still has a lot to catch up, so being a friendly uncle, I offered to help her, something she accepted with gratitude and in return sent me a long list of poems by Catullus, Martial and Horace with the kind question to make a literal Dutch translation. It was a bit more than I expected, but the nice thing about re-reading a lot of  poems by the same poet, in this case Catullus - selected around the same theme, is that one suddenly sees new connections and has new insights. Of course nothing is really new, but I mean that this is my experience.
The selection of poems by Catullus ( 84-54 BC) is of course ordered around his relationship with Lesbia - another theme is hardly possible for the attention of secondary school students! Lesbia is most likely in reality Claudia Metelli Celeris,( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clodia) with whom Catullus started a relationship while she was still married to Q. Caecilius Metellus, who died in 59 BC.  But he was not her only lover, as he soon found out: apart for betraying him with a friend of his, she was screwing around - if we may believe Catullus and from other sources we have every reason to believe him. She had already that reputation before they met and so Catullus should have been warned. Still he felt attracted to her and especially the poems in which he expressed his mixed feelings are the most interesting. Most famous is poem 85, which can be found in almost every Latin textbook :

ODI et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
     nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

odi: (perfect  with present. meaning)     to hate
quare = qua re: 1) wherefore, why 2) therefore

I hate and love. Why I do this,  perhaps you may ask.
I don’t  know, but I feel it’s happening and am tormented.

But two poems dealing with the same theme precede this famous poem. Assuming that the order in which the poems appear in the manuscripts is chronological, we have the following development:

72. ad Lesbiam

DICEBAS quondam solum te nosse Catullum,
Lesbia, nec prae me uelle tenere Iouem.
dilexi tum te non tantum ut uulgus amicam,
sed pater ut gnatos diligit et generos.
nunc te cognoui: quare etsi impensius uror,
multo mi tamen es uilior et leuior.
qui potis est, inquis? quod amantem iniuria talis
cogit amare magis, sed bene uelle minus.


quondam: once
nosse: Like odi, novi is a perfect with present meaning (in older Latin gnovi, having the same root as English to know)
prae me: above me
diligo - dilexi - dilectum: to value, love
gnatus =  natus: child, offspring
gener, generi: son in law,  more general everyone betrothed through a female member of the family (both gnatus and gener have the same root as English kin)
etsi: and yet
impensius: greater, even more
uror: to burn
uilior et leuior: not `cheaper and lighter (= more worthless)’, which would imply that Lesbia was already cheap and worthless before, but the use of the comparative denoting an excessive degree: `too cheap and worthless’.
bene velle: `to be found of’ `to be of good intentions’ It is an expression from the sphere of friendship

Once you said you know Catullus as the only one,
Lesbia, and not wanting to have Jove above me.
I loved you then not just as people a girlfriend,
but like a father loves his children and kinsmen.
Now I know who you really are: and yet therefore I burn more intensely,
despite that you are to me far too cheap and  worthless.
How is that possible, you ask? Because such injury forces a lover
to love more, but to be less found of.

Catullus is severely stung by Lesbia’s behavior and despises her and yet he wants her even more . Why? `quod amantem iniuria talis cogit amare magis, sed bene uelle minus.`  `Because such injury forces a lover to love more, but to be less found of’ What does Catullus mean by this? I think magis amare refers to sexual desire: now Lesbia is unfaithful to him and making love with other men, he wants to reconquer her. He is jealous, wants her back, but at the same time he has lost his feeling of friendship for her.  And then:

75. ad Lesbiam

HVC est mens deducta tua mea, Lesbia, culpa
atque ita se officio perdidit ipsa suo,
ut iam nec bene uelle queat tibi, si optima fias,
nec desistere amare, omnia si facias.

huc: to this place, hither
deductus: drawn down
connect mea  with mens and tua  with culpa
officium: devotion
queo: to be able, can
optima (add: femina, amica)
desisto: cease
omnia (add: scelera `shameful deeds’)

To this point my mind has been drawn down by your fault, Lesbia,
and has itself in such a way destroyed by its devotion,
that it is neither able to be found of you, even if you should become the best,
nor can it cease to love you, whatever shameful you may do.

In the fisrt two lines Catullus not only blames Lesbia, but also himself for still feeling attracted to her. The indignation and fury of poem 73 has gone and has made way for introspection, but still the same ambiguous feeling exists. However the context of bene velle has changed: in poem 73 it is biting `Lesbia, I want to fuck you, but don’t think I have friendly feelings now!’  It is the injury that causes this, but in poem 75 Catullus concedes that it is his own mind: not the injuries brought  by Lesbia are the problem, but his own feelings towards her.
And then, finally, poem 85:

I hate and love. Why I do this,  perhaps you may ask.
I don’t  know, but I feel it’s happening and am tormented.

The `you’ is not only the reader, but I think also Lesbia, despite odi et amo lacking the object te `you’ and the explicit reference to her.
Resignation, despair and unable to rationalize the feelings of love and hate, but just feeling tormented.  And such poems make that we still learn and read Latin: we not only read about Catullus, but we read also about ourself...




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