It seems a contradiction and, however, it is possible to feel these two strong passions simultaneously. At least this is what Catullus and thousands of later lovers admit.
Some poets sing the facts and glorious feats of men; others expose the most hidden and inner feelings of their hearts. Love, in its myriad forms and hues, is the preferred object of lyric poetry.
Gaius Valerius Catullus is a young Latin poet who was born in Verona (Italy) between 87-84 BC and died in Rome between 57-54 B.C, when he was 30 years old. Often the extraordinary and divine skill of poetry is followed by a young and premature death.
Son of a prominent family of provinces, Gaius went to study in Rome. There, he participated in the most well-known literary circle, pejoratively called “neoterics” (Greek νεωτερικοί neoterikoi; Latin “poetae novi”) "new poets" formed by refined Greek poetry lovers looking for concise and formal perfection.
He fell in love, as so many impulsive young men, with a pretty and licentious lady of Roman society, Clodia, called Lesbia in his poems. Their relationship was a long succession of agreements and disagreements that embittered the young poet, but we will discuss them some other time.
Among other many poems, usually dedicated or referred to his Lesbia, Catullus wrote a famous couplet, (Greek δίστιχον , two lines verse or stanza) of two lines. In this little poem, he masterfully expressed a love-hate feeling so seemingly contradictory and so frequent.
I offer it in Latin and English, for everyone to enjoy it as possible.
Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
(Catullus, Poems, 85)
I hate and I love. Why I do this perhaps you ask.
I do not know, but I sense that it happens and I am tormented.
Catullus knew how to express with all emotion the double feeling that made him suffer. Hundreds of poets have expressed a similar feeling in a thousand ways. Thousands, millions of lovers will never be able to express it poetically (poetry is a gift that the gods only give to a chosen few) but they will feel themselves identified with these few verses, which put us so close to men and women of the first century BC and of the century XXI AC.
Indeed Verona, Catullus's homeland, it is also the land of Romeo and Juliet. Will these lands in northern Italy, close to the Alpine border, be, as now, the climate and environment that fuels these romantic and impossible loves?