The Paradox of Love
Ōdī et amō. Quārē id faciam fortasse requīris.
Nesciŏ, sed fierī sentiō et excrucior.
I hate and I love. Why I do this, perhaps you ask.
I know not, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.
This short poem by the Roman lyric poet Catullus was written around 65 BC. Like so many of Catullus’ other poems, this epigram refers to Lesbia, widely regarded to be an alias for Clodia (the wife of the eminent Roman statesman, Clodius), with whom Catullus carried on an affair for some time.
The idea of a love-hate relationship, is one of the most common subjects in world literature, and Catullus was by no means the first poet to touch on it. However, the drama in Catullus’ short poem is exacerbated by the sad realisation that this trouble arises independently of the human will and that the poet can do nothing but take note of the situation and suffer terribly.
Catullus wrote this poem when the relationship with Lesbia was starting to fall apart and the disillusion that followed led him to discover the big paradox of love. There is not love without hate. Catullus seems not to know why this happens, but I think there is actually a clear reason behind it. When we love someone, we lower our defences, and this makes us feel vulnerable. The hate it’s nothing but the reflection of this vulnerability, it’s our attempt to protect our ego from being hurt.
Yet, despite the sufferance that this mechanism causes within us, love is something we are not willing to renounce. And, to me, this is the real paradox. An amazing, bittersweet paradox.