The Brilliance Of Catullus 85 Explained


The most famous poem of Catullus is one of his shortest,

Odi et amo, quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.

nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

Here is Ezra Pound‘s translation:

I hate and love. Why? You may ask but

It beats me. I feel it done to me, and ache.

In 1981 The Folio Society published James Mitchie‘s sonorous translation of Catullus in which the hexameters and pentameters of Catullus‘ elegaic verse is rendered in four line stanzas of alternately rhyming iambic pentameters. In Mitchie‘s translation of Catullus 85, the first line contains an elision, just as Catullus‘ does, although I guess it is easier to elide “If you” at the beginning of the second sentence than anything in the first sentence (although it is certainly possible to try).

I hate and love. If you ask me to explain

The contradiction,

I can’t, but I can feel it, and the pain

Is crucifixion.

That is very clever, but to understand the utter brilliance of the original, we need the help of the scholars of the Main Classical Association to help us, with this excellent YouTube video.


  1. Yes, yes, excellent video analysis and good to hear it read convincingly in the original Latin. I shall have to revisit Mr C shortly, although I think it fair to say I am more of a Nasovite, if you get my drift.

  2. Guy Lee’s 1990 translation of this from the Oxford World’s Classics bilingual edition of the complete poems:

    I hate and love. Perhaps you’re asking why I do that?
    I don’t know, but I feel it happening, and am racked.

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