Catullus 85 – Literary Analysis

The following was prepared as an example of literary writing for the Latin AP exam.

Odi et amo.  Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio.  Sed fieri sentio, et excrucior.

In Catullus 85, Catullus uses diction and word order to explore the theme of conflicting emotions. The poem opens with the words “Odi et amo,” (I hate and I love). These short, direct words, and the juxtaposition of their opposite meanings convey an intense contradiction of emotion. Catullus is experiencing both love and hate simultaneously, rather than transitioning between the two.

In the middle of the poem, weak words such as “fortasse” (perhaps) and “nescio” (I don’t know) lower the intensity of the piece, instilling in the reader a sense of fatigue after the sudden, and powerful introduction. Catullus’s use of the indirect question at this point, “Quare id faciam fortasse requiris,” (You may ask why I do this) serves to further distance the reader emotionally. The caesura, a metrical pause in the second line of an elegiac couplet, placed in the middle of a thought, “fieri sentio,” (I feel that it is happening) comes through almost as a sigh.

The piece ends with the word “excrucior” (I am tormented). Here the contradictions running throughout the poem are tied together in a final declaration of suffering. The reader, roused by the intensity of Catullus’s hate-love, then pulled down by his weariness, is once again hoisted up, unwilling, by the enormity of his suffering. The change in voice from active to passive now portrays Catullus as the victim of his emotions. Finally, the root of “excrucior,” “crux,” is reflected in the overall chiasmus of the poem – strong, weak; weak, strong. The weary lover is not only suffering, but being torn in two.


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