Carmen 72 – Liefde of haat?
Dicebas quondam solum te nosse Catullum,
Lesbia, nec prae me velle tenere Iovem.
dilexi tum te non tantum ut vulgus amicam,
sed pater ut gnatos diligit et generos.
nunc te cognovi: quare etsi impensius uror,
multo mi tamen es vilior et levior.
qui potis est, inquis? quod amantem iniuria talis
cogit amare magis, sed bene velle minus.
Eens zei je dat je alleen Catullus kende, Lesbia, en dat je in plaats van mij Jupiter niet in je armen wou houden. Toen hield ik van je, niet slechts zoals de eerste de beste van zijn vriendinnetje houdt, maar zoals een vader van zijn zonen en zijn schoonzonen houdt. Nu heb ik je door, ofschoon ik daardoor harder brandt, toch ben je voor mij minder waard en van mindere betekenis. Hoe dat mogelijk is, zeg je? Omdat zo'n verraad een minnaar dwingt nog mer te beminnen, maar minder goed te menen.
This poem picks up 70 (just as 71 picks up 69), not least through Catullus's repeated
(though significantly varied) citation of Lesbia's preference for him (as a
lover this time rather than a husband) over Jupiter. What Lesbia is apostrophized
as having said in the past ("solum te nosse Catullum") is syntactically ambiguous
Latin: is she supposed to have meant (as I take it) that only Catullus understood
her, that only she understood Catullus, or even that either was the only person the
other understood (J anan 1994, 89)? Did Catullus mean to imply all these alternatives
(which the translator into an uninflected language, alas, cannot)? On top of
this, the psychology is both subtle and puzzling. The contrast (5-8) between sexual
attraction (which can be sharpened by infidelity) and affection (which behavior
such as Lesbia's kills through disgust) is beautifully done. But despite the commentators'
best efforts (see, e.g., Fordyce 1961, 362-63 and Lyne 1980, 40-41),
the likening by Catullus of his love for Lesbia to that of a father for his sons, or
for his daughters' husbands, cannot but raise eyebrows, since Catullus's passion,
as has been made clear throughout, is highly sexual in content. As Wiseman (1985,
166) says, "What did Aurelius and Furius (poem 16) make of that?"
Catullus may be (in one sense he certainly is) trying to separate sex from affection
in his mind, and isolate what, for him, makes his relationship with Lesbia
unique and special. In an unpublished paper written as a graduate student, Robert
Holschuh Simmons of the University of Iowa points out how hard Catullus had
to work to find a relationship "to capture a feeling that he has for Lesbia that
would not be invested by readers with sexuality;" as he says, "Catullus's poems
confirm or suggest incest, or at least sexual activity, between mothers and sons,
fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters, nephews and aunts, nephews and uncles
and fathers-in-law and daughters-in-law." This obsession needs further exploration
(see, e.g., Hickson-Hahn I998): there is surely more to it than the simple
smear technique of political invective postulated by Skinner (2003, 86,
90-91, and elsewhere). Simmons sees 74 as "the common person's response,
both right and wrong, to the revolutionary ideas about love that Catullus proposes
in 72," and I find this very persuasive. The immediate impression, however-
even granted that Catullus is attempting to explore new emotional territory
(Lyne 1980, 40 )-still remains not only naive, but downright embarrassing
in its awkwardness.