Anger is Better than Indifference (for Lovers)

Catullus, Carmen 83

“Lesbia talks a lot of shit about me when her husband is around
This brings the greatest pleasure to that fool.
Ass, do you know nothing? She would be sound
If she forgot us in silence—but she rants and she squawks.
She not only remembers me but—a thing sharper to touch,
She’s enraged: it’s like this, she’s burning and talks.”

Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.

As I have mentioned before, Catullus is the author who first drew me into classics when I was in high school. I loved the variety in his poems, the vitality, and the inappropriateness of some of his ‘subjects’. I can only imagine what would have happened had I been born but a bit later into a world in which the Latin AP was only Caesar and Vergil…

This poem has stuck with me for years as the most drastic version of the gap between passion (negative or positive) and indifference.

Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum
Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v

3 thoughts on “Anger is Better than Indifference (for Lovers)

  1. A modern Spanish bolero dealing with the same topic :

    Ódiame por piedad yo te lo pido
    Ódiame sin medida ni clemencia
    Odio quiero mas que indiferencia por que
    El rencor quiere menos que el olvido

    Si tu me odias quedaré yo convencido
    De que me amaste mujer con insistencia
    Pero ten presente de acuerdo a la experiencia
    Que tan solo se odia lo querido

  2. My students always ask for more Catullus. I always disappoint them by noting that we’ve maxed out his “school appropriate” catalogue.

    Incidentally, I noticed that we have both begun to gravitate toward use of “talking shit” in our translations. Colloquial phrasing, or something deeper in our psyche?

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