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Odi et Amo, or Carmen 85, is one of the most celebrated elegiac couplets composed by Gaius Valerius Catullus (84-54 B.C.E.). His muse in this poem is understood to be Lesbia, the name believed to have been given by Catullus to his mistress. Lesbia was really Clodia, the sexually promiscuous wife of proconsul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer. Clodia was said to have many lovers, and Catullus’ torment and obsession for her is well documented in 13 of his poems where the name, Lesbia, is used. Many composers have been inspired by the duality of emotions of this acute two-lined poem. The most well-known setting is from Carl Orff’s Catulli Carmina,part of Trionfi, the musical triptych that also includes the Carmina Burana and Trionfo di Afrodite. Unlike Orff’s driving rhythms of outwardly expressive anguish, my setting is a more introspective interpretation. It is as if the music is surrendering to the mercurial personalities that Catullus and all humans possess, the tortured ability to hate and love at the same time.
Odi et amo. Quare id faciam fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
I hate and I love. Why do I do it you might ask?
I don’t know, but I feel it happening and it is tearing me apart.