The Dichotomy of the Heart

I hate and love.

And if you ask me why,

I have no answer, but I discern,

Can feel, my senses rooted in eternal torture.

The Roman poet, Catullus, seems to uncover an interesting phenomenon that tends to happen within our hearts: how love and hate can both reside in our feelings.  He tells of the torture experienced within our minds when we experience these feelings, especially when they are experienced at the same time.  Unlike happiness and sadness, emotions such as love and hate must be directed at something or someone else.  One can experience happiness or sadness without others, but one cannot truly love or hate without relationship with others. In the case of Catullus, after reading his other poems, he seems to not only be experiencing both love and hate at the same time, but he seems to be directing his love and hate at the same person, a woman referred to in his other poems as Lesbia.

Lesbia seems to be a woman that Catullus loved deeply that left him for unknown reasons and married another man.  He clearly loves this woman very much.  The early poems of his that mention her are full of joy and happiness, but as time goes on, the tone moves toward despair.  Some poems explicitly talk of his hate for Lesbia’s husband and his anger towards her, others talk of his love that is never allowed to take hold.  However, this poem, number 85, talks of both his love and hate towards Lesbia and the confusion and torture that comes from being unable to reconcile the two extremes.

This seems paradoxical at first, and I think it is.  There’s no way logically that these two very different emotions can exist at the same time and yet they do.  This, I believe, is where all of the confusion comes from.  We know in our minds that it shouldn’t exist like this, but it does.  Catullus says, “And if you ask me why, I have no answer”.  There is no easy way to explain this, and because of this, Catullus says “I discern, can feel, my senses rooted in eternal torture.”  He cannot answer why he is experiencing this and has no way to stop this feeling so he cannot do anything but suffer.  We naturally, then, ask the question how this can even happen.  How can you love and hate someone at the same time, and is this a necessary struggle?

I think the love experienced when you make the decision to spend the rest of your life with someone is an unconditional love.  Nothing the other person can do will make you love them any less.  When you love someone in this way and they decide to end the relationship, it will make you angry.  It will make you confused and you’ll have no idea how you are supposed to respond to that.  I think that these emotions cause the sensation of hate within us, but at the same time you’d still do anything for the other person.  Therefore, I don’t think that this can be true hate, but rather just an illusion of hate.  Another way to think about it is that when the relationship ends, we want to just stop loving them.  However, because the love is unconditional, we cannot just stop.  So to make up for the undesired feelings we have towards this person, we take ourselves to the other extreme: hate.  This, once again, is not true hate, but simply love masked in hate.

I think when we examine our emotions in this way and see that we aren’t experiencing two opposite feelings at the same time, the confusion will disappear.  We can begin to make sense of the difficult scenario within our minds.  We can begin to find peace within ourselves and let the love that we thought we had fade away.  Catullus needs to realize that in order to move past what happened, he cannot continue to hate Lesbia, because that hate is simply a masked love.  The more he hates, the more he realizes how deep his love for her is and, perhaps even more painful, how shallow her love was for him.

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