A Comparison of Catullus and Rosalía

Catullus 85
Rosalía – Maldición Cap.10: Cordura
 
As evidenced by many of his poems, the Roman poet Catullus is known to have
a complex relationship with Lesbia, a fictional character who is widely thought to be
Clodia Metelli, one of Catullus’ lovers. Catullus’ poems are strongly believed to reflect
the nature of his relationship with Clodia. One such instance of this influence is in
Catullus 85. During the time this poem was made, Catullus’ relationship with Clodia is
broken, causing him to feel a mix of emotions. The poem is short, but has a succinct
and powerful message:
 

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

 
Provided by Marianne Master (my former latin teacher), this translates to: “I hate
and I love. How am I doing this, perhaps you ask?/ I do not know. But I feel it
happening and I am tortured”.
 
Catullus is very precise about the structure of this poem. He begins with an elision,
omitting the direct object,“you”, which would refer to Lesbia, from “I hate and I love”.
The absence of a direct recipient of his statement is indicative of Catullus’ hesitancy to
either completely denounce or profess his emotions to Lesbia. He feels conflicted and
does not have the will power to choose one or the other; based on the proceeding
lines, it is clear that he is reluctant to give up his love more so than give up his hatred.
Catullus uses an indirect question to criticize his own actions: “How am I doing this,
perhaps you ask?/I do not know”. Catullus’ use of indirect question is indicative of his
self-awareness. He realizes the paradox of his conflicted emotions; his response to his
own question, with a simple “nescio”, indicates what little grasp of his own emotions
he has, as well as an understanding for why they are such that way. All Catullus
understands is that he feels it, and it tortures him. Catullus begins and ends the poem
with negative words, “Odi” and “excrucior”, to emphasize the effect that Lesbia has on
him. While he may not directly state it or admit, the use of these words conveys that
Catullus feels more pain and hate than he does love and joy from Lesbia. Lastly, his
use of “excrucior” in the passive form indicates his feeling of powerlessness to
Lesbia’s effect, whether he consciously knows it or not.
 
“Maldición -Cap. 10: Cordura” (translated: CURSE – Chapter 10: Sanity), by
Rosalia, is a song off of her 2018 album, El Mal Querer (EMQ). The album, which
translates to “the bad desire”, employs experimental songwriting which draws from
classical flamenco. The album is formatted as a story, with each song being a
“chapter”. The story is based off of a 13th century novel titled Flamenca, which is
about a woman who ends up in a toxic and harmful marriage. The lyrics, translated by
Gillian Diffenderfer, are as follows:
 

They told me that there is no escape, Through this path that I go They told me that there is no escape, I have to find it Even though it costs me my life Or even though I might have to kill
Ah, I love In this moment I want To be crazy and not love Because love causes pain Pain that has no end A crazy person lives without pain
Don’t be afraid of the path It’s like a curse Don’t be afraid of the path If it lights up I follow it You already know that’s what happens And nobody wants to say it
I left a trail Of blood on the ground I left a trail That brings me to the first day That I told you I loved you To know what you said
Ah, I love In this moment I want To be crazy and not love Because love causes pain Pain that has no end A crazy person lives without pain

 
There are many similarities and a few notable differences between Maldición and
Catullus 85. In Maldición, Rosalia also omits a direct object when she says “ah, I love”,
indicating that the narrator does not really love her husband. She goes on to say,
similar to Catullus’ line, “I am tortured”, “I want to be crazy and not love/, because love
causes pain/pain that has no end”. The narrator is stating that she would rather be
insane than be in love because it causes her so much continuous harm. It is interesting
to note that in Catullus 7, an earlier work of his, Catullus calls himself crazy in the
context of being in love with Lesbia, suggesting that one can be crazy with love.
Another similarity between the two works is the feeling of self-deprecation and failure.
Rosalia’s lines, “If [the path] lights up I follow it/You already know that’s what
happens/And nobody wants to say it”, reflect this dynamic. Here, Rosalia is using the
metaphor of a “path” to mean love. The narrator is aware that she has, and continues
to subject herself to love, which ultimately causes pain. This concept is reflected in the
lines, “how am I doing this, perhaps you ask?/ I do not know”, in Catullus 85. It is clear
that both narrators at some point confuse love with a dependency to their respective
partners. The main difference between the two works is that Rosalia’s narrator has a
better understanding of her own emotions and is more decisive than Catullus. First, the
narrator realizes that, in order to escape love, it will either “cost her life” or she “might
have to kill”. Catullus does not consider at all the possibility of leaving Lesbia, setting
him apart from Rosalia’s narrator, and emphasizes his obsession with Lesbia and his
lack of power. By the end of the song, the narrator ends up killing her abusive spouse.
Through this demonstration, the narrator of Maldición carries far more agency than
Catullus does; Maldición uses a larger variety of tenses than Catullus 85. For example,
the opening stanza is in the past tense, reminiscing on others’ warnings when she fell
in love. This indicates that she has put more thought into her predicament than
Catullus has. Lastly, the narrator of Maldición, unlike Catullus, does not ever say “I
hate”, or speak negatively of her abuser. This represents her power and autonomy
because it shows that she is not reliant on his validation or attention. Thus, unlike
Catullus 85, the narrator of Maldición is able to end the “curse” and pain of love and
gain her “sanity”.