No Comment, Quotation — April 6, 2008, 12:00 am

Hyginus–Man and the Gigantomakhia

Cura cum fluvium transiret, videt cretosum lutum sustulitque cogitabunda atque cœpit fingere. Dum deliberat quid iam fecisset, Jovis intervenit. Rogat eum Cura ut det illi spiritum, et facile impetrat. Cui cum vellet Cura nomen ex sese ipsa imponere, Jovis prohibuit suumque nomen ei dandum esse dictitat. Dum Cura et Jovis disceptant, Tellus surrexit simul suumque nomen esse volt cui corpus præbuerit suum. Sumpserunt Saturnum iudicem, is sic æcus iudicat: ‘tu Jovis quia spiritum dedisti corpus, corpus recipito, Cura enim quia prima finxit, teneat quamdiu vixerit. Sed quæ nuc de nomine eius vobis controversia est, homo vocetur, quia videtur esse factus ex humo’.

As Care crossed a stream one day, she saw some clay: picking up a piece in contemplation, she began to shape it. While she reflected upon what she had created, Jupiter approached her. Care asked him to provide spirit to the clay form. This he was pleased to do for her. But when she wished to apply to the creation her name, Jupiter forbade it, saying that his name ought to be applied. While ‘Care’ and Jupiter argued over the name, the earth (Tellus) approached and asked that the creation to be named after her since she had, afterall, given it a part of her body. The three contenders then asked Saturn to settle the matter. And Saturn gave them decision, seemingly just, as follows: ‘You, Jupiter, because you have provided the spirit, should receive the spirit when the creature dies; you, earth, because you provided the body, should receive the body. But because ‘Care’ first shaped this creature, so must it be that she possesses it for the time of its life. And because the name is subject to dispute, so should it be that it is called “homo,” since it is made out of earth (“humus“)’.

Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fabulæ, ccxx “Cura” (ca. 70 CE)(S.H. transl., following M. Heidegger, 1927)


The collection of fables compiled in the first century of the Common Era by Hyginus, an Iberian scholar, never really got much attention in the English-speaking world, though it was better known among the Germans, particularly following their early nineteenth century cultivation of the folk tale as a literary and sociological phenomenon. Of all the Hyginus tales, the story of “Cura” (Care) is the most amazing. Goethe is said to have derived the homunculus from it. And it plays a critical role smack in the middle of Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit, § 42 (1927). A major theme of Heidegger’s work is the transformation of man: where does he come from, where is he going? And of course the critical elements of this philosophical query are presented here in a fascinating allegorical form. Sein und Zeit itself presents the images of this fable repeatedly: the struggle between gods, titans and humans for control of the earth, the gigantomakhia. It lies at the work’s beginning, at its conclusion, but is most directly addressed in the middle, after Heidegger quotes and translates the text:

Die perfectio des Menschen, das Werden zu dem, was er in seinem
Freisein für seine eigensten Möglichkeiten (dem Entwurf)
sein kann, ist eine »Leistung« der »Sorge«. Gleichursprünglich
bestimmt sie aber die Grundart dieses Seienden, gemäß der es an
die besorgte Welt ausgeliefert ist (Geworfenheit). Der »Doppelsinn« von »cura« meint eine Grundverfassung in ihrer wesenhaft
zweifachen Struktur des geworfenen Entwurfs. . .

Das Ganze der Daseinsverfassung selbst ist daher in seiner Einheit nicht einfach, sondern zeigt eine strukturale Gliederung, die im existenzialen Begriff der Sorge zum Ausdruck kommt.

[The perfection of the human being, what it can develop into if afforded freedom to develop its possibilities (the design) is the “accomplishment” of “Care.” Ab initio she also dictates the basic parameters of this Being, in accordance with which it has been delivered up to the world of troubles (the casting). The ambiguity of “Care” discloses a doubled structure in her essential nature of the design which has been cast. . .

[The totality of the constitution of human being is therefore a complex unity; it discloses a structural articulation in which the existential concept of care is expressed.] (S.H. transl.)

Modern man truly is adrift in a sea of troubles, but the Hyginus myth points to the distortion and the limitation they present, and thus also the need for correction through the philosophical perspective.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Last month, the PEN America Center announced its intention to honor Charlie Hebdo with its Freedom of Expression Courage Award at a gala on May 5. Six members of the organization have withdrawn from the gala in protest. In "The Joke," Justin E. H. Smith addressed the Anglo-American left's response to the killings.
Photo of a Charlie Hebdo editorial meeting in 2006 by Jean-Francois/DEROUBAIX
Article
In Search of a Stolen Fiddle·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“To lose an instrument is to lose an essential piece of one’s identity. It brings its own solitary form of grief.”
Violin © Serge Picard/Agence VU
Post
Driving the San Joaquin Valley·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Don sucked the last of his drink through his straw and licked his lips. 'The coast, to me, is more interesting than the valley.'”
Photograph by the author
Article
Othello’s Son·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Fred Morton, who died this week in Vienna, at the age of 90, was a longtime contributor to Harper's Magazine and a good friend. "Othello's Son," which was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2013, appeared in our September 2013 issue.
Photograph © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS
Article
Beyond the Broken Window·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“By the time Bratton left the department, in 2009, Los Angeles had quietly become the most spied-on city in America.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery

Weeks after the peso collapsed that former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari joined the board of Dow Jones:

4

A Disney behavioral ecologist announced that elephants’ long-range low-frequency vocal rumblings draw elephant friends together and drive elephant enemies apart.

A robot known as Random Darknet Shopper that was confiscated by Swiss police for purchasing ten ecstasy pills online was cleared of charges.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today