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.

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