The Cura Tradition of Care Ancient Rome

Ancient literary, mythological, and philosophical sources form the roots of the "Cura" tradition of care, named after a mythological figure. The background for this tradition is found in the ambiguity of the term cura (care) in the Latin literature of ancient Rome. The term had two fundamental but conflicting meanings. On the one hand, it meant worries, troubles, or anxieties, as when one says that a person is "burdened with cares." On the other hand, care meant providing for the welfare of another; aligned with this latter meaning was the positive connotation of care as attentive conscientiousness or devotion (Burdach).

A literary instance of the first meaning of care—the care that is so burdensome that it drags humans down—is found in the work of the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 b.c.e.), who placed the personified "vengeful Cares" (ultrices Curae) before the entrance to the underworld. The philosopher Seneca (4 b.c.e.—65 c.e.), by contrast, saw care not so much as a burdensome force that drags humans down as the power in humans that lifts them up and places them on a level with God. For Seneca, both humans and God have reasoning powers for achieving the good; in God, the good is perfected simply by his nature, but in humans, "the good is perfected by care (curd)"(pp. 443—444). In this Stoic view, care was the key to the process of becoming truly human. For Seneca, the word cdre meant solicitude; it also had connotations of attentiveness, conscientiousness, and devotion (Burdach; Seneca).

The struggle between the opposing meanings of care— care as burden and care as solicitude—as well as the radical importance of care to being human, were elements in an influential Greco-Roman myth called "Care," found in a second-century Latin collection of myths edited by Hyginus (Hyginus; Grant). More than any other single source, this little-known myth, narrated below, has given shape to the idea of care in literature, philosophy, psychology, and ethics through the intervening centuries.

As Care (Cura) was crossing a river, she thoughtfully picked up some mud and began to fashion a human being. While she was pondering what she had done, Jupiter came along. (Jupiter was the founder of Olympian society, a society of the major gods and goddesses who inhabited Mount Olympus after most of the gods had already appeared.) Care asked him to give the spirit of life to the human being, and Jupiter readily granted this. Care wanted to name the human after herself, but Jupiter insisted that his name should be given to the human instead. While Care and Jupiter were arguing, Terra arose and said that the human being should be named after her, since she had given her own body. (Terra, or Earth, the original life force of the earth, guided Jupiter's rise to power.) Finally, all three disputants accepted Saturn as judge. (Known for his devotion to fairness and equality, Saturn was the son of Terra and the father of Jupiter.) Saturn decided that Jupiter, who gave spirit to the human, would take back its soul after death; and since Terra had offered her body to the human, she should receive it back after death. But, said Saturn, "Since Care first fashioned the human being, let her have and hold it as long as it lives." Finally, Jupiter said, "Let it be called homo (Latin for human being), since it seems to be made from humus (Latin for earth)" (see Grant; Shklar).

The meaning of the word cdre in this myth reflects the Stoic sense of an uplifting, attentive solicitude; it is in light of this positive side of care that we can understand the deeper meaning of the Myth of Care. Yet the word cdre is not without tension: The lifelong care of the human that would be undertaken by Cura entails both an earthly, bodily element that is pulled down to the ground (worry) and a spirit-element that strives upward to the divine (Burdach;

Grant). The positive side of care dominates in this story, for the primordial role of Care is to hold the human together in wholeness while cherishing it.

It is significant that a myth communicates the meaning of care, for one of the major functions of myths is to offer ancient narratives that make it possible for people to understand the meaning of their experiences regarding the basic characteristics of human life (Doty; Frye). The Myth of Care conveys an understanding of how care is central to what it means to be human and to live out a human life. It also provides a genealogy of care in light of which to rethink the value of care in human life.

Myths of origins have often been used to question the established order, both divine and human, and to establish radical moral claims, including claims about power and the social order (Shklar). Although several prominent political philosophies that have shaped much of modern bioethics are based on myths of origin that emphasize adversarial struggles as the starting point for human societies, the Myth of Care offers a subversively different image of human society, with very different implications for ethics in general and bioethics in particular (Reich). Indeed, the Myth of Care presents an allegorical image of humankind in which the most notable characteristic of the origins, life, and destiny of humans is that they are cared for (cf. Grant). At the same time, this gentle myth also speaks about the roots of power. Modern psychology teaches us that those who are cared for from birth (which is the image conveyed in this myth) develop the nurturing power to care for self and others. Furthermore, the fact that the myth's first human being is not named for the most powerful of the gods and goddesses, which would have been a symbol of being dominated by them, suggests that truly solicitous care protects humans from oppressive and manipulative power. The myth also suggests that humankind as a social totality is brought into the world and sustained by care. Since it binds humans together, care is the glue of society.

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