Michèle Lowrie |
The Georgics is a key text in the development at Rome of a discourse about security that deserves greater philological attention than it has yet received. While securitas first appears as psychological tranquility in Cicero, by Velleius Paterculus the word’s meaning approaches our “national security” (spem… perpetuae securitatis aeternitatisque Romani imperii, 2.103.4) (Instinsky). The interval marks the transition from republic to empire. Much of Augustan literature examines the interrelation of physical and emotional safety, of political responsibility and psychic wellbeing, of the need to take care, but also the desire to be free from care (securus), and cura plays a growing role in articulating these concerns. Augustus’ freedman Hyginus has a personified Cura create mankind: the human condition is marked by anxiety (Hamilton). In Horace, cura and related words express his concern for the state and attach increasingly to Augustus (e.g, Odes 1.16.18, 3.14.13-16, and 4.5.25-8). Although the Eclogues address security issues from land confiscation to erotic distress, cura has a much narrower semantic range there than in the Georgics. The discourse of security advances considerably with Vergil’s didactic poem.
The poem’s opening establishes cura as a cosmological principle in a hierarchy of care linking gods, people, and animals. People care for animals (“cura boum,” 1.3), the gods care for the landscape (“Pan… tibi Maenala curae,” 1.17), and Caesar cares for empire (“terrarum… curam,” 1.26). Beyond the cosmic and the political, cura articulates the spheres of love and of knowledge. Proserpina chooses to stay in the underworld, presumably for love, although she could have followed her mother back to the world above (“nec repetita sequi curet Proserpina matrem,” 1.39). The poet calls on us to learn the nature of the land before planting (“praediscere…cura sit,” 1.52), so that care mediates the Georgics’ didactic burden. Although words relating to cura occur five times over the poem’s first fifty-two lines, the standard commentaries are silent (Conington; Thomas; Mynors). Furthermore, cura is prominent in Vergil’s description of the current world under the dispensation of Jupiter (122-3):
pater ipse colendi
haud facilem esse uiam uoluit, primusque per artem
mouit agros, curis acuens mortalia corda.
(The father himself did not wish the way to cultivation to be at all easy and he first moved the fields through art, goading mortal hearts with cares.)
The secondary literature focuses more on labor, but the famous phrase “labor omnia vicit” (work has overwhelmed everything, 1.145) comes twenty lines later. Altogether care is a principle that binds together the world under Jupiter in its cosmological, political, affective, and didactic dimensions.
All of Vergil’s works consider how to secure a world at risk. In the Georgics, civil war and the destruction of Aristaeus’ hive offer political and metaphorical frameworks for examining social collapse. Cura accompanies both, but total security is illusory. The end of book 1 offers the hope that Caesar will succor Rome after its descent into civil war, but the gods’ complaint about his caring for human triumphs, since right and wrong have suffered inversion, suggests he misdirects his attention (1.504). Cyrene’s maternal care (4.354) helps Aristaeus resolve his cares (“licet tristis deponere curas,” 4.531), but a central component of security is the costly trade-off. Aristaeus secures his hive at the price of others’ safety (Eurydice, Proteus, Orpheus), a violation of the ethics of care (Held). Furthermore, the regeneration of the bees evokes the Parthians (4.314), Rome’s perennial national security threat. The poem achieves closure by citing Eclogues 1.1 with Tityrus reclining at ease under a beech’s protective shade, but along the way Vergil shows that security never entirely obviates anxiety. His own didactic project depends on the reader’s caring to learn: we may simply recoil from learning of others’ cares (“ni refugis tenuisque piget cognoscere curas,” 1.177). Vergil anticipates many of the paradoxes of modern security discourses (Conze, Lipshutz, Hamilton): safety measures may not quell anxiety and sometimes exact too high a price.