Golden Age: Wikis


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The Golden Age by Pietro da Cortona.

The term Golden Age comes from Greek mythology and legend, but can also be found in other ancient cultures (see below). It refers to the best age in a sequence of ages, such as the Greek range of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages, or to a time in the beginnings of humanity that was conceived as far better than the present. A "Golden Age" is a period of peace, harmony, stability, and prosperity.

An analogous idea can be found in the religious and philosophical traditions of the Central Asian subcontinent. For example, the Vedic or ancient Hindu culture saw history as cyclical composed of yugas with alternating Dark and Golden Ages. The Kali yuga (Iron Age), Dwapara (Bronze Age), Treta yuga (Silver Age) and Satya yuga (Golden Age) correspond to the four Greek ages. Similar beliefs can be found in the ancient Middle East and throughout the ancient world.

Some pastoral works of fiction depict life in an imaginary Arcadia as being a continuation of life in the Golden Age; the shepherds of such a land have not allowed themselves to be corrupted into civilization.[1]


Greek and Roman antiquity

A myth of ages can be seen in Europe in the writings of Hesiod in the late 6th and early 7th century BC.

The Greek poet Hesiod, around the 8th century BC, in his compilation of the mythological tradition (the poem Works and Days, ll. 109-126), explained that, prior to the present era, there were four other progressively more perfect ones, the oldest of which was called the Golden Age. In this stage:

[...] they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all devils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods.

In this age, Hesiod writes, mankind lived in absolute peace, carefree like the gods because they never aged and death was a falling asleep. The main characteristic of this age according to Hesiod was that the earth produced food in abundance, so that agriculture was rendered superfluous. This characteristic also defines almost all later versions of the myth.

The Orphic school, a religious movement from Thrace which spread to Greece in the 5th century BC, held similar beliefs, including the denomination of the ages with metals. Some Orphics identified the Golden Age with the era of the god Phanes, who was regent over the Olympus before Cronus. In classical mythology however, the Golden Age took place during the reign of Cronus. In the 5th century BC, the philosopher Empedocles emphasised the idea of original peacefulness, innocence and harmony in all of nature, including human society.

The Golden Age by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Several centuries later (29 BC) the Golden Age was depicted in Virgil's The Georgics 1.125-8. Here, the poet looked back again to sing the good old times before Jupiter, when:

Fields knew no taming hand of husbandmen;
To mark the plain or mete with boundary-line-
Even this was impious; for the common stock
They gathered, and the earth of her own will
All things more freely, no man bidding, bore.

ante Iouem nulli subigebant arua coloni:
ne signare quidem aut partiri limite campum
fas erat; in medium quaerebant, ipsaque tellus
omnia liberius nullo poscente ferebat.

The topic is taken up again by Ovid's in his Metamorphoses (AD 7):

The golden age was first; when Man yet new,
No rule but uncorrupted reason knew:
And, with a native bent, did good pursue.
Unforc'd by punishment, un-aw'd by fear, [...]

Peace and harmony prevailed during this age. Humans did not grow old, but died peacefully. Spring was eternal and people were fed on acorns from a great oak as well as wild fruits and honey that dripped from the trees. The spirits of those men who died were known as Daimones and were guides for the later ancient Greeks (who considered themselves to live in the later Iron Age.)

This race of humans eventually died out after Prometheus (a Titan) gave them the secret of fire. For this, Zeus punished humans by allowing Pandora to open her box which unleashed all evil in the mortal world.

Within sequences or cycles of eras, the Golden Age stands in sequence with the Silver age and the Iron Age, and conditions can improve or decline according to one's conception of mythic progression.

Plutarch, the Greek historian and biographer of the 1st century, also dealt with the blissful and mythic past of the humanity.


"Soft" and "Hard" Primitivism in Arcady (Arcadia)

In a famous essay,[2] Erwin Panofsky remarks how in ancient times, "that particular not overly opulent, region of central Greece, Arcady, came to be universally accepted as an ideal realm of perfect bliss and beauty, a dream incarnate of ineffable happiness, surrounded nevertheless with a halo of 'sweetly sad' melancholy":

There had been, from the beginning of classical speculation, two contrasting opinions about the natural state of man, each of them, of course, a "Gegen-Konstruktion" to the conditions under which it was formed. One view, termed "soft" primitivism in an illuminating book by Lovejoy and Boas [3] conceives of primitive life as a golden age of plenty, innocence, and happiness -- in other words, as civilized life purged of its vices. The other, "hard" form of primitivism conceives of primitive life as an almost subhuman existence full of terrible •hardships and devoid of all comforts -- in other words, as civilized life stripped of its virtues.

Arcady, as we encounter it in all modern literature, and as we refer to it in our daily speech, falls under the heading of “soft" or golden-age primitivism. But of Arcady as it existed in actuality, and as it is described to us by the Greek writers, almost the opposite is true. To be sure, this real Arcady was the domain of Pan, who could be heard playing the syrinx on Mount Maenalus; and its inhabitants were famous for their musical accomplishments as well as for their ancient lineage, rugged virtue, and rustic hospitality; but they were also famous for their utter ignorance and low standards of living. As the earlier Samuel Butler was to summarize it in his well-known satire against ancestral pride:

The old Arcadians that could trace
Their pedigree from race to race
Before the moon, were once reputed
Of all the Grecians the most stupid,
Whom nothing in the world could bring
to civil life but fiddling.[4]

Small wonder, then, that the Greek poets refrained from staging their pastorals in Arcady. The scene of the most famous of them, the Idylls of Theocritus, is laid in Sicily, then so richly endowed with all those flowery meadows, shadowy groves and mild breezes which the "desert ways" (William Lithgow) of the actual Arcady conspicuously lacked. Pan himself has to journey from Arcady to Sicily when Theocritus's dying Daphnis wished to return his flute to the god.[5]

Other writers "emphasizing the negative aspects of primordial simplicity" include:

Juvenal, who characterized a peculiarly boring orator as an "Arcadian youth” (Saturae, VII, 160) and Philostratus (Vita Apollonii, VIII, 7, v) calls the Arcadians "acorn-eating swine". Even their musical achievements were disparaged by Fulgentius (Expositio Virgilianae contineniae 748, 19 [B. Helm, ed., Leipzig, 1898, p. 90]), who by Arcadicis aures (the reading Arcadicis auribus is better documented than, and preferable to, arcaicis auribus) meant "ears not susceptible to real beauty." The much discussed question as to whether there had existed in Arcady a genuine pastoral or bucolic poetry preceding Theocritus' Idylls now seems to have been decided in the negative view.[6]


The Indian teachings differentiate the four world ages (Yugas) not according to metals, but according to quality depicted as colors, whereby the white color is the purest quality and belongs to the first, ideal age. These colors were originally assigned to the planet Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury and Mars just like the metals. After the world fall at the end of the fourth, worst age (the Kali yuga) the cycle should be continued, eventually culminating in a new golden age.

The Krita Yuga also known as the Satya yuga, the First and Perfect Age, as described in the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic:

[...] Men neither bought nor sold; there were no poor and no rich; there was no need to labour, because all that men required was obtained by the power of will; the chief virtue was the abandonment of all worldly desires. The Krita Yuga was without disease; there was no lessening with the years; there was no hatred or vanity, or evil thought whatsoever; no sorrow, no fear. All mankind could attain to supreme blessedness. [...]

The Hindus make reference to at least two overlapping yuga cycles, driven by celestial motions, that affect conditions on earth. One cycle, the Maha Yuga, is millions of years in length and therefore difficult to relate to human history or events. The shorter yuga cycle lasts 24,000 years, including an ascending age of 12,000 years (one daiva yuga) and a descending age of 12,000 years, for a total equal to one precession of the equinox. Both cycles are composed of the four eras, and the Satya Yuga is the first and the most significant age in each cycle. This Golden Age era lasts 7200 years (out of the 12,000 years in the ascending period) and another 7200 years (out of 12,000 years in the descending period) in the precessional cycle. Knowledge, meditation, and communion with Spirit hold special importance in this era. The average life expectancy of a human being in Satya Yuga is believed to be about 400 years. During Satya Yuga, most people engage only in good, sublime deeds and mankind lives in harmony with the earth. Ashrams become devoid of wickedness and deceit. Natyam (such as Bharatanatyam), according to Natya Shastra, did not exist in the Satya Yuga "because it was the time when all people were happy".


The Old Norse word gullaldr (literally "Golden Age") was used in Völuspá to describe the period after Ragnarök where the surviving gods and their progeny build the city Gimlé on the ruins of Asgard. During that period, Baldr reigns.


In modern fantasy worlds whose background and setting sometime draw heavily on real-world myths, similar or compatible concepts of Golden Age exist in the said world's prehistory; when Deities or Elf-like creatures existed, before the coming of humans.

For example, a Golden Age exists in Middle-earth legendarium. Arda (the period of our world where The Lord of the Rings is set), was designed to be symmetrical and perfect. After the wars of the Gods, Arda lost its perfect shape (known as Arda Unmarred) and was called Arda Marred. Another kind of 'Golden Age' follows later, after the Elves awoke; the Eldar stay on Valinor, live with the Valar and advance in arts and knowledge, until the rebellion and the fall of the Noldor, reminiscent of the Fall of Man. Eventually, after the end of the world, the Silmarilli will be recovered and the light of the Two Trees of Valinor rekindled. Arda will be remade again as Arda Healed.

In The Wheel of Time universe, the Age of Legends is the name given to the previous Age: In this society, channelers were common and Aes Sedai - trained channelers - were extremely powerful, able to make angreal, sa'angreal, and ter'angreal, and holding important civic positions. The Age of Legends is seen as a utopian society without war or crime, and devoted to culture and learning. Aes Sedai were frequently devoted to academic endeavours, one of which inadvertently resulted in a hole - 'The Bore' - being drilled in the Dark One's prison. The immediate effects were not realised, but the Dark One gradually asserted power over humanity, swaying many to become his followers. This resulted in the War of Power and eventually the Breaking of the World.

Another example is in the background of the Lands of Lore classic computer game, the history of the Lands is divided in Ages. One of them is also called Golden Age, where the Lands were ruled by the 'Ancients', no wars existed yet, until that age was over with the 'War of the Heretics'.

Present-day usage

The term "Golden Age" is at present frequently used in the context of various fields, such as "Golden age of alpinism", "Golden Age of American animation", "Golden Age of Comics", "Golden Age of Science Fiction", "Golden Age of Hollywood", "Golden Age of Hip Hop" and even "Golden Age of Piracy" or "Golden Age of Porn". Invariably, the term "Golden Age" is bestowed retroactively, when the period in question has ended and is compared with what followed in the specific field discussed.

See also


  1. ^ Bridget Ann Henish, The Medieval Calendar Year, p96, ISBN 0-271-01904-2
  2. ^ "Et in Arcadia ego: Poussin and the Elegaic Tradition," Meaning in the Visual Arts (New York: Doubleday, 1955) pp. 297-98.
  3. ^ A. O, Lovejoy and G. Boas, Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity, Baltimore, I, 1935
  4. ^ Samuel Butler (1612–1680), "The Elephant in the Moon".
  5. ^ Polybius, Historiae IV, 20.
  6. ^ Panofsky, op cit.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Alternative spellings

Proper noun

Golden Age


Golden Age

  1. (mythology) The oldest and best of the Classical Ages of Man, when people lived innocent lives of happiness and prosperity.

Coordinate terms

See also

Simple English

File:Claude Lorrain
Many of the paintings of the French artist Claude Lorrain (1600s) show beautiful, peaceful, imaginary views of a "Golden Age". This picture is set in Ancient Greece.

Golden age is an expression (or term) that people use when they are talking or writing about a time that is past, when everything seemed to be good.

There are several ways that the term can be used.

  • It can be used for an historic period in a particular place, for example: "The Golden Age of Athens".
This means a time in the history of Ancient Greece when the city of Athens had peace, good government and everyone had enough to eat.
  • It can be used for a period or style of art or literature, for example: "The Golden Age of Danish Painting".
This means a time when many artists in Denmark were painting very fine pictures.
  • It can be used in a personal sense, for example: "Harvard was my 'Golden Age'!"
This means that the person speaking says that their time at Harvard University was the happiest in their life.


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