An imagined period in early human history when human beings lived a life of ease, far from toil and sin. The most important text is *HesiodOp. 109–26 (see West's comm.), which talks of a ‘golden ...
An imagined period in early human history when human beings lived a life of ease, far from toil and sin. The most important text is *HesiodOp. 109–26 (see West's comm.), which talks of a ‘golden genos’, i.e. species or generation, as the first in a series: reference to a golden age occurs first in Latin (aurea saecula, aurea aetas: cf. Gatz 65, 228). Other well-known passages include Aratus, Phaen. 100–14 and Ov., Met. 1. 89–112, but the motif was widespread in ancient literature (cf. *Aetna 9–16 on the theme as hackneyed) and parodied in comedy from the 5th cent. bce (Athen. 6. 267e–270a). The golden age is associated especially with Cronus or *Saturnus and is marked by communal living and the spontaneous supply of food: its end comes with a series of inventions that lead to the modern condition of humanity (first plough, first ship, first walls, and first sword: cf. Smith on Tibullus 1. 3. 35 ff.). Rationalist thinkers tended to reject the model in favour of ‘hard’ primitivism or a belief in progress, but the function of the myth was always to hold up a mirror to present malaises or to presage a future return to the idyll (cf. Verg.Less