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date: 26 April 2018

golden age

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.Ecl.4).


A. O. Lovejoy and G. Boas, Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity (1935).Find this resource:

W. K. C. Guthrie, In the Beginning (1957).Find this resource:

A. Kurfess, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 1 (1950), 144–50, ‘Aetas Aurea’.Find this resource:

B. Gatz, Weltalter, goldene Zeit und Sinnverwandte Vorstellungen (1967).Find this resource:

K. Kubusch, Aurea Saecula, Mythos und Geschichte: Untersuchung eines Motivs in der antiken Literature bis Ovid (1986).Find this resource:

A. S. Brown, Mnemosyne 1998.Find this resource:

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