A Little Classical Golden Age Sampler
‘The Golden Age’ by Pietro da Cortona; frescoes for the Pitti Palace, Florence (1641).
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA, is a little sampler to start the week end in style. Hesiod, Plato, Virgil, Ovid and Valerius Babrius tell us about a time of innocence when greed and violence were not born. We all have in us this deep nostalgia of a time where theft, alienation, separation, worshiped lies, obnoxious lifestyles being cherished, were not in existence. Now our lives are being de-substantialized, decisions are made without us, our courage paralyzed and our very humanity threatened to the core.
We find in the Classics, an evergreen comfort, echoes of possibilities, fountains of inspirations, ethical compasses to help us navigate these treacherous times. As an contemporary librarian said: ‘…The gift of the Gods to Mankind: This magical incantation that makes us bigger than what we really are, that elevates us among heroes and helps us conquer our fears…It’s fiction. There are no simple stories. Do not underestimate the power of fiction. It is remarkable. It binds people together and it can put them into motion. It gives the power to shape the world.’
All the appeased and redeemed Heroes, all the compassionate Gods, lead the way to bring us back home: A sustainable Earth with our healed shadows birthing their many lights once more, making us complete again; with everybody, in solidarity, dreaming, co-operating, creating, shaping, maintaining, preserving, transmitting to our further generations: Life and Beauty.
The term Golden Age comes from Greek mythology, particularly the Works and Days of Hesiod, and is part of the description of temporal decline of the state of peoples through five Ages, Gold being the first and the one during which the Golden Race of humanity (Greek: χρύσεον γένος chrýseon génos) lived. After the end of the first age was the Silver, then the Bronze, after this the Heroic age, with the fifth and current age being Iron.
By extension, “Golden Age” denotes a period of primordial peace, harmony, stability, and prosperity. During this age, peace and harmony prevailed in that people did not have to work to feed themselves for the earth provided food in abundance. They lived to a very old age with a youthful appearance, eventually dying peacefully, with spirits living on as “guardians”. Plato in Cratylus (397 e) recounts the golden race of humans who came first. He clarifies that Hesiod did not mean literally made of gold, but good and noble.
In classical Greek mythology, the Golden Age was presided over by the leading Titan Cronus. In some versions of the myth Astraea also ruled. She lived with men until the end of the Silver Age. But in the Bronze Age, when men became violent and greedy, she fled to the stars, where she appears as the constellation Virgo, holding the scales of Justice, or Libra.
European pastoral literary tradition often depicted nymphs and shepherds as living a life of rustic innocence and peace, set in Arcadia, a region of Greece that was the abode and center of worship of their tutelary deity, goat-footed Pan, who dwelt among them. Source: Wikipedia.
Hesiod, ‘Works and Days’, translated by Hugh Gerard Evelyn-White
I will sum you up another tale well and skillfully — and do you lay it up in your heart, — how the gods and mortal men sprang from one source. § 109 First of all the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Cronos when he was reigning in heaven. And 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 evils. 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. § 121 But after earth had covered this generation — they are called pure spirits dwelling on the earth, and are kindly, delivering from harm, and guardians of mortal men; for they roam everywhere over the earth, clothed in mist and keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds, givers of wealth; for this royal right also they received.
εἰ δ᾽ ἐθέλεις, ἕτερόν τοι ἐγὼ λόγον ἐκκορυφώσω
εὖ καὶ ἐπισταμένως: σὺ δ᾽ ἐνὶ φρεσὶ βάλλεο σῇσιν.
ὡς ὁμόθεν γεγάασι θεοὶ θνητοί τ᾽ ἄνθρωποι.
χρύσεον μὲν πρώτιστα γένος μερόπων ἀνθρώπων
110ἀθάνατοι ποίησαν Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχοντες.
οἳ μὲν ἐπὶ Κρόνου ἦσαν, ὅτ᾽ οὐρανῷ ἐμβασίλευεν:
ὥστε θεοὶ δ᾽ ἔζωον ἀκηδέα θυμὸν ἔχοντες
νόσφιν ἄτερ τε πόνων καὶ ὀιζύος: οὐδέ τι δειλὸν
γῆρας ἐπῆν, αἰεὶ δὲ πόδας καὶ χεῖρας ὁμοῖοι
115τέρποντ᾽ ἐν θαλίῃσι κακῶν ἔκτοσθεν ἁπάντων:
θνῇσκον δ᾽ ὥσθ᾽ ὕπνῳ δεδμημένοι: ἐσθλὰ δὲ πάντα
τοῖσιν ἔην: καρπὸν δ᾽ ἔφερε ζείδωρος ἄρουρα
αὐτομάτη πολλόν τε καὶ ἄφθονον: οἳ δ᾽ ἐθελημοὶ
ἥσυχοι ἔργ᾽ ἐνέμοντο σὺν ἐσθλοῖσιν πολέεσσιν.
120ἀφνειοὶ μήλοισι, φίλοι μακάρεσσι θεοῖσιν.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ τοῦτο γένος κατὰ γαῖ᾽ ἐκάλυψε,—
τοὶ μὲν δαίμονες ἁγνοὶ ἐπιχθόνιοι καλέονται
ἐσθλοί, ἀλεξίκακοι, φύλακες θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων,
οἵ ῥα φυλάσσουσίν τε δίκας καὶ σχέτλια ἔργα
125ἠέρα ἑσσάμενοι πάντη φοιτῶντες ἐπ᾽ αἶαν,
πλουτοδόται: καὶ τοῦτο γέρας βασιλήιον ἔσχον.
Plato, ‘Cratylus’ 397, Translation by Benjamin Jovet
Socrates: Then is it not proper to begin with the gods and see how the gods are rightly called by that name?
Hermogenes: That is reasonable.
Socrates: Something of this sort, then, is what I suspect: I think the earliest men in Greece believed only in those gods in whom many foreigners believe today—My notion would be something of this sort:- I suspect that the sun, moon, earth, stars, and heaven, which are still the Gods of many barbarians, were the only Gods known to the aboriginal Hellenes. Seeing that they were always moving and running, from their running nature they were called Gods or runners (Theous, Theontas); and when men became acquainted with the other Gods, they proceeded to apply the same name to them all. Do you think that likely?
Hermogenes: I think it very likely indeed.
Socrates: What shall follow the Gods?
Hermogenes: Must not demons and heroes and men come next?
Socrates: Demons! And what do you consider to be the meaning of this word? Tell me if my view is right.
Hermogenes: Let me hear.
Socrates: You know how Hesiod uses the word?
Hermogenes: I do not.
Socrates: Do you not remember that he speaks of a golden race of men who came first?
Hermogenes: Yes, I do.
Socrates: He says of them-
But now that fate has closed over this race
They are holy demons upon the earth,
Beneficent, averters of ills, guardians of mortal men.
Her. What is the inference?
Socrates: What is the inference! Why, I suppose that he means by the golden men, not men literally made of gold, but good and noble; and I am convinced of this, because he further says that we are the iron race.
Hermogenes: That is true.
Socrates: And do you not suppose that good men of our own day would by him be said to be of golden race?
Hermogenes: Very likely.
Socrates: And are not the good wise?
Hermogenes: Yes, they are wise.
Socrates: And therefore I have the most entire conviction that he called them demons, because they were daemones (knowing or wise), and in our older Attic dialect the word itself occurs. Now he and other poets say truly, that when a good man dies he has honour and a mighty portion among the dead, and becomes a demon; which is a name given to him signifying wisdom. And I say too, that every wise man who happens to be a good man is more than human (daimonion) both in life and death, and is rightly called a demon.
Hermogenes: Then I rather think that I am of one mind with you.
ἆρ᾽ οὖν οὐ δίκαιον ἀπὸ τῶν θεῶν ἄρχεσθαι, σκοπουμένους πῇ ποτε αὐτὸ τοῦτο τὸ ὄνομα οἱ ‘θεοὶ’ ὀρθῶς ἐκλήθησαν;
τοιόνδε τοίνυν ἔγωγε ὑποπτεύω: φαίνονταί μοι οἱ πρῶτοι τῶν ἀνθρώπων τῶν περὶ τὴν Ἑλλάδα τούτους μόνους [397δ] τοὺς θεοὺς ἡγεῖσθαι οὕσπερ νῦν πολλοὶ τῶν βαρβάρων, ἥλιον καὶ σελήνην καὶ γῆν καὶ ἄστρα καὶ οὐρανόν: ἅτε οὖν αὐτὰ ὁρῶντες πάντα ἀεὶ ἰόντα δρόμῳ καὶ θέοντα, ἀπὸ ταύτης τῆς φύσεως τῆς τοῦ δαήμονες ‘θεοὺς’ αὐτοὺς ἐπονομάσαι: ὕστερον δὲ κατανοοῦντες τοὺς ἄλλους πάντας ἤδη τούτῳ τῷ ὀνόματι προσαγορεύειν. ἔοικέ τι ὃ λέγω τῷ ἀληθεῖ ἢ οὐδέν;
πάνυ μὲν οὖν ἔοικεν.
τί οὖν ἂν μετὰ τοῦτο σκοποῖμεν;
δῆλον δὴ ὅτι δαίμονάς τε καὶ ἥρωας καὶ ἀνθρώπους δαίμονας.
[397ε]Σωκράτης καὶ ὡς ἀληθῶς, ὦ Ἑρμόγενες, τί ἄν ποτε νοοῖ τὸ ὄνομα οἱ ‘δαίμονες’; σκέψαι ἄν τί σοι δόξω εἰπεῖν.
οἶσθα οὖν τίνας φησὶν Ἡσίοδος εἶναι τοὺς δαίμονας;
οὐδὲ ὅτι χρυσοῦν γένος τὸ πρῶτόν φησιν γενέσθαι τῶν ἀνθρώπων;
οἶδα τοῦτό γε.
λέγει τοίνυν περὶ αὐτοῦ—“αὐτὰρ ἐπειδὴ τοῦτο γένος κατὰ μοῖρ᾽ ἐκάλυψεν,”
[398α]“οἱ μὲν δαίμονες ἁγνοὶ ὑποχθόνιοι καλέονται, ἐσθλοί, ἀλεξίκακοι, φύλακες θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων.”
τί οὖν δή;
ὅτι οἶμαι ἐγὼ λέγειν αὐτὸν τὸ χρυσοῦν γένος οὐκ ἐκ χρυσοῦ πεφυκὸς ἀλλ᾽ ἀγαθόν τε καὶ καλόν. τεκμήριον δέ μοί ἐστιν ὅτι καὶ ἡμᾶς φησιν σιδηροῦν εἶναι γένος.
οὐκοῦν καὶ τῶν νῦν οἴει ἂν φάναι αὐτὸν εἴ τις
[398β] ἀγαθός ἐστιν ἐκείνου τοῦ χρυσοῦ γένους εἶναι;
οἱ δ᾽ ἀγαθοὶ ἄλλο τι ἢ φρόνιμοι;
τοῦτο τοίνυν παντὸς μᾶλλον λέγει, ὡς ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ, τοὺς δαίμονας: ὅτι φρόνιμοι καὶ δαήμονες ἦσαν, ‘δαίμονας’ αὐτοὺς ὠνόμασεν: καὶ ἔν γε τῇ ἀρχαίᾳ τῇ ἡμετέρᾳ φωνῇ αὐτὸ συμβαίνει τὸ ὄνομα. λέγει οὖν καλῶς καὶ οὗτος καὶ ἄλλοι ποιηταὶ πολλοὶ ὅσοι λέγουσιν ὡς, ἐπειδάν τις ἀγαθὸς ὢν τελευτήσῃ, μεγάλην μοῖραν καὶ τιμὴν ἔχει καὶ γίγνεται [398ξ] δαίμων κατὰ τὴν τῆς φρονήσεως ἐπωνυμίαν. ταύτῃ οὖν τίθεμαι καὶ ἐγὼ τὸν δαήμονα πάντ᾽ ἄνδρα ὃς ἂν ἀγαθὸς ᾖ, δαιμόνιον εἶναι καὶ ζῶντα καὶ τελευτήσαντα, καὶ ὀρθῶς ‘δαίμονα’ καλεῖσθαι.
καὶ ἐγώ μοι δοκῶ, ὦ Σώκρατες, τούτου πάνυ σοι σύμψηφος εἶναι.
Virgil, Aeneid, Book VIII-303 to 326, translated by A. S. Kline
The local Nymphs and Fauns once lived in these groves,
and a race of men born of trees with tough timber,
who had no laws or culture, and didn’t know how
to yoke oxen or gather wealth, or lay aside a store,
but the branches fed them, and the hunter’s wild fare.
Saturn was the first to come down from heavenly Olympus,
fleeing Jove’s weapons, and exiled from his lost realm.
He gathered together the untaught race, scattered among
the hills, and gave them laws, and chose to call it Latium,
from latere, ‘to hide’, since he had hidden in safety on these shores.
Under his reign was the Golden Age men speak of:
in such tranquil peace did he rule the nations,
until little by little an inferior, tarnished age succeeded,
with war’s madness, and desire for possessions.
“Haec nemora indigenae fauni nymphaeque tenebant
315gensque virum truncis et duro robore nata,
quis neque mos neque cultus erat, nec iungere tauros
aut componere opes norant aut parcere parto,
sed rami atque asper victu venatus alebat.
Primus ab aetherio venit Saturnus Olympo,
320arma Iovis fugiens et regnis exsul ademptis.
Is genus indocile ac dispersum montibus altis
composuit legesque dedit Latiumque vocari
maluit, his quoniam latuisset tutis in oris.
Aurea quae perhibent illo sub rege fuere
325saecula. Sic placida populos in pace regebat,
deterior donec paulatim ac decolor aetas
et belli rabies et amor successit habendi.”
Ovid. ‘Metamorphosis’, Book 1-89 to 110, translated by Brookes More
§ 1.89 First was the Golden Age. Then rectitude spontaneous in the heart prevailed, and faith. Avengers were not seen, for laws unframed were all unknown and needless. Punishment and fear of penalties existed not. No harsh decrees were fixed on brazen plates. No suppliant multitude the countenance of Justice feared, averting, for they dwelt without a judge in peace. Descended not the steeps, shorn from its height, the lofty pine, cleaving the trackless waves of alien shores, nor distant realms were known to wandering men. The towns were not entrenched for time of war; they had no brazen trumpets, straight, nor horns of curving brass, nor helmets, shields nor swords. There was no thought of martial pomp — secure a happy multitude enjoyed repose. Then of her own accord the earth produced a store of every fruit. The harrow touched her not, nor did the plowshare wound her fields. And man content with given food, and none compelling, gathered arbute fruits and wild strawberries on the mountain sides, and ripe blackberries clinging to the bush, and corners and sweet acorns on the ground, down fallen from the spreading tree of Jove. Eternal Spring! Soft breathing zephyrs soothed and warmly cherished buds and blooms, produced without a seed. The valleys though unplowed gave many fruits; the fields though not renewed white glistened with the heavy bearded wheat: rivers flowed milk and nectar, and the trees, the very oak trees, then gave honey of themselves.
Aurea prima sata est aetas, quae vindice nullo,
90sponte sua, sine lege fidem rectumque colebat.
Poena metusque aberant, nec verba minantia fixo
aere legebantur, nec supplex turba timebat
iudicis ora sui, sed erant sine vindice tuti.
Nondum caesa suis, peregrinum ut viseret orbem,
95montibus in liquidas pinus descenderat undas,
nullaque mortales praeter sua litora norant.
Nondum praecipites cingebant oppida fossae;
non tuba directi, non aeris cornua flexi,
non galeae, non ensis erat: sine militis usu
100mollia securae peragebant otia gentes.
ipsa quoque inmunis rastroque intacta nec ullis
saucia vomeribus per se dabat omnia tellus;
contentique cibis nullo cogente creatis
arbuteos fetus montanaque fraga legebant
105cornaque et in duris haerentia mora rubetis
et quae deciderant patula Iovis arbore glandes.
Ver erat aeternum, placidique tepentibus auris
mulcebant zephyri natos sine semine flores.
Mox etiam fruges tellus inarata ferebat,
110nec renovatus ager gravidis canebat aristis;
flumina iam lactis, iam flumina nectaris ibant,
flavaque de viridi stillabant ilice mella.
Valerius ‘Babrius’, ‘Aesopic Fables of Babrius’,
Prologue, translated by Ben Edwin Perry
To be continued…