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~Napoleon Bonaparte

Monday, 4 June 2012

The Golden Age, Ages of Man in mythology and religion

The term Golden Age (Χρυσόν Γένος) comes from Greek mythology and legend and refers to the first in a sequence of four or five (or more) Ages of Man, in which the Golden Age is first, followed in sequence, by the Silver, Bronze, Heroic, and then the present (Iron), which is a period of decline.
Kronos (Cronus) (Roman god Saturn) ruled over the first generation of mankind during the so-called Golden Age of Man, a time of prosperity, peace and general ease. When Zeus came to power these had been replaced by the Silver, who in turn were succeeded by the Bronze, the Hero, and the Iron races. In the time of Kronos it was said the animals spoke with a human voice.

Hesiod, Works and Days 109 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"First of all the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a Golden Race of mortal men who lived in the time of Kronos 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. But after earth had covered this generation--they are called Pure Spirits (daimones hagnoi) dwelling on the earth (epikhthonioi), 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 judgments and cruel deeds, givers of wealth [i.e. agricultural bounty]; for this royal right also they received."

Pietro de Cortona, The Age of Iron

 Lucas CRANACH the Elder, The Golden Age

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 66. 4 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Cronus, since he was the eldest of the Titans, became king and caused all men who were his subjects to change from a rude way of living to civilized life, and for this reason he received great approbation and visited many regions of the inhabited earth. Among all he met he introduced justice and sincerity of the soul, and this is why the tradition has come down to later generations that he men of Cronus' time were good-hearted, altogether guileless, and blest with felicity. His kingdom was strongest in the western regions, where indeed he enjoyed his greatest honor; consequently, down even to comparatively recent times, among the Romans [called by them Saturn] and the Carthaginians [elsewhere the author mentions elsewhere that the  Carthaginians sacrificed children to the god], while their city still stood, and other neighbouring peoples, notable festivals and sacrifices were celebrated in honor of this god and many places bore his name. And because of the exceptional obedience to laws no injustice was committed by any one at nay time and all the subjects of the rule of Cronus lived a life of blessedness, in the unhindered enjoyment of every pleasure. To this the poet Hesiod also bears witness in the following words: ‘And they who were Cronus' day, what time he reigned in heaven, lived like gods, no care in heart, remote and free from ills and toils severe, from grievous sicknesses and cares; old age lay not upon their limbs, but they, equal in strength of leg and arm, enjoyed endless delight of feasting far from ills, and when death came, they sank in it as in a sleep. And many other things were theirs; grain-giving earth, unploughed, bore for them fruit abundantly and without stint; and glad of heart they dwelt upon their tilth throughout the earth, in midst of blessing manifold, rich in their flocks, loved by the blessed gods.’ This then, is what the myths have to say about Cronus." 

 Joachim Wtewael,  The Golden Age

Plato, The Statesman 269a - 274d (trans. Fowler) :
"[Plato employs the myth of the Golden Age of Kronos in a philosophical discussion :]
Stranger : We have often heard the tale of the reign of Kronos . . . And how about the story that the ancient folk were earthborn and not begotten of one another?
Younger Sokrates : That is one of the old tales, too . . .
Stranger : In the reign of Kronos . . . all the fruits of the earth sprang up of their own accord for men . . . god himself was their shepherd, watching over them, just as man, being an animal of different and more divine nature than the rest, now tends the lower species of animals. And under his care there were no states, nor did men possess wives or children . . . So there were no states or families, but they had fruits in plenty from the trees and other plants, which the earth furnished them of its own accord, without help from agriculture. And they lived for the  most part in the open air, without clothing or bedding; for the climate was tempered for their comfort, and the abundant grass that grew up out of the earth furnished them soft couches. 
 Fiammingo,Paolo (Franck,Pauwel) Love in the Golden Age

  Fiammingo,Paolo (Franck,Pauwel) Love in the Golden Age

Callimachus, Iambi Fragment 192 (from Oxyrhynchus Papyri 7) :
"[In the Golden Age when Kronos ruled :] It was the time when birds and creatures of the sea and four-footed animals could talk in the same way as the Promethean clay . . (lacuna) in the time of Kronos, and even before. Just is Zeus, yet unjust was his ruling when he deprived the animals of their speech, and--as though we were in a position to give part of our voice to others--diverted it to the race of men."

 Hendrik van Limborch The Pleasure of Golden Age

Suidas s.v. Sardanios gelos (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Sardanios gelos. Sardonic laugh. A proverb applied to those laughing at their own death. Demon says that it was handed down because the inhabitants of Sardinia used to sacrifice to Kronos the finest of their captives and those over 70 years of age, who laughed to show their courage (that is, bravery). But Timaios [says] that those who had lived long enough in Sardinia used to laugh when they were herded by their sons with wooden staves into the trench in which they were about to be buried . . . And Klitarkhos and others say that in Carthage, during great prayers, they place a boy in the hands of Kronos (a bronze statue is set up, with outstretched hands, and under it a baking oven) and then put fire under; the boy shrunk by the fire seems to laugh." [N.B. The "Sardinians" are probably the Carthaginian colonists of the island whose towns dotted the coast.]

Sir Edward John Poynter, The Golden Age

A tradition arose in Greece that the site of the original Golden Age had been Arcadia, an impoverished rural area of Greece where the herdsmen still lived on acorns and where the goat-footed god Pan had his home among the poplars on Mount Maenalus. However, in the 3rd century BCE, the Greek poet, Theocritus, writing in Alexandria, set his pastoral poetry in on the lushly fertile island of Sicily, where he had been born. The protagonist of Theocritus's first Idyll, the goat herder, Daphnis, is taught to play the Syrinx (panpipes) by Pan himself.

 Sculpture of Pan teaching Daphnis to play the pipes; ca. 100 BCE Found in Pompeii.

 Francesco Zuccarelli, Bacchanal

Thomas  Eakins and his version of Arcadia.

According to Hesiod,  The Silver Age and every age that follows fall within the rule of Cronus' successor and son, Zeus. Men in the Silver age lived for one hundred years under the dominion of their mothers. They lived only a short time as grown adults, and spent that time in strife with one another. During this Age men refused to worship the gods and Zeus destroyed them for their impiety. After death, humans of this age became "blessed spirits" of the underworld.
In Hesiod's version, the Golden Age ended when the Titan Prometheus conferred on mankind the gift of fire and all the other arts.
 Lucas CRANACH the Elder, The Silver Age

Jacopo Zucchi, Age of Silver

Bronze Age – Men of the Bronze Age were hardened and tough, as war was their purpose and passion. Not only were their arms and tools forged of bronze, but so were their very homes. The men of this Age were undone by their own violent ways and left no named spirits; instead, they dwell in the "dank house of Hades". This Age came to an end with the flood of Deucalion.

 PIETRO DA CORTONA, The Age of Bronze

Heroic Age – The Heroic Age is the one age that does not correspond with any metal. It is also the only age that improves upon the age it follows. In this period men lived with noble demigods and heroes. It was the heroes of this Age who fought at Thebes and Troy. This race of humans died and went to Elysium.

Iron Age – Hesiod finds himself in the Iron Age. During this age humans live an existence of toil and misery. Children dishonor their parents, brother fights with brother and the social contract between guest and host (xenia) is forgotten. During this age might makes right, and bad men use lies to be thought good. At the height of this age, humans no longer feel shame or indignation at wrongdoing; babies will be born with gray hair and the gods will have completely forsaken humanity: "there will be no help against evil."
 The Age of Iron by PIETRO DA CORTONA

The Roman poet Ovid (1st century BC - 1st century AD) tells a similar myth of Four Ages in Book 1.89-150 of the Metamorphoses. His account is similar to Hesiod's with the exception that he omits the Heroic Age.

These mythological ages are sometimes associated with historical timelines. In the chronology of Saint Jerome the Golden Age lasts ca. 1710 to 1674 BC, the Silver Age 1674 to 1628 BC, the Bronze Age 1628 to 1472 BC, the Heroic Age 1460 to 1103 BC, while Hesiod's Iron Age was considered as still ongoing by Saint Jerome in the 4th century AD.
Some painters dream about Golden Age.

 Hans von Aachen, The Return of the Golden Age

Frans Floris,  Banquet of the Gods

 Jacopo Zucchi, The Assembly of the Gods

Hans von Aachen, The Amazement of the Gods


The Six Ages of the World (also, Seven Ages of the World) is a Christian historical periodization first written about by Saint Augustine circa 400 AD. It is based upon Christian religious events, from the creation of Adam to the events of Revelation. The six ages of history, with each age lasting approximately 1,000 years, were widely believed and in use throughout the Middle Ages, and until the Enlightenment, the writing of history was mostly the filling out of all or some part of this outline.
The Six Ages are best described in the words of Saint Augustine, found in De catechizandis rudibus (On the catechizing of the uninstructed), Chapter 22:

  1. The First Age: "The first is from the beginning of the human race, that is, from Adam, who was the first man that was made, down to Noah, who constructed the ark at the time of the flood."
  2. The Second Age: "..extends from that period on to Abraham, who was called the father indeed of all nations.."
  3. The Third Age: "For the third age extends from Abraham on to David the king."
  4. The Fourth Age: "The fourth from David on to that captivity whereby the people of God passed over into Babylonia."
  5. The Fifth Age: "The fifth from that transmigration down to the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ."
  6. The Sixth Age: "With His [Jesus Christ's] coming the sixth age has entered on its process."
  Jan BRUEGHEL the Elder,  Garden of Eden

 Michelangelo, The Fall and Expulsion from Garden of Eden

 Hendrick Goltzius, The Fall of Man

 Lucas CRANACH the Elder, Adam and Eve

 William Blake - Satan Watching the Caresses of Adam and Eve

 Hans Thoma, Adam and Eve

 George Frederick Watts - Eve Tempted

 Albrecht DÜRER, Adam and Eve

Without a doubt, The Garden of Earthly Delight is one of the strangest paintings in the long history of art. Hieronymus Bosch, who executed this enigmatic work in the early 16'th century, has been acclaimed as an early explorer of the unconscious mind, praised as a forerunner of the 20'th century Surrealists, and also condemned as a madman.

The three panels of The Garden of Earthly Delight depict man's fall from the Garden of Eden and illustrate the hellish fate which awaits those who succumb to sensual temptations. Theories regarding the deeper meaning of this startling imagery abound. In 1947, German art historian Wilhelm Fraenger argued that Bosch belonged to an heretical sect called the Adamites which performed secret, orgiastic rituals. These clandestine rites, according to Fraenger, were portrayed in some of Bosch's paintings. Another opinion claims that Bosch was an alchemist, and that he incorporated alchemical allegories and symbolism into his works. Carl Jung viewed Bosch's startling symbolism as ultimately deriving from the collective unconscious. Dirk Bax and Walter Bosing  forgo psychoanalytical interpretation, and contend that the bizarre imagery used by the Netherlandish painter only seems mysterious because it is all based on parables, puns, and folk tales that are obscure or totally forgotten by us today, but which were commonplace and easily understood by 15'th century viewers. The most recent theory, propounded by Lynda Harris, claims that Bosch was influenced by the doctrines of the Cathars, another Medieval heretical movement. “
 Hieronymus Bosh, Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights

 Hieronymus Bosh, Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (outer wings)

Hieronymus Bosh, Garden of the Earthly Deligths (central panel)

 Hieronymus Bosh, Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (left wing)

 Hieronymus Bosh, Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (right wing)

There are analogous concepts in the religious and philosophical traditions of the South 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 occur in the ancient Middle East and throughout the ancient world, as well.
The Hindu and Vedic writings also make reference to four ages (Yuga) termed: Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali. According to the Laws of Manu these four ages total 4.32 million years. Kali-Yuga lasts for 432,000 years, Dvapara Yuga lasts for 864,000 years, Treta Yuga lasts for 1,296,000 years, and Satya Yuga lasts for 1,728,000 years. These four yugas make up a Maha Yuga, a Catur Yuga, or a Divya Yuga. 1000 Maha Yugas taken together equals one day of Brahma or 4.32 billion years. Brahma’s night is of an equal length which is also 4.32 billion years. Taken together Brahma’s day and night are 8.64 billion years in total. Brahma lives for 36,000 "Brahma days" so his lifespan is equivalent to 311 trillion, 40 billion years. After his death there is an equivalent period of 311 trillion, 40 billion years when the Universe is unmanifest. Then a new Brahma is born and the cycle starts all over again. Taken together the life and the death of Brahma equals 622 trillion, 80 billion years. This equals one cycle out of innumerable cycles in the Vedic Universe.

The Aztec tradition of Five Suns also involves four previous ages. The term Five Suns in the context of creation myths, describes the doctrine of the Aztec and other Nahua peoples, supported amply by ancient texts and calendars, in which the present world was preceded by four other cycles of creation and destruction. It is primarily derived from the mythological, cosmological and eschatological beliefs and traditions of earlier cultures from central Mexico and the Mesoamerican region in general. The Late Postclassic Aztec society inherited many traditions concerning Mesoamerican creation accounts, while however modifying some aspects and supplying novel interpretations of their own.