golden age

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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 Hesiod, Works and Days 109–126, 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. The golden age is associated esp. 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). 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 (as in Virgil's fourth Eclogue).

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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