Ages of Man

Ages of Man

The Ages of Man are the stages of human existence on the Earth according to Classical mythology. Two classical authors in particular offer accounts of the successive ages of mankind, which tend to progress from an original, long-gone age in which humans enjoyed a nearly divine existence to the current age of the writer, in which humans are beset by innumerable pains and evils. In the two accounts that survive from ancient Greece and Rome, this degradation of the human condition over time is indicated symbolically with metals of successively decreasing value.

Hesiod's Five Ages

The first extant account of the successive ages of mankind comes from the Greek poet Hesiod's "Works and Days" (lines 109-201):

The Golden Age is the only age that falls within the rule of Cronus. It is said that men lived among the gods, and freely mingled with them. Peace and harmony prevailed during this age. Humans did not have to work to feed themselves, for the earth provided food in abundance. They lived to a very old age but with a youthful appearance and eventually died peacefully. Their spirits live on as "guardians". Plato in Cratylus (397 e) recounts the golden race of men who came first. He clarifies that Hesiod did not mean men literally made of gold, but good and noble. He describes these men as daemons upon the earth. Since "δαίμονες" ("daimones") is derived from "δαήμονες" ("daēmones") (=knowing or wise), they are beneficent, preventing ills, and guardians of mortal men.

The Silver Age and every age that follows fall within the rule of Cronus' successor and son, Zeus. Humans in the Silver age lived for one hundred years as infants. They lived only a short time as grown adults, and spent that time in strife with one another. During this Age humans refused to worship the gods; Zeus destroyed this race for its impiety. After death, humans of this age became "blessed spirits" of the underworld. Men of the Bronze Age were hard. War was their purpose and passion. Not only arms and tools, but their very homes were forged of bronze. The men of this age were undone by their own violent ways and left no named spirits but dwell in the "dank house of Hades".

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 lived 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. 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 foresaken humanity: "there will be no help against evil."

Ovid's Four Ages

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.

Ovid emphasizes the justice and peace that defined the Golden Age. He adds that in this age, men did not yet know the art of navigation and therefore did not explore the larger world.

In the Silver Age, Jupiter introduces the seasons and men consequentially learn the art of agriculture and architecture.

In the Bronze Age, Ovid writes, men were prone to warfare, but not impiety.

Finally, in the Iron Age, men demarcate nations with boundaries; they learn the arts of navigation and mining; they are warlike, greedy and impious. Truth, modesty and loyalty are nowhere to be found.

Historicity of the Ages

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 the Iron Age was considered as still ongoing by Hesiod in the 8th century.Fact|date=September 2007

Ages of Man in other cultures

In the Old Testament Book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a statue made of the four metals which is interpreted by Daniel. Whether this story derives from a common literary tradition with that of the classical accounts is uncertain, but it utilizes the same four metals to describe changing periods of history. It also describes the changing character of mankind during the four ages [Daniel 2:31-33.] .

The Hindu and Vedic writings also make reference to four ages termed: Satya (Golden), Treta (Silver), Dwapara (Bronze) and Kali (Iron). According to the Laws of Manu these four ages total 12,000 years in declining order and 12,000 years in ascending order (for a total of 24,000 years in one complete cycle, and are equivalent to seasons of history or seasons of man.The timelines for the four ages as given by Swami Sri Yukteswar in his book Holy Science, and by Lori Pratt in her series of articles entitled Astrolgical World Ages are roughly: 11,500BC to 6700BC descending Golden Age, 6700BC to 3100BC descending Silver Age, 3100BC to 700BC descending Bronze Age, 700BC to 500AD descending Iron Age. The cycle then bottomed out and began the ascending phase with the Iron Age lasting from 500AD to 1700AD. The renaissance marked the rough transition from the lowest age into the next highest age. We are now said to be in the early stages of the ascending Bronze Age which they also term the atomic or electrical age.Fact|date=September 2007

There are also many other references to various types of world ages or Ages of Man in Hopi (worlds), Mayan (suns) and other cultures of antiquity. Giorgio de Santillana, the former professor of the history of science, mentions approximately thirty ancient cultures that believed in the concept of a series of ages and the rise and fall of history, with alternating Dark and Golden Ages. This information is documented in the book Hamlet's Mill by de Santillana and von Dechend in 1969.


ee also

Ages of Man (play)

External links

* [ Ages of Man] - at Greek Mythology Link
* [ Hesiod's Five Ages of Man] - "The Five Ages of Man: Hesiod wrote about a Golden Age under Cronus" by N.S. Gill

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