Golden age

Golden age

The term Golden age is best known from Greek mythology and legend but can also be found in other ancient cultures (see below). It refers either to the highest age in the Greek spectrum of Iron, Bronze, Silver and Golden ages, or to a time in the beginnings of Humanity which was perceived as an ideal state, or utopia, when mankind was pure and immortal. A "Golden Age" is known as a period of peace, harmony, stability and prosperity. In literary works, the Golden Age usually ends with a devastating event, which brings about the Fall of Man (see Ages of Man).

An analogous idea can be found in the religious and philosophical traditions of the Far East. 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 yuga (Bronze Age), Treta yuga (Silver age) and Satya yuga (Golden age) correspond to the four Greek ages. Similar beliefs can be found in the ancient Middle East and throughout the ancient world.

According to Giorgio de Santillana, the former professor of history at MIT, and co-author of the book Hamlet's Mill [Giorgio de Santillana, Herta von Dechend: Hamlet's Mill: "An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge and its Transmission through Myth", ISBN-10: 0879232153 ( [ Hamlet´s Mill at] )] , there are over 200 myth and folkstories from over 30 ancient cultures that spoke of a cycle of the ages tied to the movement of the heavens. Some Utopianist beliefs, both political and religious, hold that the Golden Age will return after a period of blessedness and gradual decadence is completed. Other proponents, including many modern day Hindus, believe a Golden age will gradually return as a natural consequence of the changing yugas.

Some pastoral works of fiction depict life in an imaginary Arcadia as being a continuation of life in the Golden Age; the shepherds of such a land have not allowed themselves to be corrupted into civilization. [Bridget Ann Henish, "The Medieval Calendar Year", p96, ISBN 0-271-01904-2]


It happens both in Europe as well as in the Middle East, the idea of a Golden Age is part of a mythical interpretation of history, which divides history into several consequent ages, or (predominantly in the Middle East) into ....empires or historical epochs. The Golden Age (in India the Satya Yuga) is perceived to have been the first and best age, followed by the Silver Age and so on. The lowest and worst age was the Kali yuga of the Dark Ages when the decay of civilisation reached its nadir, prior to the renaissance period and the present Dwapara yuga. This perception of history is different from the current linear paradigm which does not recognize any cyclicality. The theory of historical ages is often thought to be the mythical expression of a philosophy of history marked by cultural pessimism, or simply the belief of primitive cultures. A few modern theorists such as Walter Cruttenden, author of "Lost Star of Myth and Time", believe the cycle of the ages has a basis in fact indirectly due to the motion of the solar system around another form.

Greek and Roman antiquity

A myth of ages can be seen in Europe in the writings of Hesiod in the late 8th and early 7th century BC.

The Greek poet Hesiod, around the 8th century BC, in his compilation of the mythological tradition (the poem "Works and Days"), explained that, prior to the present era, there were four other progressively more perfect ones, the oldest of which was called the "Golden age". In this stage:

In this age, Hesiod writes, mankind lived in absolute peace, carefree like the gods because they never aged and death was a falling asleep. The main characteristic of this age according to Hesiod was that the earth produced food in abundance, so that agriculture was rendered superfluous. This characteristic also defines almost all later versions of the myth.

The Orphic school, a religious movement from Thrace which spread to Greece in the 6th century BC, held similar beliefs, including the denomination of the ages with metals. Some Orphics identified the Golden Age with the era of the god Phanes, who was regent over the Olympus before Cronus. In classical mythology however, the Golden Age took place during the reign of Cronus. In the 5th century BC, the philosopher Empedocles emphasised the idea of original peacefulness, innocence and harmony in all of nature, including human society.

Several centuries later (29 BC) the Golden Age was depicted in Virgil's "The Georgics". Here, the poet looked back again to sing the good old times before Jupiter, when:

quotation|Fields knew no taming hand of husbandmen;
To mark the plain or mete with boundary-line-
Even this was impious; for the common stock
They gathered, and the earth of her own will
All things more freely, no man bidding, bore.

The topic is taken up again by Ovid's in his "Metamorphoses" (AD 8):

quotation|The golden age was first; when Man yet new,
No rule but uncorrupted reason knew:
And, with a native bent, did good pursue.
Unforc'd by punishment, un-aw'd by fear, [...]

Peace and harmony prevailed during this age. Humans did not grow old, but died peacefully. Spring was eternal and people were fed on acorns from a great oak as well as wild fruits and honey that dripped from the trees. The spirits of those men who died were known as Daimones and were guides for the later ancient Greeks (who considered themselves to live in the later Iron Age.)

This race of humans eventually died out after Prometheus (a Titan) gave them the secret of fire. For this, Zeus punished humans by allowing Pandora to open her box which unleashed all evil in the mortal world.

Within sequences or cycles of eras, the golden age stands in sequence with the silver age and the Iron Age, and conditions can improve or decline according to one's conception of mythic progression.

Plutarch, the Greek historian and biographer of the 1st century, also dealt with the blissful and mythic past of the humanity.


The Indian teachings differentiate the four world ages (Yugas) not according to metals, but according to quality depicted as colors, whereby the white color is the purest quality and belongs to the first, ideal age. These colors were originally assigned to the planet Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury and Mars just like the metals. After the world fall at the end of the fourth, worst age (the Kali yuga) the cycle should be continued, eventually culminating in a new golden age.

The Krita Yuga also known as the Satya yuga, the First and Perfect Age, as described in the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic:

The Hindus make reference to at least two overlapping yuga cycles, driven by celestial motions, that affect conditions on earth. One cycle, the Maha Yuga, is millions of years in length and therefore difficult to relate to human history or events. The shorter yuga cycle lasts 24,000 years, including an ascending age of 12,000 years (one daiva yuga) and a descending age of 12,000 years, for a total equal to one precession of the equinox. Both cycles are composed of the four eras, and the Satya Yuga is the first and the most significant age in each cycle. This Golden Age era lasts 7200 years (out of the 12,000 years in the ascending period) and another 7200 years (out of 12,000 years in the descending period) in the precessional cycle. Knowledge, meditation, and communion with Spirit hold special importance in this era. The average life expectancy of a human being in Satya Yuga is believed to be about 400 years. During Satya Yuga, most people engage only in good, sublime deeds and mankind lives in harmony with the earth. Ashrams become devoid of wickedness and deceit. Natyam (such as Bharatanatyam), according to Natya Shastra, did not exist in the Satya Yuga "because it was the time when all people were happy".


According to Tom Whyte and John Ashton's "The Quest for Paradise", the Golden Age idea contributed to the modern Christian views of Heaven.

The Golden Age is identified with Eden. It is considered to return during the Kingdom of God, the reign of Christ which will never end. See also millennialism. The church father Lactantius availed himself with his description "golden age" of the future thousand-year old of Christ's Kingdom including the usual characteristics (blessedness of entire nature, sumptuous fertility, animal peace, disappearing agriculture and navigation).

Book of Isaiah Ch. 65, which somehow is reminiscent of the mythological Golden Age descriptions, is believedwho to refer to that state:quotation|17 "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.

19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

20 "Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.

21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.

23 They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.

24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.

25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain," says the LORD.
Book of Isaiah (NIV) Chapter 65

Another connection made by some Christians and Jews was that this was a reference to the Nephilim spoken of in the book of Genesis, as referenced from the Book of Enoch, a pseudopigraphal work. The book of Enoch is quoted in Jude 14, 15.


The Old Norse word "gullaldr" (literally "Golden Age") was used in Völuspá to describe the period after Ragnarök where the surviving gods and their progeny build the city Gimlé on the ruins of mason.


Islam's idea of the Golden Age is when all of the Islamic Empires experienced a time of great economic growth and stability centers of knowledge are at its peak, and its power is at its zenith.

Early modern Europe

In early modern Europe, some called the Enlightenment a second Golden Age (the first assumed to be that of the ancient authors Homer, Aristophanes, Virgil and especially Horace); in England, the Augustan Age and the 18th century were then considered a Golden Age for the progress made in thought (David Hume), science (Royal Society), and literature (Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope).


In modern fantasy worlds whose background and setting sometime draw heavily on real-world myths, similar or compatible concepts of Golden Age exist in the said world's prehistory; when Deities or Elf-like creatures existed, before the coming of humans.

For example, a Golden Age exists in Middle-earth legendarium. Arda (the period of our world where "The Lord of the Rings" is set), was designed to be symmetrical and perfect. After the wars of the Gods, Arda lost its perfect shape (known as Arda Unmarred) and was called Arda Marred. Another kind of 'Golden Age' follows later, after the Elves awoke; the Eldar stay on Valinor, live with the Valar and advance in arts and knowledge, until the rebellion and the fall of the Noldor, reminiscent of the Fall of Man. Eventually, after the end of the world, the Silmarilli will be recovered and the light of the Two Trees of Valinor rekindled. Arda will be remade again as Arda Healed.

In The Wheel of Time universe, the Age of Legends is the name given to the previous Age: In this society, channelers were common and Aes Sedai - trained channelers - were extremely powerful, able to make "angreal", "sa'angreal", and "ter'angreal", and holding important civic positions. The Age of Legends is seen as a utopian society without war or crime, and devoted to culture and learning. Aes Sedai were frequently devoted to academic endeavours, one of which inadvertently resulted in a hole - 'The Bore' - being drilled in the Dark One's prison. The immediate effects were not realised, but the Dark One gradually asserted power over humanity, swaying many to become his followers. This resulted in the War of Power and eventually the Breaking of the World.

Another example is in the background of the "Lands of Lore" classic computer game, the history of the Lands is divided in Ages. One of them is also called Golden Age, where the Lands were ruled by the 'Ancients', no wars existed yet, until that age was over with the 'War of the Heretics'.

ee also

* Ages of Man
* Arcadia (utopia)
* Garden of Eden
* Great year
* Utopia
* Merrie England
* Millennialism
* Satya Yuga/Krita Yuga
* Golden Age of Comics Books


External links


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Golden age — Golden Gold en (g[=o]ld n), a. [OE. golden; cf. OE. gulden, AS. gylden, from gold. See {Gold}, and cf. {Guilder}.] [1913 Webster] 1. Made of gold; consisting of gold. [1913 Webster] 2. Having the color of gold; as, the golden grain. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • golden age — golden ages N COUNT: oft N of n A golden age is a period of time during which a very high level of achievement is reached in a particular field of activity, especially in art or literature. You grew up in the golden age of American children s… …   English dictionary

  • golden age — golden ,age noun singular a period of time in the past when something was the most successful: the golden age of British industry …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • Golden Age — n., adj. [after L (Ovid) aurea aetas] 1. Gr. & Rom. Myth. the early age in which mankind was ideally happy, prosperous, and innocent 2. [g a ] a period of great progress, prosperity, or cultural achievement 3. [g a ] of or for golden agers …   English World dictionary

  • golden age — ► NOUN 1) an idyllic, often imaginary past time of peace, prosperity, and happiness. 2) the period when a specified art or activity is at its peak …   English terms dictionary

  • golden age — 1. the most flourishing period in the history of a nation, literature, etc. 2. Class. Myth. the first and best of the four ages of humankind; an era of peace and innocence that finally yielded to the silver age. 3. (usually caps.) a period in… …   Universalium

  • Golden Age —    The 17th century was a key period for Spain s cultural identity, one that determined its fate as a nation. The year 1492 is a landmark in Spanish history that marks the political rise of the country (at that time made up of the union of… …   Guide to cinema

  • Golden Age —    The 17th century was a key period for Spain s cultural identity, one that determined its fate as a nation. The year 1492 is a landmark in Spanish history that marks the political rise of the country (at that time made up of the union of… …   Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema

  • Golden Age — Lucas Cranach d.Ä.: Das Goldene Zeitalter, um 1530 Goldenes Zeitalter (griechisch chrýseon génos, lateinisch aurea aetas oder Saturnia regna für Herrschaft Saturns ) ist ein Begriff aus der antiken griechischen Mythologie. Er bezeichne …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • golden age — A myth of the original condition of humanity, first found in the Works and Days of Hesiod. It is identified with the time of Kronos, before Zeus began to rule (in Roman mythology, the time of Saturn). Justice and honesty ruled, there was no… …   Philosophy dictionary