Golden age

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The golden age . Painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder , around 1530, Alte Pinakothek , Munich

Golden Age ( ancient Greek χρύσεον γένος chrýseon génos 'golden sex', Latin aurea aetas or aurea saecula ) is a term from ancient mythology . It describes the peaceful primordial phase of humanity before the emergence of civilization, which is regarded as the ideal state. In a figurative sense, the term golden age is used for a heyday. Often what is meant is an epoch of the highest development of a culture or a heyday of a certain form of cultural creation. Additionally or alternatively, it can also be a period of economic prosperity or political supremacy.

According to the Greek myth - later adopted by the Romans - the social conditions in the Golden Age were ideal and people were excellently embedded in their natural environment. Wars, crimes and vices were unknown, the humble necessities of life were met by nature. In the course of the following ages , named after metals of decreasing quality , however, there was increasing moral decline, greed for power and possession arose and intensified, and living conditions deteriorated drastically. In the present, the lifetime of the myth-teller, this development has reached a low point. However, some Roman authors proclaimed the dawn of a new era of peace and unity as the renewal of the Golden Age.

In some respects different, but in important aspects comparable ideas were widespread in ancient times in the Near and Middle East. The main features of an ancient myth of Asian origin can be reconstructed from the various traditional versions. This formed the starting point for different traditions that developed from Europe to India with a lasting impact on cultural history. There are parallels to the biblical story of the Garden of Eden and the expulsion from Paradise ( Fall of Man ), but no basis of a common tradition can be identified.

In modern times , numerous writers and poets turned to this topic. Following the ancient models, they often idealized the Golden Age and longed for its return. With some authors, a new motif was added to the traditional features of the mythical prehistoric times: the ideal of erotic impartiality and freedom. However, critics rated the idealized simple life in harmony with nature as being hostile to progress and culture.

The ancient myth


The first European author to recount the myth is the poet Hesiod (late 8th or early 7th century BC). However, he does not speak of a golden age, but only of a "golden generation", a species of people that lived in the distant past. In his teaching poem Works and Days , Hesiod describes the time of the golden generation, which the immortal gods had created. At that time the divine Titan Kronos , the father of Zeus , ruled in heaven . The people lived carefree like gods in undisturbed peace, free from sorrow, plagues and misery, tended their large herds of cattle and enjoyed their sumptuous meals. A key feature of that time was that the earth naturally produced the nourishment it needed in abundance. Therefore strenuous farm work was unnecessary. People were friends with the gods and knew no harm. Their bodies didn't age, their death was a falling asleep. They were later transformed into benevolent spirits by Zeus who guarded and bestowed mortals in the ages that followed. They continue to perform this task.

When the golden race had died out, Hesiod's account was followed by the "much lesser" silver one, which was physically and mentally inferior to the golden one. It was a human race newly created by the gods who lacked reason and measure and was already subject to suffering. After a relatively short time, this gender perished. In the next age, when a different kind of people lived, there was further decline. The era of heroes followed . In the fifth and last epoch, that of the iron sex, both the character of the people and their living conditions deteriorated drastically. The present is the lowest point of development so far. We can expect worse things in the future. Eventually Zeus will destroy humanity.


The Orphics were a religious movement originating from Thrace that began to develop in the 6th century BC. In the Greek-speaking area. Their ideas were similar to those of Hesiod. They also named the sexes (human species) after metals. Their doctrine of the age of the world presupposes the chronological structure of the myth told by Hesiod, but they did not emphasize the chronological succession of the human sexes, but their different character qualities. Their concern was a division of mankind into three classes according to the criterion of virtue. It is unclear whether they started with Hesiod's account or whether they came to their knowledge of the metal myth independently of him - perhaps through direct recourse to an oriental tradition.

Different versions of the myth were common among the Orphics. According to one variant, as with Hesiod, Kronos ruled first, according to another, the ruler was the god Phanes at the time of the golden family and the epoch of Kronos was the subsequent time of the silver family; then Zeus came to power and created the third generation, that of the Titans . The Orphics shared Hesiod's view that in ancient times there was a consistent peaceableness. Plato reports that they frowned on eating meat and animal sacrifices because they considered any bloodshed to be impious, and that the belief was widespread that the non-violent "Orphic" way of life was once generally practiced.


In the 5th century BC The philosopher Empedocles , a pre-Socratics , proclaimed a cosmological and cultural-historical myth that corresponds to the cosmological myth of Hesiod and the Orphic. Like Hesiod, he advocated the idea of ​​primal peacefulness, innocence and harmony in all of nature, including human society. An ideal age was followed by a period of increasing decline that has given rise to the present conditions. The aggravation will inevitably continue and eventually lead to a state of maximum discord. Then a turnaround must set in, which initiates a development in the opposite direction. It is a cycle that will end with the restoration of the original ideal state. The cyclical change manifests itself both in terms of cosmic and natural history and in terms of cultural history. Empedocles regards the conflict between two alternately dominating primordial forces, which he calls "love" and "strife", as the driving force behind the cyclical development.

A difference between the model of Empedocles and the myth of the age of Hesiods and the Orphics is that Empedocles does not speak of different human races occurring one after the other and the metals assigned to them. Empedocles distinguishes four phases in the history of the universe: the period of predominance of love, the period of increasing power of dispute, the period of predominance of dispute and the period of increasing power of love. He assigns his own epoch to the second phase, in which the separating and the unifying force wrestle with one another and the dispute wins the upper hand. In the time when love dominates, not as with Hesiod Kronos rules, but the goddess of love Kypris ( Aphrodite ). Empedocles expressly rejects the tradition that Kronos rules in this phase.

Plato, Aristotle and Dikaiarch

Bust of Plato in the Glyptothek in Munich

In his dialogues , Plato makes various statements about the epochs of human history that lie in the distant past. Since these are mythical statements, he does not try to work out a fixed system. He does not associate the mythical early days with gold, but only describes it as the time of life under Kronos. In the Politics and Nomoi dialogues , he describes the situation at that time. As in the older mythical tradition, with Plato the epoch in which Kronos ruled the world is characterized by the perfection of life; the unpleasant conditions of the present are the result of a decline that has occurred since then. Under the rule of Kronos, war and conflict were unknown, legal regulations superfluous, life went on without effort. The people ate no meat and did not need to practice agriculture, but only fed on what the earth gave them by itself. They moved outside, naked, as the climate made this possible. There was linguistic communication between humans and animals. There was peace among the animals too; they did not yet serve one another for food. With the idea of animal peace , Plato takes up a motif that already appears in Orphic ideas.

In contrast to Hesiod, Plato distinguishes only two phases: that of the reign of Kronos, in which the conditions are optimal, and the period of decay, to which the present belongs. The two phases alternate cyclically. In the time of Kronos the world is subject to a radical divine control. The decay, the epoch of Zeus, is marked by a certain retreat of the gods; People and animals are left to their own devices. This leads to growing confusion and worse and worse mischief, until finally the highest God takes the wheel again. On the cosmic plane, the characteristics of the two phases are opposite revolutions of the universe around the earth, which forms the center of the cosmos. During the decay it is up to the people to imitate the exemplary way of life of the Kronos period as far as possible.

Plato makes several express references to Hesiod's statements about the human species named after metals. But he is not interested in the myth of the world ages. The idea of ​​classifying people according to their disposition does not relate to human species that replaced each other in a mythical past in chronological order, but to the present and the future. With the "sexes", which correspond to metals of different values, he means types of people with different talents and educational abilities that he encounters among his contemporaries. From this point of view he divides people into three groups: golden, silver and brazen or iron. Plato's mythical expression is that the Creator “mixed” some gold, the other silver, and the other iron and ore. In most cases the children correspond to their parents in this regard, but it can also happen that they belong to a different genus. According to the three-way scheme, everyone should be placed in the place they deserve based on their disposition - not their origin. In the hierarchical order of Plato's ideal state, every citizen belongs to one of the three classes (ruler, guardian, worker). The ruling role belongs to the status of the "golden" persons. In the ideal state, they rule alone and are sharply demarcated from the other two classes. Mixing of classes leads to conflict and calamity.

Aristotle already attests to a metaphorical use of the term. He reports that the Athenians, in retrospect, transfigured the epoch of the tyranny of Peisistratos (6th century BC) as the time of "life under Kronos", as they later fared much worse. Aristotle's pupil Dikaiarch tried to prove Hesiod's account as believable by tracing the conditions in the era of the golden sex back to natural causes that arose from the living conditions at that time. For example, people were healthy because they did not have to work hard physically and because they ate a moderate diet. There was no reason to wage war because there was no property to argue about. Following a widespread opinion, Dikaiarch assessed the introduction of agriculture as a sacrilege against nature. Dikaiarch's life on the basis of what nature provides by itself is not characterized by abundance and opulence, as was the case with Hesiod, but on the contrary, which he evaluates positively, as it is beneficial to health.


The Cynics also joined in the praise of prehistoric times, when there were no civilizations . They idealized the mythical original state remote from civilization according to their ascetic, civilization-hostile ideal of life. In doing so, they emphasized the aspect of humankind's initial frugality. They said that the later innovations (urban structure, use of fire, technology) had no use, but only led to effeminacy, luxury and conflict.

Arat and the translators and editors of his poem

In the 3rd century BC In the following years the extraordinarily influential poet Arat ( Aratos von Soloi ) presented a modified version of the myth in his didactic poem Phainomena . The poem was read in schools and was familiar to many generations of students in the Greek-speaking world until the Byzantine period.

At Arat, the age of the golden sex is marked by the constant presence of the goddess of justice Dike . Dike lives on earth and meets mortals face to face. She exercises rule, cares for the needs of the people and ensures justice is upheld. Life is simple, violent conflicts are unknown. In contrast to Hesiod and Plato, Arat already let the golden sex do agriculture with plow animals, so even then a considerable effort was required to obtain food. The diet is still purely vegetarian and no animals are killed. Above all, the slaughter of the plowed bull is unimaginable; it was a sacrilege that only arose much later in the period of the worst moral decline. Arat emphasizes the contrast between this self-sufficient, frugal and completely peaceful way of life on the one hand and seafaring and trade, which came up later, on the other. In the following epoch of the silver family, Dike retreats to the mountains. Since she is dissatisfied with the behavior of people, she greatly reduces her dealings with them, rebukes them sharply and heralds future disaster. The epoch of the brazen race follows, when swords are forged and robbery, murder and war arise. In the face of these conditions, Dike leaves earth and leaves humanity to its fate.

Arat's work was also read in Rome. Cicero made a literal translation into Latin, Germanicus a free one, which enriched the Greek material with Roman ideas and terms. Germanicus leaves out the agriculture assumed by Arat for the Golden Age, with him, as in the oldest versions of the myth, the earth covers the food needs of people without their intervention. An even more free adaptation of Arat's poem comes from the late antique poet Avienus , who partly follows the version of Germanicus. Avienus particularly emphasizes the motif of the then unknown seafaring. For him, the frugality and honesty of the people of the Golden Age stand in sharp contrast to the greed and deceit of the merchants in the later decay, when the luxury addiction stimulated by long-distance trade takes over. In the Golden Age, there is still no private land ownership. Avienus uses the myth to propagate a stoically tinged Roman doctrine of virtue.


The festival of Kronia was celebrated in honor of Kronos, but little is known about its origin and significance. The Kronia corresponded to the extremely popular celebrations of Saturnalia in Rome . The Saturnalia belonged to the cult of the Italian god Saturn . Saturn has traditionally been identified with Kronos. Therefore, the Golden Age, in which Kronos ruled the world, was also called Saturnia regna ("rule of Saturn") in Latin . According to Roman mythology, Jupiter , Saturn's son and successor, has been guiding the cosmos since the end of the Golden Age . Jupiter corresponds to the Greek Zeus.

A main feature of Saturnalia and at least from the 2nd century BC BC also the Kronia was the temporary abolition of the social order. Slaves dined with their masters or were even served by them. Exuberance and abundant wine consumption facilitated sexual contacts. The historian Pompeius Trogus and the late antique scholar Macrobius believed that the freedom of movement practiced during the festival should be a reminder of the egalitarian conditions in the mythical prehistoric times under Saturn. The assumption that there is actually a connection between the myth and the Saturnalia festival as well as the Greek Kronia is considered plausible in research.

Poet of the Augustan period

Famous Roman poets of the Augustan period address the contrast between the Golden Age and later epochs.


The beginning of the verses about the Golden Age of Lazio in a late antique manuscript by Virgil's Aeneid ( Vergilius Romanus )

In the Aeneid , Virgil presents a motif that supplements and at the same time modifies the traditional notion of the Gold Age : He lets Saturn, who was disempowered by Jupiter, flee to Lazio . There the refugee takes over the rule and helps the population to a regional golden age. This heyday is marked by peace, but also by the need for agricultural labor and legislation, because the paradisiacal global golden age is over. The Saturn-shaped epoch in the history of Lazio later ended with a new, ill-disposed family. This variant of the myth links the idea of ​​the golden age with agriculture, which Virgil does not share in the earlier mythical tradition of disdain. In his general glorification of peasant life as an ideal form of existence, the poet makes use of some echoes of the myth of an ideal epoch in the distant past. He thinks that traces of the customs of that time have remained in rural life up to the present day. The Golden Age of Lazio differs from the universal Golden Age of the Hesiodic tradition in that it is not the first era. Rather, the regional golden age in Lazio was preceded by an epoch of primitive life and crude customs. With its intervention, Saturn eliminates the initial barbarism. He brings people who were previously scattered together, arranges their coexistence and thus initiates the formation of a social association. The legend of Saturn's exile in Italy goes back to a story by the Greek writer Euhemeros , which Ennius had translated into Latin.


The Roman poet Tibullus (1st century BC) wistfully describes the idyllic conditions that existed when Saturn still ruled the world. Tibullus names the traditional characteristics: the absence of agriculture, land ownership and the greed for profit that later led to seafaring and long-distance trade, as well as general innocence, carefree and non-violence. The poet contrasts the blessed existence of that time with fear and need in the war-filled times under Jupiter's rule. In another context, without direct reference to the myth of the age, Tibullus mentions that the “ancients” (people of primeval times) ate acorns and “loved one another”, that is, practiced free eroticism. Tibullus contemporary Properz, however, is of the opinion that women were still chaste and loyal when Saturn ruled.

Tibullus' idealization of primeval times is not the expression of a consistently represented worldview, but of a mood that temporarily prevailed in him; he has also written poems in which he appreciates the emergence of culture as progress.


Another famous poet, Horace , picks out a particular aspect. According to his account, the people of the Golden Age of Jupiter have been transported to realms of bliss that are on distant islands. There they continue to live in paradisiacal conditions (abundant food without farm work, no epidemics and harmful animals, optimal climate). Hesiod had assigned this fate to the heroes of the fourth generation, who had been transferred by Zeus to the "islands of the blessed" on the edge of the earth. Horace transfers the motif of survival in the kingdom of the blessed islands to the first generation.


In the first years of the first century the Roman poet Ovid gave the myth of Hesiod a new, memorable shape. In the first book of his Metamorphoses , he begins the glorification of the Golden Age with the famous words Aurea prima sata est aetas ... (“The first was the Golden Age”). The term aurea aetas for the Golden Age, which has been used since then in addition to the expression aurea saecula or aureum saeculum , which was more common in antiquity , is not documented before Ovid.

Ovid's Golden Age has no laws and law enforcement officers, fear and punishment. Everyone does what is right without coercion and keeps his word. The characteristics quoted by the poet are the traditional ones: an earth that by itself satisfies all food needs, hence no agriculture; complete peace among people as well as between people and animals, vegetarian diet, cattle breeding only for milk production; general frugality, carefree, and innocence; no seafaring and no contact with foreign peoples. The ruler of this paradisiacal world is Saturn. A special feature in Ovid's description is the motif of eternal spring, which enables life in the open air. Ovid is the first poet to cite the always balanced climate as a characteristic of the Golden Age; in the history of myth it is only attested to by Plato.

With the fall of Saturn, who was overthrown by his son Jupiter, the Silver Age began. It brings the first deterioration: Since the change of the seasons sets in, housing is required, the food supply is only possible with agriculture. In the later ages the decline continues and the living conditions become increasingly unfavorable. At first there is a willingness to use violence, later a criminal attitude arises. It was not until the Iron Age, the last and worst of the times, that private land ownership was introduced and the exploitation of natural resources began. Ovid's boasting description of the exemplary customs of the mythical prehistoric times also serves as an indirect critique of the present.


In the tragedy Octavia , falsely attributed to Seneca , an unknown Roman poet of the 1st century presents a version of the myth of the age of the ages, which reveals the influence of Arat and, above all, Ovid and at the same time is based on stoic ideas. The philosopher and statesman Seneca appears in the play and holds a monologue in which he deals with the cosmic cycle of the creation and decline of the world. He represents the ideal original state and the periods of decay since then without recourse to the common metal names. With every end of the world degenerate humanity is destroyed, with every creation of the world a new humanity arises. The cosmic new beginning is the beginning of a new rule of Saturn, on whose behalf the goddess of justice Justitia takes over the control of the earth. Guns, walled cities, wars and private property are still unknown. The decline begins in the second age. Hunting, fishing and agriculture are only introduced in the fourth and last age, the final phase of the breakdown. Then the end of the world follows and after it a new golden age.

Sibylline Oracle

In the first book of the Sibylline Oracle , a theory of the ages is presented in which biblical ideas dominate, but Hesiodic motifs also play an important role. It describes a sequence of sexes that begins with Adam and Eve . The first five generations lived before the flood , the sixth follows immediately after the flood. As with Hesiod, people of the first sex initially led a carefree life that ended with a death that was like falling asleep. They were long-lived and loved by God. However, they later fell into sin and their customs became criminal. Eventually God intervened, destroyed them and created a new, second generation that invented agriculture and seafaring. All the antediluvian generations perished because of their sinfulness, after which God created a new generation. The Sibyl, who appears as the author of the prophecy, presents herself as a member of the sixth sex, which began with Noah and is expressly referred to as "golden". It corresponds to the "golden generation" of Hesiod. As with Hesiod, in the sibylline version the people of this world age do not age and are always healthy, the earth provides for their nourishment by itself and when they die they fall asleep peacefully. You have contact with Zebaot , the biblical god; Kronos rules as king. According to the prophecy of the Sibyl, the era of the titans follows the age of the golden sex.

Late antiquity

In the early 4th century, the church father Laktanz studied the myth of the Golden Age and reinterpreted it in Christian terms. He grants the representations of the pagan poets a certain truthfulness even within the framework of the Christian doctrine of salvation history . He believes that the poets correctly recognized that there was once an epoch in which justice reigned and only the one true God was worshiped. At that time there were no wars or other violent clashes, weapons were unknown and people were free from malice and greed. Although there were private property, the property owners were generous and had benevolently provided for the needs of the poor. The ruler of the Golden Age, Saturn, is not a god at Laktanz, but a human king.

The fall of Saturn, who was dethroned by his own son Jupiter, put an end to the Golden Age and brought about all the evils of the following times, for now the cult of the true God was extinguished. With the downfall of right worship, there was inevitably the disappearance of justice and solidarity and the rise of vices and crimes. In Jupiter, Laktanz sees a criminal person who allowed himself to be worshiped as a god, which eventually led to the introduction of polytheism , since Jupiter's descendants also received divine worship.

In keeping with pagan lore, Laktanz believes that the dire conditions of his presence will only get worse in the future. This will be the case to such an extent that one will judge the present time in retrospect as "happy and almost golden" in comparison with the future epoch of hopeless evil.

The Neo-Platonist Proklos († 485) interprets Hesiod's myth of the age of the world as a didactic device with which timeless facts are classified in the context of a chronologically structured narrative. Proclus thinks that Hesiod wants to refer to the divine in man with the description of a golden race that leads a life like the gods.

In his Consolatio philosophiae in the early 6th century, Boethius describes the Golden Age as a happy time of frugality and peace, following the example of the widespread representations of Roman poets. He expresses the desire to return to the customs of the time and deplores the greed that stands in the way.

The golden age as the present or the dawning future

The notion that one's own generation is allowed to experience the beginning of a new Golden Age runs counter to the traditional expectation of further deterioration. What is meant is either mythically a return of the original Golden Age after the end of a cycle or metaphorically a happy time of peace. The optimistic assumption that cultural decline has passed its lowest point contradicts the cultural pessimism of the conventional form of the myth of the age of the world.


The end of the fourth eclogue in a late antique manuscript by Vergils Bucolica ("Vergilius Romanus")

The idea of ​​the return of paradisiacal conditions in the present appears for the first time in antiquity in Virgil, in the famous fourth eclogue . There the poet proclaims the dawn of a new era, beginning with the birth of a mysterious boy, which will replace the previous iron epoch. The virgin (goddess of justice) returns, Saturn takes over again. The new era should bear typical characteristics of the mythical golden age: abundance of blessings from nature, animal peace , an earth that provides all the food it needs and thus the elimination of agriculture, seafaring and trade. These details show that this was not meant metaphorically but concretely. In another context, the poet later explicitly mentions the then reigning Emperor Augustus as the one who brought about a new golden age.

Virgil used the adjective "golden" for the first time to designate not only a human species (the "golden sex") that lived at a certain time, but also the age as such ( aurea saecula ). Only then does the term "golden age", which has been used in Latin literature since Virgil and which the Greek sources do not know, appear.

Propaganda and ridicule

Following Virgil's model, the term “golden age” was used in the Roman imperial era as part of the praise of the ruler ( panegyric ) and the imperial self-portrayal to glorify the splendor of one's own time and the success of the reigning emperor. Already at the beginning of Nero's reign , Seneca proclaimed in his satire Apocolocyntosis the establishment of a new golden age by the young ruler. The poet Calpurnius Siculus , a follower of Nero, extols the Golden Age ( aurea aetas ), which thanks to Nero is "reborn"; Saturn's rule is renewed, the people return to the old customs, the war disappears completely. In the second of the anonymously transmitted “Einsiedler Gedichte”, also from the Neronian period, the present “golden rule” is mentioned; the days of Saturn have returned, the old manners are back, one lives carefree and non-violent, predators like tigers and lions become tame livestock. The uncultivated earth bears fruit in abundance, but agriculture and seafaring have not been abolished. The alignment of the present with the mythical past is so exaggerated in this poem that some researchers suspect it is a parody directed against the emperor and the Nero panegyric.

Imperial propaganda took up the motif. Emperor Hadrian had coins minted with the inscription Saeculum aureum (“Golden Age”), which referred to his time. Emperor Commodus officially called his reign the "golden Commodian age".

The idea of ​​a return of the Golden Age in the present met with scornful criticism. Ovid wrote in his "Art of Love" that the present times are truly golden, because gold gives you love and highest offices. The vernacular scoffed at Emperor Tiberius , saying that he had ended Saturn's Golden Age and that the Iron Age would last as long as he lived.

Late antiquity

In his description of the future millennial kingdom of Christ, the church father Laktanz claims that what the poets say was the case in the Golden Age under the rule of Saturn. Lactant is the common characteristics: The undeveloped earth produces abundant fruit, the predators become peaceful, agriculture, seafaring and long-distance trade are abolished, the people lead a very quiet and lush life. To this end, Laktanz invokes Virgil's fourth eclogue, which he cites, and the Sibyl's oracles.

Panegyrists certify emperors like Diocletian and Constantine the Great a restoration of the golden age. The court poet Claudian describes the imminent reign of Emperor Honorius , son and successor of Theodosius I , as the Golden Age. In Claudian's poem In Rufinum , the goddess of justice Justitia prophesies that under Honorius the paradisiacal conditions of the mythical prehistoric times will return without agriculture and private property.

Bust of the Emperor Probus in the Capitoline Museums , Rome

The glorifying biography of the emperor Probus , who reigned from 276 to 282, in the late antique Historia Augusta culminates in the claim that Probus “promised a golden age”. If this ruler had not been murdered after just a few years of reign, he would have achieved Roman world domination and thus world peace. Then the military and tax collection to cover armament costs would have become superfluous. The human and material resources thus freed up could have been used for productive activities (agriculture, education and science, seafaring). Probus himself announced the abolition of war and military service; that's why he was killed by mutinous soldiers. With the positive evaluation of agriculture and seafaring, the unknown late antique historian who wrote this text obviously deliberately distances himself from the conventional ideal of the work-free golden age. On the other hand, he appeals to the pacifist yearning traditionally associated with the myth of the age in order to convey to the reader his fundamental criticism of the contemporary military system.

Even in the final phase of Roman statehood in the West, the dream of a dawning golden age had not lost its attractiveness. The poet Sidonius Apollinaris praised Avitus , who ruled 455–456 and one of the last emperors of the declining Western Roman Empire , in a panegyric poem in which he claimed that a new golden age began with Avitus.

Critical, alternative and differentiated positions

A distinction is made between “ascending” (ascending) and “descending” (descending) models of cultural history, depending on whether they interpret and evaluate the course of history as progress or decline. The ancient myth of the age is a prime example of the descendent type. It represents a consideration and evaluation of cultural history, which is one of the most widespread ideas of mankind. Ascendant counter-concepts and models that combine elements of both perspectives competed with him.

Idea of ​​progress

The myth of the initial Golden Age paints the picture of an ideal and normative past, from which the following period has gradually moved away through decadence . The opposite position was the ancient idea of ​​progress. It proceeded from an animal-like original state of humanity; the resulting hardship forced community building and the development of technical skills, which initiated a beneficial civilizational rise. People invented arts and techniques, or according to another view they were taught about them by divine sources. Such conceptions of the human being as a deficient being, who escaped a primitive original state through his ability to learn and rose to civilization, represented u. a. Xenophanes , Anaxagoras and Epicurus .

The end of the golden age and the beginnings of cultural history (Virgil, Georgica 1,121–140 in Codex Vergilius Augusteus )

Differentiated positions

Sometimes individual elements of the ascendant and descendent point of view are combined in the descriptions of the philosophers and poets. Some authors offer a differentiated presentation, whereby the ambivalence both of the primeval state of nature and of civilization and its consequences comes into focus.

The poet Lucretius offers a detailed, differentiated theory of the origins of culture . He emphasizes the misery of primitive people who were exposed to wild animals and lack of food and who lacked medical care. On the other hand, he also takes up elements of the civilization criticism of the age myth. In accordance with the mythical tradition, he appreciates the fact that there was no seafaring in prehistoric times as an advantage.

Virgil presents his view of cultural history in his Georgica . Although he highlights the advantages of the mythical prehistoric times in the usual way, he does not interpret the later development as a mere ominous decline. Rather, it finds meaning in Jupiter's ending of the Age of Ease. Jupiter wanted to lead mankind to the achievements of culture because he disliked the excess of inactivity that existed under Saturn. In order to stimulate human acumen, the god put an end to the paradisiacal existence and worsened the natural conditions. He created challenges by introducing predators and poisonous animals and generally making human living conditions dangerous and arduous so that hardship makes people inventive.

Ovid, who here and there ties in with Lucretius, does not take a position hostile to civilization, despite his glorification of the mythical Golden Age, but expresses himself differently on different occasions. In a number of places he expresses his positive assessment of the progress of civilization. In addition to agriculture, he particularly appreciates erotic love as a cultivating factor and development impulse in the cultural history of mankind. He emphatically affirms the refinement of morals. He rejects Virgil's idealization of rural life in early Roman times; he considers the rural way of life to be primitive. His contemporary criticism only refers to individual aspects such as the pursuit of luxury, greed for power and military violence. He values ​​moral virtues in the distant past, material achievements and refined culture in the present, although the latter aspects are more important to him overall.

Bust of Seneca in the Berlin Collection of Antiquities

Seneca values ​​"the age that is called the golden". He was convinced that there was a basic correspondence between external nature and man. Nature made available to man what corresponds to his real needs. This state of affairs only changed when greed and the unnatural desire for the superfluous arose and greed for pleasure provided the incentive for inventions. Despite his criticism of civilization, Seneca does not condemn all technical inventions. He approves of simple technical innovations that have not led to luxury. He also states that philosophy, and with it the pursuit of virtue, could only emerge after the end of the Golden Age. In Seneca's tragedy Medea , the mythical voyage of the Argonauts is the expression of the human striving for control of the sea through seafaring, the introduction of which marks the end of the primeval harmony between man and the natural order.

Mockery and condemnation of the idealized original state

There was no shortage of scoffers in ancient Greece who targeted the paradisiacal life in the Golden Age "under Kronos" in comedy. In the process, the land of milk and honey motif became independent. No longer frugality, but natural abundance and the resulting luxury and laziness were now associated with the mythical prehistoric times.

From an opposite perspective, the Roman poet Juvenal, in his sixth satire, mocked the idealization of the mythical past “under King Saturn”. According to his ironic description, the personified chastity stayed on earth at that time, but the Silver Age already brought forth the first adulterers. In the Golden Age, a cold cave offered people and their cattle common, narrow, gloomy dwelling. Husband and wife lived in the mountain forest and slept on a bed covered with leaves, stalks and furs. The woman breastfeeding her older children was an even more repulsive sight than her husband belching after the acorn meal. There was no need to fear a thief because he could only have stolen cabbage and fruit.

In his epic De raptu Proserpinae (“On the robbery of Proserpina ”), the late antique poet Claudian had Jupiter, the father of gods, convene a meeting of gods. In a speech to the assembled gods, Jupiter sharply criticizes the government of his fallen father Saturn. Here Claudian ties in with Virgil's idea of ​​a lack of challenges in the Golden Age. According to Jupiter's account, people at that time were unproductive idleness. As a result of inactivity, a decline occurred which Jupiter equates with the slackening of strength in old age. The inducement-free idleness made humanity weary, it was as it were put to sleep and numb. As the successor of Saturn, Jupiter put an end to abundance and luxury. He made sure that the grain no longer grew in uncultivated fields, but that people had to lead a worried life and make an effort. Jupiter did not act out of envy and resentment; that would be unworthy of a god, gods never harm. Rather, he saw that the clumsy, impulsive people needed a spike to tear them away from their lethargy and force them to be active. By imposing hardship on them, he forced them to develop their mental faculties and discover the hidden laws of nature. With this, Jupiter set the cultural progress in motion. By putting these explanations in the mouth of Jupiter, Claudian is reversing the values ​​of traditional myth. He turns the criticism of decadence that was customarily practiced in the post-Saturnian ages against the land of milk and honey of the golden age of Saturn. Not the last but the first age is old with him.

Comparative myth research

The oriental origin of the ancient myth

In historical research up until the second half of the 19th century, the prevailing view was that Hesiod's theory of the age of the world reflected real circumstances in the prehistory of Greece . Proponents of this view were Friedrich von Schlegel , Karl Friedrich Hermann and Johann Wilhelm Klingender. The correct counter-opinion, according to which it is a myth without a historical core, was represented by Ludwig Preller ; at that time it was still a minority position.

In the 20th century, new perspectives came to the fore, when comparative mythology and religious studies began to take up the topic and uncovered the oriental origin of the saga. Axel Olrik and Richard Reitzenstein played a pioneering role. In recent research, it has been recognized that the concept of the metal myth is of oriental origin. What is disputed, however, is the extent to which Hesiod's portrayal is an independent new creation and to what extent it depends on older legends, in particular on the Near Eastern tradition. One of Hesiod's own achievements is apparently the connection of the oriental metal myth with the ideas of the Kronos period that already existed in Greece.

Middle Eastern metal myths

The Middle Eastern traditions, like the Greek ones, follow the epoch scheme according to metals of decreasing quality. However, they are not about a completely fictional, legendary past, but rather about known historical circumstances from the 6th century BC. Chr.

In the biblical book of Daniel a (divinely inspired) dream is described in which a statue made of various metals appears. The rank of the metals decreases from top to bottom: the head is made of gold, chest and arms are silver, etc. The metals symbolize four successive world empires, the first and most important of which is the golden, the New Babylonian empire of King Nebuchadnezzar II .

In the first book of the Persian prophecy Bahman Yašt (6th century AD, but the material comes from much older tradition), a variant from Zoroastrianism is reproduced: Zarathustra sees in a dream a tree with four branches made of different metals, the stand for future great historical epochs, beginning with the golden, the early period of the Achaemenid Empire . In the golden age the true religion prevails, which also dominates in the two following epochs. Only in the fourth and last age (iron) does the breakdown of morality take place, with consequences similar to those in Greek myth. A more recent version of Persian prophecy is given in the second book of Bahman Yašt. It offers a more detailed presentation and extends the number of epochs named after metals to seven.

Far Eastern models

In India, a cyclical world age model has been the only relevant basis of the philosophy of history and culture for millennia. This basic concept has shaped the conception of history in the Vedic religion and Hinduism as well as Buddhism and Jainism . Variants of the age model have spread to China and other Far Eastern countries through Buddhism.

According to the Indian doctrine of the world ages, the world is subject to an eternal cosmic cycle in which four ages (yugas) replace one another. They are not associated with metals, but with the colors that the god Vishnu assumes in the Yugas (white, red, yellow and black). The first Yuga is the Krita Yuga ("Perfect Age", also called Satya Yuga), to which the white color belongs. In the epic Mahabharata the characteristics of this ideal epoch are given. They are similar to those of the ancient European myth: people do not need to make an effort, because their wishes are easily fulfilled; Deficiency, sickness, decline, misery, discord, envy, hatred, and treachery are unknown; There is no trade, work is unnecessary. In the following ages there is a progressive decline in abilities and decay of religion and virtues. As in ancient mythology, the last of them, the black Kali Yuga, forms the sharpest contrast to the perfect early days: hatred and criminal violence prevail.

Norse mythology

The term "gold age" also occurs in the creation story in Norse mythology . However, it is first attested in Gylfaginning , which forms the first part of the Snorra Edda ("Prosa Edda") and was written in Old Icelandic in the first half of the 13th century . In the 14th chapter the gods are portrayed as good craftsmen. It is said that they worked various materials, in addition to ore, stone and wood , especially gold, so that all their household utensils and furnishings were made of gold, and this epoch is called the gold age until it was spoiled by the arrival of certain women Jotunheim . The gold age is called gullaldr . The use of aldr instead of - as would be expected with a term of Old Norse origin - ǫld shows that the expression gullaldr does not come from a folk tale, but from a scholarly tradition . Most likely it is based on Ovid's aetas aurea . Thus, the Nordic gold age term is not of independent origin, but taken from an ancient Roman version of the gold age myth. In terms of content, however, there is no correspondence between the Gylfaginning narrative and the Middle Eastern and ancient versions of the metal myth.

Intercultural comparison and reconstruction of the original myth

In Europe, as well as in the Near and Far East, it is a mythical interpretation of history that is based on several successive world ages (or in the Middle East: empires or historical epochs). The ages are shaped by their respective human species, which differ in terms of their cultural and civilizational level. The first and best is the Golden Age or Age of the Golden Sex, to which the Krita Yuga corresponds in India. This is followed by the silver gender or age, etc. Already the second age brings a deterioration that continues later. The end is formed by the still ongoing Iron Age, by far the worst of all, with which the lowest possible level of cultural decline is reached. So it is the opposite of the idea of ​​progress. The doctrine of the ages is the mythical expression of a culture-pessimistic philosophy of history , which understands historical development primarily as a naturally necessary process of decay of culture or civilization.

The Indian doctrine of the ages does not appear in the Vedas . Like the Iranian and Jewish versions, it shows similarities with Babylonian cosmography, which indicates Babylonian origin. Hesiod's metal scheme, which came to Greece from Asia through Phoenician mediation (the extent and details of the Asian influence on Hesiod are controversial), is also of Babylonian origin. This shows an extraordinarily extensive Eurasian traditional context: One can develop a Babylonian primordial myth that contains four descending and cyclical world ages, which are symbolized by four metals. In each age one of four planetary gods rules. After the end of the world at the end of the fourth, worst age (to which the presence of the myth teller belongs), there is an abrupt return to a new golden or perfect age, with which the cycle continues. The four colors that stand for the four ages in Indian tradition have taken over the role of metals.

Hesiod's version shows some modifications compared to the original myth. In particular, the scheme of the original four metal ages has been expanded to include a fifth age, the epoch of the heroes , which is the penultimate in the chronological order. The heroic era forms a foreign body in the scheme as it is the only one that does not have a metal name and brings a certain improvement over the previous era. The annihilation and re-creation of mankind at the change of epochs is also an innovation of the variant handed down by Hesiod.

Jean-Pierre Vernant put forward a structuralist interpretation that sparked a lively debate, especially in France. According to his hypothesis, the different sexes (human species) of the chronologically consecutive mythical ages reflect a social stratification of society. Accordingly, Hesiod's golden and silver gender correspond to the rulers (the golden to the good rulers, the silver to the bad), the third and fourth gender are to be interpreted as warrior class and the fifth (iron) gender represents the producers of goods. This hypothesis is controversial.

Medieval and modern reception

In the late Middle Ages and in the early modern period , the age myth was received particularly from the perspective of the expectation or proclamation of a new golden age. It was said that such an era would soon dawn or had already begun. In retrospect, one often praised an epoch that had already ended with this name. This is a metaphorical use of the term "golden age" to characterize heyday. What is meant is an extraordinary cultural development, which in some cases coincides with political power and prosperity . In addition - mainly thanks to the very broad reception of Virgil and Ovid in the Middle Ages - the ancient myth as such was also present in the consciousness of medieval and early modern educated people.

middle Ages

The Golden Age in a 13th century book illumination (Rosenroman)

From the Carolingian era onwards , kings and emperors were first celebrated, and later also leading personalities of the church as the bringer of a golden age. In the 9th century, the poet Modoin (Muadwin) of Autun incorporated the idea of ​​a new golden age into the topic of his sovereign praise . In a poem in praise of Charlemagne, he praises the emperor as Prince of Peace, under whom the "golden rule" is restored. The wars are over, the world enjoys unity, peace and security. Modoin's role models in describing the Golden Age are Virgil, Calpurnius Siculus and Ovid. He also adopts fairytale motifs from the ancient tradition (harvest without agriculture, eradication of poverty, abolition of seafaring).

The era of Otto the Great (936–973) was perceived as the new golden age in the ruler's circle. Archbishop Brun of Cologne , a younger brother of Otto, expressed this idea in a dedicatory poem. The motif of the Golden Age also served to retrospectively characterize the government of Otto's son and successor Otto II , which was glorified as the era of peace and justice.

In the 12th century, the Benedictine Bernhard von Cluny (Bernhard von Morval ) incorporated descriptions of the Golden Age into his poems De contemptu mundi (“On contempt for the world”) and De octo vitiis (“On the eight vices”). In doing so, he is guided by common ancient ideas. He connects the description of the idyll with a lament about the present difficult times.

The fall of Saturn, which ended the Golden Age, in an illumination (rose novel), around 1400

In the 13th century, Jean de Meun repeatedly took up the theme of the Golden Age in his rose novel . He blames the culprit Jupiter for the end of this happy epoch and points to the creation of the seasons, which took the place of eternal spring, as well as the appearance of predatory and poisonous animals, the introduction of private property and the emergence of poverty. In addition to the usual characteristics of the blessed prehistoric times, he emphasizes two aspects that are particularly important to him: that there were no kings and princes at that time and that the eroticism was not affected by material considerations. When kingship was introduced with the election of the first ruler, a common fellow, which led to the emergence of the nobility, doom took its course, the cheerful and peaceful world of the primitive man was doomed. Jean therefore blames this fatal development not only on the malevolent Jupiter, but also on human folly. In the 14th century, the author of the novel Renart le Contrefait started from the interpretation of the myth in the rose novel , whereby he intensified criticism of the nobility.

In Divina commedia, Dante refers to the topic of the Golden Age several times. He connects the frugality of that time with the Christian ideal of poverty and modesty. In his description of the earthly paradise, the uppermost level of the Purification Mountain, he combines elements of the locus amoenus , the ancient Elysion and the biblical myth of the Garden of Eden and states that it is this place that the ancient poets suspected and actually meant as they celebrated life in the Golden Age.

The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer describes the Golden Age in his poem The Former Age based on the representation of Boethius.


Interpretations and evaluations of the myth in prose writing

In the 14th century, the humanist Petrarch gives back the tradition that the introduction of agriculture can be traced back to a wise king named Saturn. After his death, this ruler was worshiped as God by the grateful people. Petrarch often refers to the time of Saturn's reign.

The golden age . Woodcut by Virgil Solis , 1581

Petrarch's friend Giovanni Boccaccio describes the prehistoric times in his Latin script De mulieribus claris ("About famous women") in the chapter about the mythical Ceres , the Roman goddess of agriculture and fertility. Boccaccio considers Ceres to be a human queen who introduced agriculture and put an end to the previously practiced collecting economy of the Golden Age. He lists the advantages and disadvantages of both forms of economy. He comes to the conclusion that the conditions before the introduction of arable farming were barbaric and uncivilized. On the other hand, civilization has led to the emergence of vices and evils (private property, poverty, slavery, hatred, envy, wars, luxury and effeminacy), which are so serious that the Golden Age way of life is preferable. In another context, Boccaccio makes repeated references to the tradition of the rule of Saturn, emphasizing the simplicity and moderation of the way of life at that time. The humanist Coluccio Salutati , in his praise of asceticism and his demand for the renunciation of superfluous goods, also refers to the happy times of frugality and innocence under Saturn.

Guillaume Postel was a Renaissance humanist who dealt intensively with ancient doctrine of the age . He identified the Golden Age with the epoch that followed the Flood .

Giordano Bruno, as a staunch supporter of the ideal of progress, sharply criticized the concept of the Golden Age . He said that the way of life of the people of that time was animal or even below the level of many animal species. Only the inventions that gradually led us out of this state would have lifted humans above the animal existence.

Reference to the present in humanistic prose

It was widespread among the learned Renaissance humanists that their own time was a new golden age, or at least one was dawning. Petrarch already saw in the political reformer Cola di Rienzo , with whom he was friends and whom he admired, a renewer of the conditions prevailing in the Golden Age. The humanists used the term metaphorically in the sense of "heyday" when they wanted to characterize current conditions. They did not have in mind the ancient ideal of a naive existence without cultured natural people, but on the contrary thought of the fruits of their educational efforts or of glorious political power. In a speech to Pope Nicholas V, Poggio Bracciolini compared the upswing in science and literature with the conditions of Saturn's time. The comparison only refers to the aspect of a glamorous opulence, Poggio disregards the complete lack of education of the Golden Age according to the ancient myth. Even Ficino was convinced to live in a era Golden, which he founded with the literary and artistic achievements of the humanists. Erasmus made a similar statement about the dawning new era during his lifetime, although he did not want to establish a fact, but only to express a hope.

Jacopo Sannazaro. Painting by Titian , Royal Collection , London

Aegidius von Viterbo , an influential humanist and theologian, developed the idea of ​​a Christian Golden Age. In doing so, he relied on ideas from Virgil and Laktanz. In 1507 he gave a speech on this subject in which he stated that the Christian Golden Age could now be fully realized thanks to the achievements of King Manuel I of Portugal and Pope Julius II , of whom he was a contemporary. Later, in his Historia XX saeculorum , Aegidius transferred the expectation of a new golden age to the pontificate of Pope Leo X, who was elected in 1513 .

Italian poetry

Poets around the politician and patron Lorenzo il Magnifico, who dominated Florence in the late 15th century, praised him as the originator of a golden age. Lorenzo saw himself in this role and referred in his own poetry to the renewal of the “earthly paradise” of the golden age.

The poet Jacopo Sannazaro (1458–1530) added eclogues in his shepherd novel Arcadia , which became exemplary for modern pastoral poetry . In the sixth eclogue, following on from Virgil’s fourth eclogue, he lets the old shepherd Opico praise the Golden Age. At that time the gods were shepherds themselves, they drove the sheep to pasture and sang shepherds' songs. The nostalgic portrayal of the circumstances at that time, combined with a complaint about the present, offers the familiar antique motifs, including the eternal spring, and as an additional element freedom of love : There was no jealousy. This erotic aspect is only dealt with in six verses, but it was of central importance to the poet. In ancient times, it was not yet one of the common features of the Golden Age.

Torquato Tasso. Detail from an oil painting by Federico Zuccari , 1594, private collection

In his shepherd's play Aminta, which premiered in 1573 , Torquato Tasso emphasizes the idea of ​​freedom of love even more . With the verse O bella età dell'oro (“O beautiful golden age”) Tasso introduces his portrayal, which is linked to Sannazaros Arcadia . The Golden Age was beautiful, but not because of its traditionally praised advantages (eternal spring, abundance of food, non-violence and carefree, etc.), but solely because the term “honor”, ​​an empty word without content, an idol of error and deception, with its harsh, tyrannical coercion, was still unknown. With this, Tasso means that no restrictive sexual morality has yet inhibited the enjoyment of love. Rather, the "golden and happy law" of nature applied, according to which what is allowed is allowed.

Giovanni Battista Guarini published the tragic comedy Il pastor fido in 1590 , in which he presented an alternative to Tasso's ideal. In this play, the people of the Golden Age have customs that correspond to Christian moral concepts. As early as the 15th century, Angelo Poliziano had held the opinion that love was still unknown in the Golden Age.

The scholar Naldo Naldi, who wrote poetry in neo-Latin language, held the myth of the Golden Age to be a lie, represented a completely different view. He believed that all the evils of the Iron Age existed in primeval times.

French and English poetry

The French poet Jean-Antoine de Baïf († 1589) deals with the theme of the golden age of peace under Saturn several times. In addition to the idealization of the mythical past, he hopes for a new golden age. In his collection of poems, L'amour de Francine, there is the sonnet Que le siecle revinst de celle gent dorée (“May the epoch of this golden generation return”), in which he expresses his longing for the erotic freedom of the golden age. Pierre de Ronsard addresses this nostalgia in the shepherd's songs of his first Eclogue, where the shepherd Navarrin first glorifies the blissful, innocent and peaceful life in the mythical prehistoric times and expresses his longing for these conditions, whereupon another shepherd, Guisin, the return of the Golden Age in the presence of France, under the reign of King Charles IX. (1560–1574), announces.

In England, the poet Edmund Spenser, in his epic The Faerie Queene , contrasts the golden age of Saturn old with his own “stone”, in which, according to his judgment, people have turned into the hardest stone. In Saturn's epoch people were "triple happy", because there were still no possessions, no difference between "mine and yours". Samuel Daniel draws on Tasso's ideal of freedom of love , whose poem A Pastorall ( O happy golden age ) is an English version of Tasso's famous verses.

Visual arts

Around 1530 Lucas Cranach the Elder created the painting The Golden Age , which is now in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. The court painter of the ruler Cosimo I de 'Medici , who ruled the Grand Duchy of Tuscany , Giorgio Vasari , painted a cycle of frescoes The Ages of Man in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence . Three paintings by Jacopo Zucchi from around 1570/1580 depict the Golden, Silver and Iron Ages (today in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence). It is unclear which artist created the erotic painting The Golden Age in the late 16th century , which - perhaps wrongly - is attributed to Agostino Carracci and is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Hendrick Goltzius and Maerten de Vos were among the painters and draftsmen who chose the subject of the Golden Age in the 16th century .

17th and 18th centuries

In the early 17th century, Miguel de Cervantes took up the concept propagated by Sannazaro and Tasso of an impartial, fear-free interaction between the sexes in the Golden Age. In Don Quixote , he has the protagonists praise goatherds in praise of the happy times "which the ancients called the golden". At that time there was no sexual intrusiveness, and eroticism was only dependent on the inclination and free will of those involved and was not subject to any external coercion. The "knight of the sad figure" also describes as a prerequisite for being able to perceive an age as "golden", that the hungry stomach of the human being must be satisfied and that everything can be shared unselfishly. He attaches no importance to the wealth of gold. Miguel de Cervantes regards his own time as "iron".

The English writer Thomas Heywood wrote four dramas about the four metal ages. "The Golden Age" was published in 1611. The theme is not the mythical time of peace, but the life of Jupiter until his victorious battle against his father Saturn.

Secondo Lancellotti, who made a name for himself as a critic of an undifferentiated humanistic enthusiasm for antiquity, emerged in 1623 as an advocate of the view that apart from biblical paradise there had never been a golden age, rather that it was a matter of the poets' fantasies. There is a complete lack of evidence for historicity. The human mind generally tends to idealize the past. In reality, cultural history is a history of progress and the present is superior to the past.

The state theorist Thomas Hobbes († 1679) explained the state of peace in the Golden Age by stating that the authority of the rulers at that time was unchallenged. In the mythical fall of Saturn, he saw a parable for the emergence of a rebellious spirit and the overthrow of the established order, which gave rise to innumerable evils.

The history philosopher Giambattista Vico dealt intensively with the myth of the age. He rejected the traditional succession of four ages and distinguished only two: the golden, which was the era of the heroes of agriculture, and the iron, the era of the heroes of war. Saturn represents agrarian heroism. With his concept of the heroism of the people of that time, Vico distanced himself from the idea of ​​a shepherd's idyll. His student Antonio Genovesi shared this assessment .

Since the Renaissance, the familiar vocabulary from descriptions of the Golden Age has been used to describe the customs of indigenous peoples . The issue of community of property in particular provided the occasion. In some fictional travel reports from exotic countries, the environment and way of life of "wild" peoples was described, which sometimes offered an opportunity to compare with the golden age. The missionary Joseph François Lafitau published a two-volume work in 1724 "Morals of the American savages, compared with the customs of the first days". Similarities between the mythical past and the exotic present described in the travelogues were virtue and frugality, the community of goods, the quiet life, the mild climate and the opulence of nature.

Salomon Gessner. Oil painting by Anton Graff , 1765/66, Swiss National Museum , Zurich

Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that the original state of humanity was on the one hand a time of “barbarism”, but on the other hand it was also the Golden Age ( le siècle d'or ). Initially, people did not lead a frugal life, but rather as solitary hunters and shepherds. It was only later that social rapprochement and the formation of family associations came about; For Rousseau, this first phase of social development constitutes the completion of the happy primeval times, the era of innocence and peace. However, it was followed by the corruption of morals that has continued up to the present day. Rousseau believed that the bliss of the Golden Age had always escaped people. When the ideal state of nature still persisted, the people living at the time were not aware of it, so they misunderstood it. Later, when enlightened humanity had lost their original innocence, they missed the opportunity to experience the happiness that came with it.

In the 18th century the theme of the Golden Age often merged with that of the shepherd's life in the dreamland Arcadia . In his Idylls, published in 1756 and later also popular in French translation, Salomon Gessner described the shepherd's existence in the Golden Age. He considered this epoch to be a historical reality. Gessner's virtuous shepherds live in harmony with the lovely nature that surrounds them, their lives are calm and happy, without high points and tensions. Poets who glorified the Golden Age in a conventional style included Pietro Metastasio and Giuseppe Parini . Parini particularly emphasized the egalitarian character of primitive society, in which there was no nobility.

In 1759, the Protestant theologian Friedrich Christoph Oetinger published the first version of his work “Die Güldene Zeit”, in which he made use of the ancient myth for the future millennium of Christ. Like Laktanz, he merged the pagan expectation of salvation with the Christian expectation. As part of his concept of salvation history, he expected the dawn of a golden age in the 19th century and predicted that in this happy time the social order would be democratic. Private property would be abolished and community of property introduced. There will also be the abolition of money and the "abolition of the state". With these ideas, Oetinger anticipated Marxist ideas.

Frans Hemsterhuis ( lithograph )

The Dutch philosopher Frans Hemsterhuis published a dialogue in 1782 with the title Alexis ou de l'âge d'or ("Alexis or About the Golden Age"). Alexis, who doubts the truth of Hesiod's account, talks to Diocles, who tries to prove that Hesiod did not lie. Diocles takes the position of the author. A natural-historical explanation is offered for the loss of the bliss of primeval times: originally days and nights were the same, there were no seasons, but rather stable, uniformly favorable weather conditions. Only when the moon came closer to the earth did the position of the earth's axis change. This marked the end of the paradisiacal climate and thus also of the carefree living conditions. Now people would no longer have perceived the rule of a gracious God in natural phenomena, but saw in the new heavenly body, the moon, the image of a malevolent God of destruction and darkness.

For the future, Hemsterhuis expected a new golden age, but not in the sense of a return to the original state of nature, but as a higher stage of human development. The cultural achievements should be preserved and combined with a natural way of life. Hemsterhuis believed that the future golden age would be infinitely superior to that of the ancient poets.

Immanuel Kant expressed fundamental criticism of the glorification of the Golden Age from the perspective of a follower of the idea of ​​progress. He said that an empty longing had created the shadow of the mythical primeval society. The attractive thing about the myth is the pure enjoyment of a carefree life, dreamy in laziness or messed up with childish play . In reality, however, a person can neither be satisfied with such a state nor return to it. Those who seek the value of life only in enjoyment will get tired of civilization and thus the futile desire to return to that time of simplicity and innocence .

In his play Torquato Tasso , published in 1790, Goethe put a description of the Golden Age in the protagonist's mouth, which reproduces the core content of the choral song from Tasso's Aminta in sixteen verses.

Friedrich Schiller agreed with Kant's negative judgment about the idealization of the Golden Age. He sharply opposed the ideal proposed by Rousseau. According to Schiller's argument, if the original innocence and happiness had continued, humanity would have remained in a state of eternal childhood; man would have become nothing more than the happiest of all animals, living in a voluptuous calm and spiritless monotony . Schiller believed that the shepherd's poetry instilled in the reader the sad feeling of loss, not the happy feeling of hope. He also wrote a poem, The Four Ages, which echoes his aversion to the time of Saturn. In this sense, Fichte also took a position in 1794 in his dispute with Rousseau. He thought the golden age of myth was a mirage; a real golden time can only lie in the future. Such a future can only be approached through care, effort and work; natural indolence must be overcome. The man of the "natural state" is an unreasonable animal; vice does not exist there, but at the same time virtue and reason are abolished.

The golden age . Painting by Joachim Wtewael, 1605, Metropolitan Museum of Art , New York

Criticism of the Golden Age in line with the ideas of Kant, Fichte and Schiller was also expressed in the romantic circle. So wrote August Wilhelm Schlegel 1798: The illusion of a past golden age is one of the biggest obstacles to the approach of the golden time is yet to come. ... If the golden age does not want to persist forever, it may prefer not to begin at all, it is only good for elegies about its loss. Novalis , a leading writer of early Romanticism, whose favorite ideas included the future Golden Age, thought similarly in that he likewise did not want a return to a static ideal in the sense of ancient myth. He expected new conditions that would be characterized by a never-ending dynamic. In the last decade of the 18th century Novalis developed his concept of an ongoing approach to perfection in the future golden age. In the context of temporality, perfection is in principle unattainable, but without the principle of perfection, humanity would not be humanity. The necessity of a golden future follows from the inherent validity of this principle. For Novalis, a central feature of the ancient and future Golden Age is the unity of nature and the embedding of man in this unity. In the process of finding one another between man and nature, he assigns the poets an important role, as they are able to feel and articulate what is essential.

The golden age . Fresco by Pietro da Cortona, 1637,
Palazzo Pitti , Florence

The subject of the Golden Age was popular in the visual arts in the 17th and 18th centuries. The painters and draftsmen who created relevant representations included Johannes Rottenhammer , Joachim Wtewael , Frans Francken the Younger, Cornelis van Haarlem , Pietro da Cortona , Charles Le Brun , Johann Heinrich Schönfeld and Luca Giordano , in the 18th century Pierre Charles Trémolières , Edmé Bouchardon , Joseph Anton Koch and Asmus Jakob Carstens .

Composers also took up the subject. Reinhard Keizer composed an opera Die Wiederkehr der Güldenen Zeit , which premiered in 1699. By Johann Mattheson , the opera comes Le retour du siècle d'or ( "The Return of the Golden Age," premiered in 1705). Michel Corrette created the ballet Les âges ("The Ages"), the score of which was published in Paris in 1733.

In the orangery culture of the 17th and 18th centuries with its staging of citrus fruits in the garden, the bitter orange was considered the "golden apple" and served as a symbol of the golden age, which was characterized by peace, fertility and abundance.

19th and 20th centuries

Hegel believes the idea of ​​a golden age is completely wrong. According to his judgment it is a limited way of life which presupposes a lack of development of the spirit . The mere coexistence with nature cannot satisfy people, it bores them. One must not live in such idyllic poverty of spirit , but must work and have higher instincts . The appreciation of the primitive state is based on a superficial idea and a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the mind . A perfection is idealized that is not based on reason and morality, but on the as yet undivided unity of thinking and feeling.

Giacomo Leopardi assesses the Golden Age positively in the context of his criticism of civilization. He is convinced that there was such an era. It was a happy time, since those who were alive at the time could indulge in their naive illusions, carefree with oppressive knowledge.

The golden age . Painting by John LaFarge, 1878–1879, Smithsonian American Art Museum , Washington, DC

In the 20th century, the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch sees a future classless society as the realization of the Golden Age. He writes that Marxism is somehow without an inheritance, least of all without that of the original intention: the golden age; but Marxism [...] takes the fairy tale seriously, the dream of the golden age in practice .

The painters and draftsmen who took up the subject in the 19th century included George Frederic Watts , Antoine Wiertz , Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres , William Bouguereau , Edward John Poynter , Hans Thoma , John LaFarge and Hans von Marées , in the 20th Century Léon Frédéric , André Derain , Henri Matisse (painting La joie de vivre or Le bonheur de vivre ), Émile-René Ménard and Maurice Denis .

Modern metaphorical use of terms

Cultural and political heyday

The best-known example of the modern metaphorical use of terms is the Siglo de Oro , an epoch of Spanish history in the 16th and 17th centuries. In Portugal , the time of King Manuel I (1495–1521) is considered the Golden Age. The golden age of Belarus is a heyday that began in the 14th century and lasted into the 16th century, the golden age of the Netherlands a cultural and economic heyday in the 17th century. The cultural bloom of this country in the first half of the 19th century is called Denmark's Golden Age . Furthermore, the term "Golden Age of Pericles " has become established for a glamorous epoch in the ancient history of Athens .

Periods of economic history

In economic theory , the British economist Joan Robinson speaks in her work The Accumulation of Capital (1956) of different types of "golden ages", by which she means paths of equilibrium growth ( growth theory ).

Is for periods of economic boom or prosperity alongside terms such as " Golden Twenties years" and "Golden Sixties" sometimes the term "Golden Age" is used, for example, for the long global postwar boom after the Second World War, which with the first oil crisis came to an end .

The heyday of individual cultural phenomena and art forms

In modern parlance, the term “golden age” is often used in the sense of a heyday of just a single phenomenon or a specific art form. What is meant is that the appearance or art form in question reached its completion or its greatest effect at that time. For example, one speaks of a golden age of bel canto , tango , jazz and comics . The English term Golden Age has also become established for an epoch of science fiction literature .


  • Rhiannon Evans: Utopia antiqua. Readings of the Golden Age and Decline in Rome . Routledge, London 2008, ISBN 978-0-415-27127-1
  • Bodo Gatz: Age of the world, golden age and related ideas . Olms, Hildesheim 1967 ( Spudasmata 16; also dissertation Tübingen 1964)
  • Klaus Kubusch: Aurea Saecula: Myth and History. Investigation of a motif in ancient literature up to Ovid. Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1986, ISBN 3-8204-9802-8 ( Studies in Classical Philology 28; also Dissertation Marburg 1986)
  • Hans-Joachim Mähl : The idea of ​​the golden age in the work of Novalis. Studies to determine the essence of the early romantic utopia and its preconditions for the history of ideas . 2nd edition, Niemeyer, Tübingen 1994, ISBN 3-484-10212-8 (contains a general description of the history of the idea of ​​the Golden Age since antiquity)
  • Hans Schwabl : Age of the world . In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Supplement volume 15, Druckermüller, Munich 1978, Sp. 783-850
  • Walter Veit: Studies on the history of the topos of the golden age from antiquity to the 18th century . Dissertation Cologne 1961

Web links

Commons : Golden Age  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Hesiod, Werke und Tage 109–126; see. 90-92.
  2. Hesiod, Werke and Tage 127-200.
  3. Bodo Gatz: Weltalter, goldene Zeit and synonymous ideas , Hildesheim 1967, p. 52f.
  4. Otto Kern (Ed.): Orphicorum fragmenta , Berlin 1922, pp. 186f. (Nos. 139-141). See Bodo Gatz: Weltalter, goldene Zeit und synonymous ideas , Hildesheim 1967, p. 52f.
  5. Plato, Nomoi 782c-d.
  6. For details, see Denis O'Brien: Empedocles: A Synopsis . In: Georg Rechenauer (Ed.): Frühgriechisches Denk , Göttingen 2005, pp. 316–342, here: 323–342.
  7. Empedokles, Fragment 128, text and translation in Geoffrey S. Kirk, John E. Raven, Malcolm Schofield (eds.): Die vorsokratischen Philosophen , Stuttgart 2001, p. 349f.
  8. Plato, Politikos 269a-274e; Nomoi 713a-e.
  9. On the motif of animal peace see Bodo Gatz: Weltalter, goldene Zeit und synonymous ideas , Hildesheim 1967, pp. 171–174.
  10. See also Klaus Kubusch: Aurea Saecula , Frankfurt am Main 1986, pp. 31–34.
  11. Plato, Kratylos 397e-398b; Politeia 468e-469a and 546d-547b.
  12. Plato, Politeia 415a-c and 546d-547c.
  13. Aristotle, Athenaion politeia 16.7.
  14. ^ Franz Lämmli: Homo faber: Triumph, Guilt, Doom? , Basel 1968, pp. 45f., 115; Klaus Kubusch: Aurea Saecula , Frankfurt am Main 1986, pp. 47-54; Reimar Müller : The discovery of culture , Düsseldorf 2003, pp. 271–280.
  15. See also Klaus Kubusch: Aurea Saecula , Frankfurt am Main 1986, pp. 55–57. Cf. Franz Lämmli: Homo faber: Triumph, guilt, doom? , Basel 1968, pp. 34–41 and Bodo Gatz: Weltalter, goldene Zeit and synonymous ideas , Hildesheim 1967, p. 160.
  16. Arat, Phainomena 100-136.
  17. Germanicus, Arati phaenomena 103-119.
  18. Avienus, Arati phaenomena 292-317.
  19. Marcus Junianus Iustinus , Epitoma historiarum Philippicarum Pompei Trogi 43,1,3-4; Macrobius, Saturnalia 1,7,26. See Arthur O. Lovejoy , George Boas: Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity , Baltimore 1935, pp. 65-70; Siegmar Döpp : Saturnalia and Latin literature . In: Siegmar Döpp (ed.): Carnival phenomena in ancient and post-ancient cultures and literatures , Trier 1993, pp. 145–177, here: 147.
  20. ^ Walter Burkert : Kronia festivals and their ancient oriental background . In: Siegmar Döpp (Hrsg.): Carnival phenomena in ancient and post-ancient cultures and literatures , Trier 1993, pp. 11–30, here: 15.
  21. Virgil, Aeneid 8,314-327.
  22. Virgil, Georgica 2,473f. Cf. Marianne Wifstrand Schiebe: The ideal existence with Tibullus and Virgil's conception of the gold age , Uppsala 1981, pp. 44–46; Patricia A. Johnston: Virgil's Agricultural Golden Age , Leiden 1980, pp. 51f., 61-65, 69f.
  23. Jump up ↑ Bernhard Reischl: Reflexesischer Kulturverstehungslehre with Augustan poets , Augsburg 1976, pp. 22–35.
  24. See Patricia A. Johnston: Virgil's Conception of Saturnus . In: California Studies in Classical Antiquity 10, 1978, pp. 57-70.
  25. Tibullus , Carmina 1, 3, 35-52. See Marianne Wifstrand Schiebe: The ideal existence with Tibullus and Virgil's conception of the gold age , Uppsala 1981, pp. 86–91.
  26. Tibull, Carmina 2,3,73: glans aluit veteres, et passim semper amarunt . The following reference to the lack of agriculture makes it clear that we are talking about the Golden Age.
  27. Properz, Carmina 2, 32, 49-56.
  28. Horace, epodes 16.41 to 66.
  29. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.89.
  30. Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.89–112 and 15.96–103.
  31. See Hans Reynen: Eternal spring and golden time . In: Gymnasium 72, 1965, pp. 415-433.
  32. Ovid, Metamorphoses 1,113-150.
  33. Octavia 385-434. See Anthony James Boyle (Ed.): Octavia , Oxford 2008, pp. 173-181; Rolando Ferri (Ed.): Octavia. A Play attributed to Seneca , Cambridge 2003, pp. 232-248.
  34. Oracula Sibyllina 1.65-124 and 1.283-318.
  35. Laktanz, Divinae institutiones 5.5–6. See also Vinzenz Buchheit : Juppiter as a violent criminal. Lactant (inst. 5, 6, 6) and Cicero . In: Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 125, 1982, pp. 338–342; Vincent Buchheit: Golden Age and Paradise on Earth . In: Würzburger Jahrbücher für die Altertumswwissenschaft , New Series Vol. 4, 1978, pp. 161–185 and Vol. 5, 1979, pp. 219–235.
  36. Laktanz, Divinae institutiones 7,15,7.
  37. See also Thomas G. Rosenmeyer : Hesiod and the historiography . In: Ernst Heitsch (Ed.): Hesiod , Darmstadt 1966, pp. 602–648, here: 614f.
  38. Boethius, Consolatio philosophiae 2 m. 5. See Joachim Gruber : Commentary on Boethius, De consolatione Philosophiae , 2nd edition, Berlin 2006, pp. 205–209.
  39. On Virgil's idea of ​​the golden age in the fourth eclogue, see Hendrik Wagenvoort: Indo-European Paradise Motifs in Virgil's 4th Eclogue . In: Mnemosyne 15, 1962, pp. 133-145; Marianne Wifstrand Schiebe: The ideal existence with Tibullus and Virgil's conception of the gold age , Uppsala 1981, pp. 20–26.
  40. ^ Virgil, Aeneis 6, 791-805.
  41. Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 4.1.
  42. Calpurnius Siculus, Eklogen 1, 36-88.
  43. Carmina Einsidlensia 2,21-38.
  44. Dietmar Korzeniewski (ed.): Shepherd poems from Neronian times , Darmstadt 1971, pp. 4f., 115f .; Elze Kegel-Brinkgreve: The Echoing Woods , Amsterdam 1990, pp. 168f. Gerhard Binder assumes a sincere panegyric intention on the part of the poet ; see Bernd Effe , Gerhard Binder: Die antike Bukolik , Munich 1989, pp. 135–140.
  45. ^ Guadalupe López Monteagudo: Saeculum . In: Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Volume 8/1, Zurich 1997, pp. 1071-1073, here: 1072f.
  46. Cassius Dio 73.15.6; Historia Augusta : Commodus 14.3.
  47. Ovid, Ars amatoria 2,277-278. For the history of this punchline, see Bodo Gatz: Weltalter, goldene Zeit und synonymous ideas , Hildesheim 1967, p. 132f.
  48. ^ Suetonius, Tiberius 59.
  49. Laktanz, Divinae institutiones 7,24,7–7,24,15. See Stefan Freund (Ed.): Laktanz: Divinae institutiones Book 7: De vita beata. Introduction, text, translation and commentary , Berlin 2009, pp. 180–185, 551–565.
  50. Vincent Buchheit: Golden Age and Paradise on Earth . In: Würzburger Yearbooks for Classical Studies , New Series, Vol. 4, 1978, pp. 161–185, here: 183 and note 146.
  51. Claudian, In Rufinum 1,368-387; see. 1.51f. and Claudian, De consulatu Stilichonis 2,452-466.
  52. Historia Augusta : Probus 20.3–6 and 22.4–23.4. See also István Hahn : The "golden century" of Aurelius Probus . In: Klio 59, 1977, pp. 323-336.
  53. Sidonius Apollinaris, Carmina 7, 600-602.
  54. Klaus Kubusch examines the relevant sources: Aurea Saecula , Frankfurt am Main 1986, pp. 9–28, 57–59, 75–85; Franz Lämmli: Homo faber: Triumph, guilt, doom? , Basel 1968, pp. 31-33; Bodo Gatz: Weltalter, goldene Zeit and synonymous ideas , Hildesheim 1967, pp. 146–149; Eric Robertson Dodds : The thought of progress in antiquity , Zurich 1977, pp. 10-19; Bernhard Reischl: Reflexes of Greek cultural development doctrines among Augustan poets , Augsburg 1976, pp. 4–22.
  55. On such models of interpretation see Klaus Kubusch: Aurea Saecula , Frankfurt am Main 1986, pp. 44–54; Bodo Gatz: Weltalter, goldene Zeit and synonymous ideas , Hildesheim 1967, p. 156–158; Hans Schwabl: On the ancient myth and its use as a historiographical model . In: Klio 66, 1984, pp. 405-415, here: 409f.
  56. Lucretius, De rerum natura 5, 925-1457. See also Klaus Kubusch: Aurea Saecula , Frankfurt am Main 1986, pp. 59–74.
  57. Virgil, Georgica 1,118-159; 2.536-540. Klaus Kubusch: Aurea Saecula , Frankfurt am Main 1986, pp. 94-99; Marianne Wifstrand Schiebe: The ideal existence with Tibullus and Virgil's conception of the gold age , Uppsala 1981, pp. 26–41; Patricia A. Johnston: Virgil's Agricultural Golden Age , Leiden 1980, pp. 49f .; Bernhard Reischl: Reflexes of Greek culture development teachings among Augustan poets , Augsburg 1976, pp. 48–68.
  58. Klaus Kubusch: Aurea Saecula , Frankfurt am Main 1986, pp. 201–224.
  59. See also Klaus Kubusch: Aurea Saecula , Frankfurt am Main 1986, pp. 75–86; Reimar Müller: The discovery of culture , Düsseldorf 2003, pp. 408–414.
  60. See also Franz Lämmli: Homo faber: Triumph, Schuld, doom? , Basel 1968, p. 42f .; Bodo Gatz: Weltalter, goldene Zeit and synonymous ideas , Hildesheim 1967, p. 116–121; Jean Claude Carrière: Le carnaval et la politique , Paris 1979, pp. 255-270; Hans Schwabl: Age of the world . In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswwissenschaft (RE), Supplement Volume 15, Munich 1978, Sp. 783-850, here: 821f .; Arthur O. Lovejoy, George Boas: Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity , Baltimore 1935, pp. 38-41.
  61. Juvenal, Satires 6: 1-24.
  62. Claudian, De raptu Proserpinae 3, 18-32.
  63. For the interpretation of the speech see Thomas Kellner: Die Göttergestalten in Claudian's De raptu Proserpinae , Stuttgart 1997, pp. 72–83.
  64. Axel Olrik: Ragnarok. The sagas of the end of the world , Berlin 1922; Richard Reitzenstein, Hans Heinrich Schaeder : Studies on ancient syncretism from Iran and Greece , Leipzig and Berlin 1926. Bodo Gatz provides a research overview: Weltalter, goldene Zeit und syncretical ideas , Hildesheim 1967, pp. 1-6.
  65. Harold C. Baldry especially advocated the originality of Hesiod; see Harold C. Baldry: Who Invented the Golden Age? In: The Classical Quarterly New Series 2, 1952, pp. 83-92; Harold C. Baldry: Hesiod's Five Ages . In: Journal of the History of Ideas 17, 1956, pp. 553-554. Baldry's position supports Alain Ballabriga: L'invention du mythe des races en Grèce archaïque . In: Revue de l'histoire des religions 215, 1998, pp. 307–339. For the position of the opposite side, see Bodo Gatz: Weltalter, goldene Zeit und synonymous ideas , Hildesheim 1967, p. 4f., 14-16; Martin L. West (Ed.): Hesiod: Works & Days , Oxford 1978, pp. 28, 172-177.
  66. ^ Reimar Müller: The discovery of culture , Düsseldorf 2003, p. 33f.
  67. ^ Daniel 2: 31-40.
  68. Martin L. West (Ed.): Hesiod: Works & Days , Oxford 1978, pp. 174f .; Bodo Gatz: Weltalter, goldene Zeit and synonymous ideas , Hildesheim 1967, pp. 7-10.
  69. The relevant Mahabharata passages are compiled in English translation by Arthur O. Lovejoy, George Boas: Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity , Baltimore 1935, pp. 434–443. For the success of the Indian ages see Pierre Sauzeau and André Sauzeau: Le symbolisme des métaux et le mythe des races métalliques . In: Revue de l'histoire des religions 219, 2002, pp. 259–297, here: 291–293.
  70. Manfred Stange (ed.): Die Edda , Wiesbaden 2004, p. 270 ( Gylfaginning from the younger Edda, chapter 14).
  71. Gottfried Lorenz (Ed.): Snorri Sturleson: Gylfaginning , Darmstadt 1984, pp. 214f.
  72. See for a comparison of traditions and the original myth of Joseph Fontenrose: Work, Justice, and Hesiod's Five Ages . In: Classical Philology 69, 1974, pp. 1-16, here: 2-5; Mircea Eliade : The Myth of the Eternal Return , New York 1954, pp. 112-137; Bodo Gatz: Weltalter, goldene Zeit and synonymous ideas , Hildesheim 1967, p. 11–27; Eric Robertson Dodds: The thought of progress in antiquity , Zurich 1977, p. 10; Martin L. West (Ed.): Hesiod: Works & Days , Oxford 1978, pp. 172-177; Alfred Heubeck : Mythological Concepts of the Ancient Orient in Archaic Greece . In: Ernst Heitsch (Ed.): Hesiod , Darmstadt 1966, pp. 545–570, here: 547–549, 565–569.
  73. Jean-Pierre Vernant: Myth and Thought among the Greeks , New York 2006 (translation of the French original edition Paris 1965), pp. 25–112. Vernant's position is supported by Pierre Sauzeau and André Sauzeau: Le symbolisme des métaux et le mythe des races métalliques . In: Revue de l'histoire des religions 219, 2002, pp. 259–297. Critical or flatly negative have expressed, among others: Joseph Fontenrose: Work, Justice, and Hesiod's Five Ages . In: Classical Philology 69, 1974, pp. 1-16, here: 15; Michel Crubellier: Le mythe comme discours . In: Fabienne Blaise et al. (Ed.): Le métier du mythe. Lectures d'Hésiode , Lille 1996, pp. 431–463, here: 434–436.
  74. ^ Documents from Johannes Spörl : The old and the new in the Middle Ages . In: Historisches Jahrbuch 50, 1930, pp. 498-524, here: 505f.
  75. Modoin, Second Eclogue, verses 53–121. See Franz Bittner: Studies on the praise of the rulers in Middle Latin poetry , Volkach 1962, pp. 64–66.
  76. Franz Bittner: Studies on the praise of the ruler in Middle Latin poetry , Volkach 1962, pp. 128–130.
  77. Bernhard von Cluny, De contemptu mundi 2.1-104; De octo vitiis 1070-1097.
  78. Jean de Meun, Rosenroman 8353–8454, 9493–9664, 20083–20208 (counting based on the critical edition by Ernest Langlois). See František Graus : Golden Age, Zeitschelte and praise of the good old days. To nostalgic trends in the late Middle Ages . In: Gerd Wolfgang Weber (Ed.): Idea, Shape, History. Festschrift Klaus von See , Odense 1988, pp. 187–222, here: 206, 208f.
  79. See also John Flinn: Le Roman de Renart dans la littérature française et dans les littératures étrangères au Moyen Age , Paris 1963, pp. 381–384, 427–429, 437f.
  80. Dante, Divina commedia , Purgatorio 22,148f. (Collective economy); 27,134f. (the earth produces everything by itself); 28.67–147 (heavenly nature, eternal spring). On Dante's conception of the Golden Age, see Gustavo Costa: La leggenda dei secoli d'oro nella letteratura italiana , Bari 1972, pp. 4-9.
  81. On Petrarch's view, see Gustavo Costa: La leggenda dei secoli d'oro nella letteratura italiana , Bari 1972, pp. 15-20.
  82. See Gustavo Costa: La leggenda dei secoli d'oro nella letteratura italiana , Bari 1972, pp. 20-25.
  83. Garry W. Trompf: The Idea of ​​Historical Recurrence in Western Thought , Berkeley 1979, pp. 301-303.
  84. On Bruno's position see Gustavo Costa: La leggenda dei secoli d'oro nella letteratura italiana , Bari 1972, pp. 111–114.
  85. Karl Borinski: The idea of ​​world rebirth in modern times , Munich 1919, p. 50.
  86. For Ficino's position see Fritz Schalk : The golden age as an epoch . In: Archive for the Study of Modern Languages ​​and Literatures, vol. 114, vol. 199, 1963, pp. 85–98, here: 87f.
  87. On Erasmus see Fritz Schalk: The golden age as an epoch . In: Archive for the Study of Modern Languages ​​and Literatures, vol. 114, vol. 199, 1963, pp. 85–98, here: 90; Walter Veit: Studies on the history of the topos of the golden age from antiquity to the 18th century , Cologne 1961, p. 130f.
  88. See Daniel J. Nodes: Restoring the Golden Age from Lactantius (approx. 240 - approx. 325) to Egidio of Viterbo (1469–1532) . In: Studi Umanistici Piceni 20, 2000, pp. 221-236.
  89. Garry W. Trompf: The Idea of Historical Recurrence in Western Thought , Berkeley 1979, p 299f.
  90. ^ Ernst Gombrich : Norm and Form , London 1966, p. 31f. Cf. Harry Levin: The Myth of the Golden Age in the Renaissance , Bloomington 1969, pp. 38-42 and on Lorenzo's ideal of the Golden Age Gustavo Costa: La leggenda dei secoli d'oro nella letteratura italiana , Bari 1972, p. 48 -52.
  91. Hellmuth Petriconi : The new Arcadia . In: Antike und Abendland 3, 1948, pp. 187–200, here: 187–192. Cf. Hellmuth Petriconi: About the idea of ​​the golden age as the origin of the shepherd poetry Sannazaros and Tassos . In: Die Neueren Sprachen 38, 1930, pp. 265–283, here: 273–276; Hans-Joachim Mähl: The idea of ​​the golden age in the work of Novalis , 2nd edition, Tübingen 1994, pp. 113–123.
  92. Torquato Tasso: Aminta , 1st act, 2nd scene (chorus). See Hellmuth Petriconi: Das neue Arkadien . In: Antike und Abendland 3, 1948, pp. 187–200, here: 192–194. Cf. Hellmuth Petriconi: About the idea of ​​the golden age as the origin of the shepherd poetry Sannazaros and Tassos . In: Die Neueren Sprachen 38, 1930, pp. 265–283, here: 276–280; Harry Levin: The Myth of the Golden Age in the Renaissance , Bloomington 1969, pp. 44-50; Gabriel Niccoli: Cupid, Satyr and the Golden Age , New York 1989, pp. 69-78.
  93. ^ Gabriel Niccoli: Cupid, Satyr and the Golden Age , New York 1989, pp. 79-86.
  94. Angelo Poliziano, punch 1.21.
  95. On Naldi's opinion, see Gustavo Costa: La leggenda dei secoli d'oro nella letteratura italiana , Bari 1972, p. 49.
  96. Jean-Antoine de Baïf: Les amours de Francine , ed. Ernesta Caldarini, Vol. 1: Sonnets , Genève 1966, p. 44. On Baïf's reception of the myth of the age, see Elizabeth Vinestock: Poétique et pratique dans les Poemes de Jean-Antoine de Baïf , Paris 2006, p. 49f.
  97. See also Hans-Joachim Mähl: The idea of ​​the golden age in the work of Novalis , 2nd edition, Tübingen 1994, pp. 130–132.
  98. Paul Meissner: The golden age in the English Renaissance . In: Anglia 59, 1935, pp. 351-367, here: 355f., 359, 361.
  99. See Hellmuth Petriconi: Das neue Arkadien . In: Antike und Abendland 3, 1948, pp. 187–200, here: 196–199.
  100. Lancellotti presented his conception in the treatise L'hoggidì, overo il mondo non peggiore né più calamitoso del passato . See Gustavo Costa: La leggenda dei secoli d'oro nella letteratura italiana , Bari 1972, pp. 139–142.
  101. Thomas Hobbes: Philosophical rudiments concerning government and society . In: William Molesworth (Ed.): The English Works of Thomas Hobbes , Vol. 2, London 1841 (new print Aalen 1966), pp. XII f.
  102. Harry Levin: The Myth of the Golden Age in the Renaissance , Bloomington 1969, pp. 65-68.
  103. ^ Joseph François Lafitau: Mœurs des sauvages amériquains, comparées aux mœurs des premiers temps , Paris 1724.
  104. See Margarethe Werner-Fädler: The Arcadia Image and the Myth of the Golden Age in French Literature of the 17th and 18th Centuries , Salzburg 1972, pp. 69–74.
  105. On Rousseau's view, see Hans-Joachim Mähl: The idea of ​​the golden age in the work of Novalis , 2nd edition, Tübingen 1994, pp. 171–174.
  106. See Margarethe Werner-Fädler: The Arcadia Image and the Myth of the Golden Age in French Literature of the 17th and 18th Centuries , Salzburg 1972, pp. 60–64; Walter Veit: Studies on the history of the topos of the golden age from antiquity to the 18th century , Cologne 1961, pp. 151–155, 158f.
  107. See also Ernst Benz : Johann Albrecht Bengel and the philosophy of German idealism . In: Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 27, 1953, pp. 528–554, here: 551–553; Hans-Joachim Mähl: The idea of ​​the golden age in the work of Novalis , 2nd edition, Tübingen 1994, pp. 236–244.
  108. Hans-Joachim Mähl: The idea of ​​the golden age in the work of Novalis , 2nd edition, Tübingen 1994, pp. 267-274.
  109. Kant: The presumed beginning of human history . In: Kant's works, Akademie-Textausgabe , Volume 8, Berlin 1968 (reprint of the Berlin 1912/1923 edition), p. 122f.
  110. ^ Goethe, Torquato Tasso , 2nd act, 1st appearance; Start : The golden age, where has it fled to?
  111. On Schiller's relevant statements, see Hans-Joachim Mähl: The idea of ​​the golden age in the work of Novalis , 2nd edition, Tübingen 1994, pp. 177-181.
  112. Johann Gottlieb Fichte: Some lectures on the determination of the learned . In: Fichte: Selected works in six volumes , ed. Fritz Medicus , Vol. 1, Darmstadt 1962, pp. 268-273.
  113. August Wilhelm Schlegel: Athenaeum fragment No. 243.
  114. Hans-Joachim Mähl: The idea of ​​the golden age in the work of Novalis , 2nd edition, Tübingen 1994, pp. 255–266, 287–297, 357–359.
  115. Helmut-Eberhard Paulus : The golden age in the garden. Orangery as a staged allegory . In: Die Gartenkunst 23, 2011, pp. 195–204, here: 199–203.
  116. ^ Hegel, Lectures on Aesthetics , Part 1, Chapter 3. In: Hegel, Complete Works , ed. Hermann Glockner , Volume 12, Stuttgart 1953, pp. 349f .; Friedhelm Nicolin (ed.): A Hegelian fragment on the philosophy of mind . In: Hegel-Studien 1, 1961, pp. 9-48, here: 45-47.
  117. On Leopardi's understanding of prehistoric times see Gustavo Costa: La leggenda dei secoli d'oro nella letteratura italiana , Bari 1972, pp. 216–228.
  118. Ernst Bloch: The principle of hope , Chapter 38-55 , Frankfurt am Main 1959, pp. 1621f.
  119. ^ For example, in the book title The Golden Age of Capitalism. Reinterpreting the Postwar Experience , ed. Stephen A. Marglin and Juliet B. Schor , Oxford 1990 or with Till van Treeck, Eckhard Hein , Petra Dünhaupt: Financial system and economic development in the USA and Germany in comparison - A macroeconomic sketch ( WSI-Mitteilungen 12/2007), p 637, which speaks of the "Golden Age" phase of the 1950s and 1960s .
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on June 2, 2011 in this version .