Golden age (metaphor)

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For the mythological meaning see Golden Age, for other uses see Golden Age (disambiguation)
The metaphor of a Golden Age is often invoked for high points of lost knowledge in the mythical past

A golden age is a period in a field of endeavor when great tasks were accomplished. The term originated from early Greek and Roman poets, who used to refer to a time when mankind lived in a better time and was pure (see Golden Age).

The origin of the term is with the ancient Greek philosopher Hesiod, who introduced it in his Works and Days as the period where the "Golden Race" of man lived. This was part of fivefold division of Ages of Man, starting with the Golden age, then the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, the Age of Heroes (including the Trojan War) and finally the current Iron Age.[1] The concept was further refined by Ovid in his Metamorphoses into the four "metal ages" (golden, silver, bronze, iron).[2]

The Golden age in Classic literature

The Golden Age by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530
The Golden Age by Joachim Wtewael, 1605

The Golden age as described by Hesiod was an age where all humans were created directly by the Olympian gods. They did not have women in their ranks, and could not reproduce. They lived long lives in peace and harmony, and were oblivious of death. The "Golden race" were however mortals, but would die peacefully and in their sleep unmarked by sickness and age.[1] Ovid emphasizes the justice and peace that defined the Golden Age. He described it as a time before man learned the art of navigation, and as a pre-agricultural society.[3] The idea of a Golden age lingered in literature and historical understanding throughout the Greek and Roman periods.[4] It was partly replaced by the Christian of the Six Ages of the World based on the biblical chronology in the early Middle Ages.[5]

Evolution from period to metaphor

The term "Golden age" has always had a metaphoric element. A few centuries after Hesiod, Plato pointed out that the "Golden race" were not made from gold as such, but that the term should be understood metaphorically.[6] The classical idea of the "metal ages" as actual historical periods held sway throughout the Greek and Roman periods.[4] While supplemented by St. Augustine's "Six Ages of the World", the classical ideas were never entirely eradicated, and it resurfaced to form the basis of division of time in early archaeology[5]

At the birth of modern archaeology in the 18th century, the "Golden age" was associated with a pre-agricultural society. However, already in the 16th century, the term "Golden age" was replaced by "Stone age" in the three-age system.[7][8] Still, Rousseau used the term for a loosely defined historical period characterized by the "State of nature" as late as the during the late 18th century.[9] While the concept of an Iron and Bronze Age are still used by historians and archaeologists, the "Golden age" of Hesiod was a purely mythical period, and has come to signify any period in history where the state of affairs for a specific phenomenon appear to have been on their height, better than in the periods proceeding it and following the "Golden Age". It is sometimes still employed for the hunter-gatherer tribal societies of the Mesolithic, but only as a metaphor.[10]

Golden Age in society timeline

A society's Golden Age marks that period in its history having a heightened output of art, science, literature, and philosophy.

Acropolis, rebuilt by Pericles during the Athenian Golden Age
The Victorian era is often quoted as the Golden Age of Britain
The Forty-seven Ronin, one of the best known themes from the Japanese Golden Age

Culture and technology

A golden age is often ascribed to the years immediately following some technological innovation. It is during this time that writers and artists ply their skills to this new medium. Therefore, there are Golden Ages of both radio and television. During this nascent phase the technology allows new ideas to be expressed, as new art forms flower quickly into new areas:

At least one technology had its "Golden Age" in its latter years:


Technology and creativity spawn new genres in literature and theatre. The onset of a new genre will be its Golden Age:


Senior citizen

Companies will use "Golden Age" as a marketing euphemism to replace "senior citizen":


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bartlett, R.C. (2006). "An Introduction to Hesiod's Works and Days". The Review of Politics. 68: 177–205. doi:10.1017/S003467050600009X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Ovid, Metamorphoses. Trans. A.D. Melville. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. Print. Pages ix–xi
  3. McDermott, E. (2011). "'The Metal Face of the Age': Hesiod, Vergil, and the Iron Age on Cold Mountain". International Journal of the Classical Tradition. 17 (2): 244–256. doi:10.1007/s12138-010-0186-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 St. Jerome. "St. Jerome, Chronicle (2004-5). Preface of Jerome; Preface of Eusebius". Retrieved 2012-11-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Graeme Dunphy (2010). "Six Ages of the World". In Graeme Dunphy (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle. Leiden: Brill. pp. 1367–1370. ISBN 90 04 18464 3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Boys-Stones, edited by G.R.; Haubold, J.H. (2010). Plato and Hesiod ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199236343.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Goodrum, Matthew R. (2008). "Questioning Thunderstones and Arrowheads: The Problem of Recognizing and Interpreting Stone Artifacts in the Seventeenth Century". Early Science and Medicine. 13 (5): 482–508. doi:10.1163/157338208X345759.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Gräslund, Bo (1987). The Birth of Prehistoric Chronology. Dating methods and dating systems in nineteenth-century Scandinavian archeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Hartzog, P.B. "Rousseau and Marx on Equality: Paradise Lost, Paradise Restored" (PDF). The University of Utah. Retrieved 30 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. David Maybury-Lewis (1992). Millennium : tribal wisdom and the modern world. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking. ISBN 0-670-82935-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "The culture of Malta throughout the millenia". Retrieved 7 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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