Published November 28, 2007 by
The first age was the Golden Age, an age without warriors or conquerors. Everyone kept faith and pursued the right path on their own; they needed no laws to tell them what to do. There was no fear of punishment, no crimes, no jails. There were no lawyers, no judges, and no one coming before a magistrate to plead a case. All lived free, yet without the need of law.
The tree had never been chopped down, felled, or removed from its natural place on the mountainside; its wood was not sold for profit and shipped to foreign ports. Just like the trees, people also remained safe on their own land and shores. Cities were not circled by steep trenches and walls for defense. There were no war trumpets, no war horns of curving brass, no swords, no helmets. There was no need for armed men. All the countries, safe from war, passed the years in peace and prosperity.
In the Golden Age, the Earth herself, without being forced or abused, was not touched by plough or hoe. On her own, Earth gave all the things humans need. And mortals were content with the food that came easily: gathered fruits, strawberries from the mountainsides, cherries and berries hanging thick on prickly branches, nuts fallen from the spreading boughs of Jupiter's tree, the oak.
The spring lasted forever. Gentle breezes with warm breath played with the flowers that grew unplanted. The Earth, untilled, brought forth her vast stores of grain, and the fields, always fertile, grew white with the heavy stalks of ripened grain. Streams of milk, and streams of sweet nectar flowed; and yellow honey was gathered from hives in the green oak tree.
Ovid speaks of the four ages of human habitation on the earth, the Golden, the Silver, the Bronze, and the fourth and final, the Age of Iron, in which we live today The Golden Age was the time of Saturn, Ruler of the World. This was an idyllic time with no war, strife, or want. Food was readily available, the gods and goddesses inhabited the earth, and all was well. Transition to the Age of Silver occurred when Jupiter overthrew Saturn.
During the Age of Silver, time was partitioned into seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter. In this age, people were forced to find shelter in houses, whereas during the Golden Age they had lived in caves and forest homes. This was the age that saw cultivation of grain and domestication of animals, who "groaned beneath the heavy yoke." The Age of Bronze followed, a sterner time when fighting and war existed, yet impiety toward the gods did not.
The Iron Age, the last, was the final descent from the Golden Age.
"All evil burst forth. Modesty, truth, and faith fled the Earth, and in their place came tricks, deceit, violence, and the cursed love of gain." Men traveled across the known world, cutting down the trees to make boats. Now, the earth itself was divided and partitioned by the surveyor, sold as property to the highest bidder. Humans were greedy and, seeking more gain, they delved into the earth itself, mining for the wealth that the Creatrix had hidden away This wealth of gold and silver only provoked humans to crime. War came, and weapons of iron. Men lived on plunder, and guests were not safe from the host. Husbands and wives hated each other and sought an end to marriage. "Piety to the gods and goddesses lay vanquished, and the maiden Astraea, the last of the immortals, abandoned the blood-soaked Earth." Astraea, you see, was the Goddess of Justice. She was the last to leave, as she could no longer look on the wickedness of humankind.
The concept of an idyllic era in the history of humankind is compelling. The ancient Romans did believe in the Golden Age, and they held to a tradition that the Golden Age could be restored and the gods and goddesses would one day return. The Roman author Virgil tells us it will be when the Cumaean Sibyl has brought us to the end of the millennium. The advent of the new millennium celebrated in 17 B.C.E. with great games and ritual would be a New Age-a new saeculum-ushering in a New Order of the Ages.
The Golden Age vividly expresses an ideal human world without crime, without the violence or aggression of one human against another. A Golden Age has no suffering, and all are fed and nourished. All live in communion with nature, and the natural world bestows blessings upon the race of humankind. This is a world where greed, gain, and material worth are not idolized. This is a world in which the environment is not only respected, but held in awe. This is a world in which nature, manifest as the gods and goddesses, nymphs and satyrs, was worshiped.
Today we seem to be closer to the Iron Age. Memory of the Golden Age has vanished. Yet for a few days in December, we are reminded of those divine days, when there was peace and prosperity before the goddesses and gods withdrew. December's legacy is the revival of those cherished memories-the good, the plentiful, and the "best of days." In December, we incorporate those values and dare to dream of a Golden Age. This too is a religious act.