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

Hesiod's Five AgesEdit

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File:Virgil Solis - Iron Age.jpg

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

  • Golden Age - The Golden Age is the only age that falls within the rule of Kronus. It is said that people lived among the gods, and freely mingled with them. Peace and harmony prevailed during this age. Humans did not have to work to feed themselves, for the earth provided food in abundance. They lived to a very old age but with a youthful appearance and eventually died peacefully. Their spirits live on as "guardians". Plato in Cratylus (397 e) recounts the golden race of men who came first. He clarifies that Hesiod did not mean men literally made of gold, but good and noble. He describes these men as daemons upon the earth. Since δαίμονες (daimones) is derived from δαήμονες (daēmones) (=knowing or wise), they are beneficent, preventing ills, and guardians of mortal men.
  • Silver Age - The Silver Age and every age that follows fall within the rule of Cronus' successor and son, Zeus. Humans in the Silver age lived for one hundred years as infants. They lived only a short time as grown adults, and spent that time in strife with one another. During this Age men refused to worship the gods and Zeus destroyed them for their impiety. After death, humans of this age became "blessed spirits" of the underworld.
  • Bronze Age - Men of the Bronze Age were hard. War was their purpose and passion. Not only arms and tools, but their very homes were forged of bronze. The men of this age were undone by their own violent ways and left no named spirits but dwell in the "dank house of Hades".
  • Heroic Age - The Heroic Age is the one age that does not correspond with any metal. It is also the only age that improves upon the age it follows. In this period men lived with noble demigods and heroes. It was the heroes of this Age who fought at Thebes and Troy. This race of humans died and went to Elysium.
  • Iron Age - Hesiod finds himself in the Iron Age. During this age humans live an existence of toil and misery. Children dishonor their parents, brother fights with brother and the social contract between guest and host (xenia) is forgotten. During this age might makes right, and bad men use lies to be thought good. At the height of this age, humans no longer feel shame or indignation at wrongdoing; babies will be born with gray hair and the gods will have completely forsaken humanity: "there will be no help against evil."

Ovid's Four AgesEdit

The Roman poet Ovid (1st century BC - 1st century AD) tells a similar myth of Four Ages in Book 1.89-150 of the Metamorphoses. His account is similar to Hesiod's with the exception that he omits the Heroic Age.

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

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

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

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

Historicity of the AgesEdit

These mythological ages are sometimes associated with historical timelines. In the chronology of Saint Jerome the Golden Age lasts ca. 1710 to 1674 BC, the Silver Age 1674 to 1628 BC, the Bronze Age 1628 to 1472 BC, the Heroic Age 1460 to 1103 BC, while Hesiod's Iron Age was considered as still ongoing by Saint Jerome in the 4th century AD[1].

Ages of Man in other culturesEdit

Judeo-ChristianEdit

In the Book of Daniel, specifically Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a statue made of the four metals which is interpreted by Daniel.

"You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. 32 This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs (or sides) of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay (or baked clay)." Daniel 2:31-33 [2]

Whether this story derives from a common literary tradition with that of the classical accounts is uncertain, but it utilizes the same four metals to describe changing periods of history. It also describes the changing character of mankind during the four ages[3].

After telling the king what his dream was, Daniel then tells him what it means. Nebuchadnezzar himself, king of Babylonia, is the gold head of the statue. After Babylonia will come another empire that is of inferior quality to his, presumably represented by the chest and arms of silver. After that empire will come a third one of brass, followed in turn by the fourth empire of crushing iron, that crushes all others. This fourth empire will later be divided, however, and end up as the feet and toes that are partly clay and partly iron. These empires have been interpreted in a variety of ways.

"This {was} the dream; now we will tell its interpretation before the king. "You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; and wherever the sons of men dwell, {or} the beasts R88 of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given {them} into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold. After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth. Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. {As} the toes of the feet {were} partly of iron and partly of pottery, {so} some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery. In the days of those kings the God R90 of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and {that} kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever." (Daniel 2 v.36-44, KJV).

(This is explained as the meaning of the stone cut from the mountain without hands, that smashes the idol to pieces.)

MesoamericanEdit

The Aztec tradition of Five Suns also involves four previous ages. The term Five Suns in the context of creation myths, describes the doctrine of the Aztec and other Nahua peoples, supported amply by ancient texts and calendars, in which the present world was preceded by four other cycles of creation and destruction. It is primarily derived from the mythological, cosmological and eschatological beliefs and traditions of earlier cultures from central Mexico and the Mesoamerican region in general. The Late Postclassic Aztec society inherited many traditions concerning Mesoamerican creation accounts, while however modifying some aspects and supplying novel interpretations of their own.[4]

Hindu-VedicEdit

Main article: Yuga

The Hindu and Vedic writings also make reference to four ages (Yuga) termed: Satya (Golden), Treta (Silver), Dwapara (Bronze) and Kali (Iron). According to the Laws of Manu these four ages total 4.32 million years. Kali-Yuga lasts for 432,000 years, Dvapara Yuga lasts for 864,000 years, Treta Yuga lasts for 1,296,000 years, and Satya Yuga lasts for 1,728,000 years. These four yugas make up a Maha Yuga, a Catur Yuga, or a Divya Yuga. 1000 Maha Yugas taken together equals one day of Brahma or 4.32 billion years. Brahma’s night is of an equal length which is also 4.32 billion years. Taken together Brahma’s day and night are 8.64 billion years in total. Brahma lives for 36,000 "Brahma days" so his lifespan is equivalent to 311 trillion, 40 billion years. After his death there is an equivalent period of 311 trillion, 40 billion years when the Universe is unmanifest. Then a new Brahma is born and the cycle starts all over again. Taken together the life and the death of Brahma equals 622 trillion, 80 billion years. This equals one cycle out of innumerable cycles in the Vedic Universe.

NotesEdit

  1. http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/jerome_chronicle_01_prefaces.htm
  2. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel%202:31-33&version=50;
  3. Daniel 2:31-33.
  4. Iroku, Osita; A Day in the Life of God; Chapter Seven; 2001; published by the Enlil Institute

See alsoEdit

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External linksEdit

es:Edades del hombre fr:Mythe des races gl:Mito das idades hr:Naraštaji ljudskog roda pt:Eras do homem (mitologia) simple:Ages of Man zh:人類世紀

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