March 18, 2008

#01-086: The Golden Age

oil painting of a lush garden filled with animals of all kinds, predators and prey side-by-side; a nude woman is reaching up to pluck fruits from a tree, as she hands another to a seated nude man
The Garden of Eden, a "Golden Age"

Note: Many cultures look back to a "Golden Age," like the Garden of Eden. These days, they say, are not so good. Learn about those "better days"--and discover how these days aren't so bad!

Get Ready: Do you look back on earlier times in your life as somehow "Better" than now? Were they, really?

It is said that the Tang Dynasty was the "Golden Age" of Buddhism in China. A film title calls the reign of Queen Elizabeth England's "Golden Age."

Cultures may have "golden ages," but we even use the term to speak of less-important things: a "Golden Age of Comic Books" in America in the 1930s and 40s, and a "Golden Age of Graffiti" from 1974-1984 in New York City.

But whenever we call a time a "Golden Age," we may not realize that we are in fact referring to a very specific tradition in Greek mythology.

As told by the Latin writer Ovid, in the Golden Age, humans behaved perfectly and it was always Spring. Next came the Silver Age, with four seasons, extreme heat and cold, and the need for houses. At this time the earth stopped giving food freely, and farming began. In the Bronze Age, the people had "fiercer natures," and were more warlike, though not vicious. Finally, in the terrible Iron Age, people showed "every kind of wickedness" and "piety was dead."

And that terrible age is the one we live in now.

The Indians also have a story about four yugas (ages). In their version, the "Golden Age" is the Satya Yuga, when people could know the Truth (Satya) directly, and were always happy. Gradually, through the Treta (Third [before us]) and Dvapara (Second) Yugas, this blissful state was reduced. More and more mental and spiritual effort was required in order to achieve happiness. Finally comes the Kali Yuga, when most people concentrate on the physical and forget the spiritual. Again, this is our age.

So in two separate cultures--and indeed, in many others--there is the idea of a great beginning and a gradual loss of happiness, until we reach today's far-from-perfect world.

The story of the three great "Western" religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--starts in the Garden of Eden, a perfect place where humans are eternally happy. They were in a state of Paradise, but when they broke the rules they fell into misery.

This can be true for individuals too. Some of us look back to our preschool days as an idyllic time of no worries. Others point to their high school years as the best times of their lives.

But just as the other Golden Ages are myths, it's also true that we tend to idealize the past, forgetting the troubles we had and only remembering the good things. I have lived mostly in expat communities since 1997, and people who have moved from one country to another often pine for their "old country," forgetting all the reasons they came to the new one!

But are things really so bad right now? Or will we look back on this time someday and say these were "the good old days"?


Read more:

Practice: Match the age to its characteristics below:

  1. England's Golden Age
  2. Golden Age of Buddhism in China
  3. Golden Age of Comic Books
  4. Golden Age of Graffiti
  5. Kali Yuga
  6. Ovid's Bronze Age
  7. Ovid's Golden Age
  8. Ovid's Silver Age
  9. Satya Yuga
  10. Western religions' Golden Age

  1. people could know the Truth directly
  2. people forget spiritual things
  3. it was always Spring
  4. the reign of Queen Elizabeth I
  5. the Garden of Eden
  6. farming began
  7. America in the 1930s and '40s
  8. war began
  9. New York City from 1974-1984
  10. the Tang Dynasty

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 18, 2008

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. j; 3. g; 4. i; 5. b; 6. h; 7. c; 8. f; 9. a; 10. e