The Ages of Man

I was fossicking around in my collection of books looking for sources relating to research on a new idea for a story when I happened across a thin book: Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days. It may be thin in size but definitely not in its telling. I bought it some years back now and remembered how much I enjoyed it. As I flicked through the pages an idea began to form, not for a story (have plenty of those) but as an added feature to my blog.

Muses dancing on Mount Helikon

Hesiod, a Greek poet in the 9th Century BC, lived in Boeotia (central Greece) whose works were famed throughout the Ancient Greek world. Initially a shepherd, he claimed the muses appeared to him on Mount Helikon and inspired him to be a poet. He brought us the myths of Prometheus, Pandora and the Ages of Man. His Theogony is about the genealogy of the gods, how Zeus became king, explanation of the universe, and the creation of the earth. He lists about 300 gods to help explain why things happen or how it works, in essence things we still question today.

Works and Days relates to all aspects in agriculture and includes the months for sowing and planting, how the cult of Demeter (Goddess of Fertility and Crops) evolved. The poem also addresses how to be honourable and lead a righteous life, giving us a unique opportunity to learn about how an ancient society worked. This is where he uses the analogy of the Ages of Man to help explain his moralistic tale. I am going to share with you what those ‘Ages’ are:

  1. Men of Gold – during this age people lived a very long life, did not have to work because they had everything, their needs and wants all catered for. When it was time for them to move on, Zeus turned them into deities and watchers of the human race.
  2. Men of Silver – this race was immature, savage, proud and wronged others without worrying about consequences. They also lived a long life but had no virtue, and Zeus was angry because they did not honour the Olympian gods. Hence, they were banished and served the rest of their time, as Hesiod beautifully puts it, ‘mortal blessed below’.
  3. Men of Bronze – these guys were only interested in wars and wore bronze armour. ‘Out of Ash-trees he made them’, ash was a timber used to make spears. ‘A fierce race… occupied with acts of violence’. These too were banished and sent to chill in the realm of Hades.
  4. Men of Heroes – this was the age of Homer’s Iliad with, Akhilles, Hektor, Agamemnon, Herakles, Theseus, Odysseus and Helen. These individuals were regarded as ‘demigods’. An age of righteousness and nobility. But this ended in disaster too and Zeus let them live in tranquility on the ‘Islands of the Blest’.
  5. Men of Iron – apparently they are corrupt and deceitful. This was also the time of Hesiod and Homer. He isn’t very pleased to belong to this time and is rather contemptuous of his fellow humans. This race hasn’t been expunged or has it?? This was the time of Ancient Greece’s dark ages where the arts in all its forms, building enterprises, trading took a back step.

I wonder what Hesiod would think about our Information Age?

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