Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Ages of Man according to Hesiod's Works and Days




WORKS AND DAYS , TRANS. BY H. G. EVELYN-WHITE

HYMN TO ZEUS
[106] Or if you will, I will sum you up another tale well and skilfully -- and do you lay it up in your heart, -- how the gods and mortal men sprang from one source.

[109] First of all the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Cronos when he was reigning in heaven. And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils. When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods.

[121] But after earth had covered this generation -- they are called pure spirits dwelling on the earth, and are kindly, delivering from harm, and guardians of mortal men; for they roam everywhere over the earth, clothed in mist and keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds, givers of wealth; for this royal right also they received; -- then they who dwell on Olympus made a second generation which was of silver and less noble by far. It was like the golden race neither in body nor in spirit. A child was brought up at his good mother's side an hundred years, an utter simpleton, playing childishly in his own home. But when they were full grown and were come to the full measure of their prime, they lived only a little time in sorrow because of their foolishness, for they could not keep from sinning and from wronging one another, nor would they serve the immortals, nor sacrifice on the holy altars of the blessed ones as it is right for men to do wherever they dwell. Then Zeus the son of Cronos was angry and put them away, because they would not give honour to the blessed gods who live on Olympus.

[140] But when earth had covered this generation also -- they are called blessed spirits of the underworld by men, and, though they are of second order, yet honour attends them also -- Zeus the Father made a third generation of mortal men, a brazen race, sprung from ash-trees [meliai]; and it was in no way equal to the silver age, but was terrible and strong. They loved the lamentable works of Ares and deeds of violence; they ate no bread, but were hard of heart like adamant, fearful men. Great was their strength and unconquerable the arms which grew from their shoulders on their strong limbs. Their armour was of bronze, and their houses of bronze, and of bronze were their implements: there was no black iron. These were destroyed by their own hands and passed to the dank house of chill Hades, and left no name: terrible though they were, black Death seized them, and they left the bright light of the sun.

[156] But when earth had covered this generation also, Zeus the son of Cronos made yet another, the fourth, upon the fruitful earth, which was nobler and more righteous, a god-like race of hero-men who are called demi-gods, the race before our own, throughout the boundless earth. Grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them, some in the land of Cadmus at seven- gated Thebe when they fought for the flocks of Oedipus, and some, when it had brought them in ships over the great sea gulf to Troy for rich-haired Helen's sake: there death's end enshrouded a part of them. But to the others father Zeus the son of Cronos gave a living and an abode apart from men, and made them dwell at the ends of earth. And they live untouched by sorrow in the islands of the blessed along the shore of deep swirling Ocean, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year, far from the deathless gods, and Cronos rules over them; for the father of men and gods released him from his bonds. And these last equally have honour and glory.

[169c] And again far-seeing Zeus made yet another generation, the fifth, of men who are upon the bounteous earth.

[170] Thereafter, would that I were not among the men of the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. But, notwithstanding, even these shall have some good mingled with their evils. And Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth. The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another's city. There will be no favour for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. And then Aidos and Nemesis [shame of wrongdoing and indignation against the wrongdoer], with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil.

****borrowed from The Internet Sacred Texts Archive****



The following is in my own words, and my interpretation of this hymn.


The first age is called the "Golden Age" and is the only one that falls under the rule of Cronus. In this age people lived among the gods, and freely mingled with them. There were no conflicts or wars among the mortals during this age. Humans did not have to work to feed themselves, because the earth provided for them in abundance. They lived to be very old, but never physically grew that old, and eventually died peacefully. Their spirits live on as guardians of mortal humans. These spirits are benevolent and beneficent, helping to prevent illness.

The second age is the "Silver Age", which is the age that existed while Zeus and Cronus fought for power. Men in this age lived for 100 years and did not leave their mother's homes until near the end of their lives. Their actual adulthood was very short, and they spent that time fighting with each other. They refused to worship the Gods, and Zeus was forced to destroy them in punishment. After they died, they became the "blessed spirits" of the underworld.

The third age is known as the "Bronze Age". Men of this age were hard. They lived for war, and every material item they owned was made of bronze, even their homes. This was the first Age that had women as well as men, and were able to procreate unlike the previous two Ages. The men of this age destroyed themselves with their own violent ways and did not become beneficial spirits upon death, and instead dwelt in Hades. This age was ended by the Flood of Deucalion.

The "Heroic Age" is the fourth age, and the only one that doesn't correspond with a metal since the people are the surviving, less violent, Bronze Age members. It is also the only age that improves on the age it follows. In this age men lived with noble Demigods and Heroes. The Trojan War was fought in this age, and the Heroes that are told about in the stories, such as Heracles and Jason, lived during this age. This race of humans went to Elysium upon death.

The fifth age is the "Iron Age". During this time humans work hard for food and material goods, and their lives are full of misery. Children do not honor their parents, siblings fight and Xenia (the social contract between guest and host) is forgotten. During this age might makes right, and evil men use lies to be seen as good. At the height of this age, humans no longer feel shame or indignation at wrongdoing. Babies will be born with grey hair, the gods will completely abandon humanity, and "there will be no help against evil."

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