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This article is about mythological ages. For the "Seven Ages of Man" speech from Shakespeare's "As You Like It", see All the world's a stage. For the one-man show, see Ages of Man (play).
Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Golden Age

The Ages of Man are the stages of human existence on the Earth according to Greek mythology.

Both Hesiod and Ovid offered accounts of the successive ages of humanity, 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.[citation needed]

Hesiod's Five Ages[edit]

Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Silver Age
Virgil Solis, The Iron Age

The first extant account of the successive ages of humanity comes from the Greek poet Hesiod's Works and Days (lines 109–201). His list is:

  • Golden Age – The Golden Age is the only age that falls within the rule of Cronus. Created by the immortals who live on Olympus, these humans were said to live 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 (397e) 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, meaning knowing or wise), they are beneficent, preventing ills, and guardians of mortals.
  • Silver Age – The Silver Age and every age that follows fall within the rule of Cronus' successor and son, Zeus. Men in the Silver age lived for one hundred years under the dominion of their mothers. 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 hardened and tough, as war was their purpose and passion. Zeus created these humans out of the ash tree. Their armor was forged of bronze, as were their homes, and tools. The men of this Age were undone by their own violent ways and left no named spirits; instead, they dwell in the "dank house of Hades". This Age came to an end with the flood of Deucalion.
  • 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 Ages[edit]

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, no man had knowledge of any arts but pre arigculture

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 Ages[edit]

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]

See also[edit]

Similar concepts include:


  1. ^ St. Jerome. "St. Jerome, Chronicle (2004-5). Preface of Jerome; Preface of Eusebius". Tertullian.org. Retrieved 2012-11-16. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ages_of_Man — Please support Wikipedia.
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597 news items

The New York Review of Books (blog)

The New York Review of Books (blog)
Thu, 26 Mar 2015 13:15:00 -0700

The woman looked over my bookshelves, well stocked, but noted that one book, The Ages of Man, was conspicuously missing. The teacher arrived, O'Shea, though also somehow Seamus Heaney, in a sort of dressing gown. I looked at the floor and noticed a ...


Fri, 20 Mar 2015 11:33:45 -0700

Kevin Richard, a senior project manager for Turner Construction, set a meeting for March 25. The panels, designed by Cincinnati painter and muralist Carl Zimmerman in 1958, reflect Shakespeare's "Seven Ages of Man." Each of the seven panels depicts one ...

Washington Free Beacon

Washington Free Beacon
Fri, 27 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0700

... to represent the three ages of Man; their gifts, which actually are detailed in Matthew, took on their own significances: the gold a tribute fit for a king, the frankincense signifying worship and reverence, and the myrrh, used in embalming ...

GeekDad (blog)

GeekDad (blog)
Sat, 14 Mar 2015 03:30:14 -0700

For each card played in the Ages of Man column, the highest score becomes invalid. For example, if there are three cards there, then 5s, 6s, and 7s are all worth nothing. The Wild color at the end of the game is still worth whatever the maximum valid ...
Washington Post
Wed, 18 Mar 2015 12:58:11 -0700

Paintings of the three wise men created by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens for his childhood friend Balthasar Moretus have been reunited for the first time in 130 years at the National Gallery of Art. And while biblical in theme, the pictures offer a ...

artnet News

artnet News
Sat, 21 Mar 2015 07:09:21 -0700

Tradition states that the three kings were named Balthasar, Gaspar, and Melchior, and that they represent the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as the three ages of man. Rubens was commissioned to paint the works circa 1618 by his ...

Boston Globe (subscription)

Boston Globe (subscription)
Thu, 19 Mar 2015 07:48:45 -0700

Without the First Folio to preserve the unpublished plays, as English professor John Mullan commented at the time, “there would be no seven ages of man; music would not be the food of love.” The exact date of the four weeks during which the traveling ...
Point Pleasant Register
Thu, 19 Mar 2015 11:33:45 -0700

Yet, for all this, people throughout the ages of man have argued with Him over what is right and wrong and what is to be believed. During these contemporary times, attempts to countermand His revealed absolute truths have intensified. The struggle ...

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