The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies

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19] They shared a tradition, which seems to have been universal, of a time of primeval innocence, when man dwelt in a peaceful world, ignorant alike of sorrow and of sin. This was the Golden Age. Avarice and discord were unknown; men had not learned to slay animals for food, nor had the earth been disturbed by the plough. Neither the labors of the husbandman, nor the merchant’s traffic disturbed the joyous leisure of that happy time; no ships ploughed the seas, and the glittering steel rested harmless in the mine. Ovid thus describes the days of innocence:

“The Golden Age was first, when man, yet new,
No rule but uncorrupted reason knew,
And, with a native bent did good pursue.
Unforced by punishment, unawed by fear,
His words were simple, and his soul sincere;
Needless was written law where none oppressed;
The law of man was written in his breast:
No suppliant crowds before the judge appeared,
No court erected yet, nor cause was heard,
But all was safe; for conscience was their guard.
* * * * * * *
No walls were yet, nor fence, nor moat, nor mound,
Nor drum was heard, nor trumpet’s angry sound,
Nor swords were forged; but, void of care and crime,
The soft creation slept away their time.”

The Silver Age was far inferior to that of gold; but virtue still dwelt on earth, and the Immortals had not altogether departed from the abodes of men. Jupiter then divided the year into seasons, shortened the winter days, and let loose the northern blasts, so that men were [20] obliged to build dwellings, and cultivate the ungrateful soil.

Their first habitations were caves and grottoes, leafy coverts of the forest, or huts rudely constructed of the trunks of trees and interwoven boughs.

The Brazen Age came next; men grew fierce and warlike, but were not as yet altogether impious.

The Iron Age gave birth to all the calamities that afflict mankind. Avarice and violence reigned supreme; men were not satisfied to till the earth, but dug into its hidden mines, and drew thence gold and iron, potent instruments of ill to man.

The same poet says:

“Then land-marks limited to each his right;
For all before was common as the light.
Nor was the ground alone required to bear
Her annual income to the crooked share,
But greedy mortals, rummaging her store,
Digged from her entrails first the precious ore
(Which next to hell the prudent gods had laid,)
And that alluring ill to sight displayed.
Thus cursed steel, and more accursed gold,
Gave mischief birth, and made that mischief bold:
And double death did wretched man invade,
By steel assaulted, and by gold betrayed.”
Dryden’s Ovid.