With a friend I am reading the Works and Days by Hesiod. He is not the most optimistic writer and bewails that he did not live before in better times. Indeed the idea of a Golden Age is not uncommon in Antiquity and Hinduism has this idea too. In Jewish and Christian mythology there is the story of Paradise, but here we have only two people living. The idea of progress also existed in Antiquity – think of Protagoras and his idea of social evolution – but a decline is more common. And how many elderly people today are not complaining that in their youth everything was better? A few years to go and I too belong to them.
The theme of a Golden Age has also been treated by Roman writer like Horace, Virgil, Ovid and Tibullus and when Boethius was writing his Consolatio in prison, he uses the material of these poets for his poem about the earlier stage of civilization. Such deliberations are a kind of yearning for better places and times. We can compare the exaltation of `primitive’ cultures by Rousseau in the late 18th century. According to Boethius we should be glad with what nature gives us and live a life of innocence. A stoic theme rather than Christian and maybe more expressing his deepest feelings than his outward Christian beliefs.
Boethius, Consolatio book 2, poem 5.
Meter: anapest dimeter: u u – u u – u u – u (the first two double shorts can be replaced by a single long syllable.)
Felix nimium prior aetas,
contenta fidelibus arvis
nec inerti perdita luxu,
facili quae sera solebat
ieiunia solvere glande. 5
Non Bacchica munera norant
liquido confundere melle,
nec lucida vellera Serum
Tyrio miscere veneno.
Somnos dabat herba salubres, 10
potum quoque lubricus amnis,
umbras altissima pinus.
Nondum maris alta secabat
nec mercibus undique lectis
nova litora viderat hospes. 15
Tunc classica saeva tacebant
odiis neque fusus acerbis
cruor horrida tinxerat arva.
Quid enim furor hosticus ulla
vellet prior arma movere, 20
cum vulnera saeva viderent
nec praemia sanguinis ulla ?
Utinam modo nostra redirent
in mores tempora priscos.
Sed saevior ignibus Aetnae 25
fervens amor ardet habendi.
Heu primus quis fuit ille,
auri qui pondera tecti
gemmasque latere volentes
pretiosa pericula fodit ? 30
fidelibus arvis: with trustworthy fields
iners inertis: making lazy
sera ieiunia: late hunger
facili glande: easy to get nut
Bachica munera: wine
norant = noverant
liquido confundere melle: wine mixed with honey is called mulsun
vellus velleris (n.): wool. In the plural anything woven and here it means silk
Seres Serum: Western Chinese tribe known from the trade in silk
Tyrio veneno: Tyrian juice = purple
potus potus (m.): drink
potus potus (m.): drink
lubricus: easily streaming
pinus (f.): pine-tree
maris alta secabat: it cleaved the height of the sea
mercibus lectis: for excellent commodities
hospes: as guest
classicum: war trumpet
acerbus: sharp, violent
fusus cruor: shed blood
tingo tinxi tinctum: to moisten
arva: a variant reading is arma and is probably to be preferred
nec praemia sanguinis ulla: and not any gain in (the shedding) of blood
utinam modo: `I wish that but’
priscus: of former times
amor habendi: the love for possession
pondus ponderis (n.): weight
tectus: covered, hidden
gemmasque latere volentes: and gems wanting to be hidden
pretiosa pericula: apposition `as dangerous riches’
fodio fodi fossum: to dig out, delve
W.V. Cooper : J.M. Dent and Company London 1902
THE FORMER AGE.
Too blest the former age, their life
Who in the fields contented led,
And still, by luxury unspoiled,
On frugal acorns sparely fed.
No skill was theirs the luscious grape
With honey's sweetness to confuse;
Nor China's soft and sheeny silks
T' empurple with brave Tyrian hues.
The grass their wholesome couch, their drink
The stream, their roof the pine's tall shade;
Not theirs to cleave the deep, nor seek
In strange far lands the spoils of trade.
The trump of war was heard not yet,
Nor soiled the fields by bloodshed's stain;
For why should war's fierce madness arm
When strife brought wound, but brought not gain?
Ah! would our hearts might still return
To following in those ancient ways.
Alas! the greed of getting glows
More fierce than Etna's fiery blaze.
Woe, woe for him, whoe'er it was,
Who first gold's hidden store revealed,
And--perilous treasure-trove--dug out
The gems that fain would be concealed!