It is a topic or commonplace in many cultures that human life on Earth began in a time of happiness and absolute serenity, then interrupted by the amoral behavior of man, which since then has continued to get worse. These creations are not only literary, but they are part of the ideas of general cultural imaginary.
This is the famous biblical myth of the "earthly paradise", whose origin, like so many others, seems Mesopotamian, or the existence of wonderful "islands of the fortunate" or the myth of the "noble savage" (which is the model for Cynic philosophers and their proposal to autonomy or full independence), or the various draft of laws and constitutions of the polis or hope for the "utopia". See http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/uchronia-utopia-dystopia-livy-tomas-more
Also in the early stages of Greek literature this myth appears strong. To it I dedicated an article about a comparison with a text of Cervantes' Don Quixote. Hesiod is the first Greek author tells us.
Often ancient conceived history as a cycle of successive moments, certainly impressed by the astronomical cycles and cyclical reproduction of stellar motions. This is a well represented by the Stoics idea whom each cycle ends with a great conflagration.
They call "age", "Aetas" each stage of this movement which ever begins and ends. Consider that this denomination has had huge success: we still divide the history into "ages".
More still, "the myth of the Ages" has been transposed to the History of Literature; so we speak “Golden Age of Literature”, for example Spanish Golden Age; or Silver Age, for example of Latin Literature. I do not recognize the term "Bronze Age" refers to literature, perhaps because the literature is of Gold, of Silver least, or it is not literature. But extending the simile, we may refer to much of the current "Literature", to the bestseller of supermarket as "Age of Barro" or better of "Mud", given the null literary value. While we must be careful with the names, after all there are several myths, pagan and Christian, which make us beings originated from humble mud.
Well, in this context, the myth of the ages of man, that Hesiod told us the first, came. Then they are many other authors.
Hesiod, who does not use the term "ages" but races, distinguishes five races. Many years later Aratus of Solos (310-240 BC) distinguishes three races too; Virgil, Horace and Tibullus in a passage speak of two; Horace elsewhere speaks of four.
Aratus of Solos (310-240) is the author of the famous astronomical didactic poem "Phenomena", one of the most widespread and translated books in ancient. In verses 96-136 he describes the constellation of the Virgin, which is the Justice, which he placed among men in the honorable times and escaped to heaven in view of the evils of men. This Catasterism (1) of Justice is connected to the myth of the races or ages. Hesiod does not explain to us the origin of each of the "ages"; for Aratus, who speaks also of races and ages and distinguishes only three: golden, silver and bronze, the origin is on human evil itself which is progressive.
Note: we call "Catasterism" to conversion or transformation of gods, heroic beings, mythological events, and even ethical principles later, in stars, celestial bodies in the sky, or clusters of stars. This is a technical or cult Greek term, composed of the preposition kata, κατά (above, below) and the noun ἀστήρ, aster, (star). The term was used as a title of a booklet attributable to the director of the Library of Alexandria, the mathematician, geographer, astronomer, physician, scholar, literary author, Eratosthenes.
Aratus, Phaenomena, 93-136
The Virgin (Virgo)
Beneath both feet of Boötes mark the Maiden [Virgo], who in her hands bears the gleaming Ear of Corn [Spica]. Whether she be daughter of Astraeus, who, men say, was of old the father of the stars, or child of other sire, untroubled be her course! But another tale is current among men, how of old she dwelt on earth and met men face to face, nor ever disdained in olden time the tribes of men and women, but mingling with them took her seat, immortal though she was. Her men called Justice; but she assembling the elders, it might be in the market-place or in the wide-wayed streets, uttered her voice, ever urging on them judgements kinder to the people. Not yet in that age had men knowledge of hateful strife, or carping contention, or din of battle, but a simple life they lived. Far from them was the cruel sea and not yet from afar did ships bring their livelihood, but the oxen and the plough and Justice herself, queen of the peoples, giver of things just, abundantly supplied their every need. Even so long as the earth still nurtured the Golden Race, she had her dwelling on earth. But with the Silver Race only a little and no longer with utter readiness did she mingle, for that she yearned for the ways of the men of old. Yet in that Silver Age was she still upon the earth; but from the echoing hills at eventide she came alone, nor spake to any man in gentle words. But when she had filled the great heights with gathering crowds, then would she with threats rebuke their evil ways, and declare that never more at their prayer would she reveal her face to man. “Behold what manner of race the fathers of the Golden Age left behind them! Far meaner than themselves! But ye will breed a viler progeny! Verily wars and cruel bloodshed shall be unto men and grievous woe shall be laid upon them.” Even so she spake and sought the hills and left the people all gazing towards her still. But when they, too, were dead, and when, more ruinous than they which went before, the Race of Bronze was born, who were the first to forge the sword of the highwayman, and the first to eat of the flesh of the ploughing-ox, then verily did Justice loathe that race of men and fly heavenward and took up that abode, where even now in the night time the Maiden is seen of men, established near to far-seen Boötes. ( Translated by Mair, A. W. & G. R. Loeb Classical Library Volume 129. London: William Heinemann, 1921.)
Cicero translated the poem of Aratus literally. Only fragments remain, about two thirds of that translation. He also used quotes in several of his works, such as the example we have in his On the Nature of the Gods (De natura deorum), in Book II, 159 (63), when referring to the oxen of work he translates the verses of Aratus 129 et seq. which I reproduce:
De natura deorum, II, 159,
Why should I speak of oxen? The very shape of their backs makes it clear that they were not destined to carry burdens, whereas their necks were born for the yoke and their broad powerful shoulders for drawing the plough. And as it was by their means that the earth was brought under tillage by breaking up its clods, no violence was ever used towards them, so the poets say, by the men of that Golden Age:
“But then the iron race sprang into being,
And first did dare to forge the deadly sword,
And taste the ox its hand had tamed to bondage.”
So valuable was deemed the service that ma received from oxen that to eat their flesh was held a crime. (Translated by H. Rackham, M.A. The Lobed Classical Library)
“ quid de bubus loquar; quorum ipsa terga declarant non esse se ad onus accipiendum figurata, cervices autem natae ad iugum, tum vires umerorum et latitudines ad aratra †extrahenda. quibus cum terrae subigerentur fissione glebarum ab illo aureo genere, ut poetae loquuntur, vis nulla umquam adferebatur:
ferrea tum vero proles exorta repentest
ausaque funestum primast fabricarier ensem
et gustare manu iunctum domitumque iuvencum:
tanta putabatur utilitas percipi e bubus, ut eorum visceribus vesci scelus haberetur.
Note that eating beef was a crime.
Cicero, Germanic and Avienus translated into Latin Arato's work; this gives us an idea of the great success that this work was in a world where the stars determined the lives of men.
Ovid tells us there were four generations on Metamorphosis I, 70-163:
And scarcely had He separated these
and fixed their certain bounds, when all the stars,
which long were pressed and hidden in the mass,
began to gleam out from the plains of heaven,
and traversed, with the Gods, bright ether fields:
and lest some part might be bereft of life
the gleaming waves were filled with twinkling fish;
the earth was covered with wild animals;
the agitated air was filled with birds.
But one more perfect and more sanctified,
a being capable of lofty thought,
intelligent to rule, was wanting still
man was created! Did the Unknown God
designing then a better world make man
of seed divine? or did Prometheus
take the new soil of earth (that still contained
some godly element of Heaven's Life)
and use it to create the race of man;
first mingling it with water of new streams;
so that his new creation, upright man,
was made in image of commanding Gods?
On earth the brute creation bends its gaze,
but man was given a lofty countenance
and was commanded to behold the skies;
and with an upright face may view the stars:—
and so it was that shapeless clay put on
the form of man till then unknown to earth.
Quattuor aetates. Gigantes.
THE FOUR AGES
First was the Golden Age. Then rectitude
spontaneous in the heart prevailed, and faith.
Avengers were not seen, for laws unframed
were all unknown and needless. Punishment
and fear of penalties existed not.
No harsh decrees were fixed on brazen plates.
No suppliant multitude the countenance
of Justice feared, averting, for they dwelt
without a judge in peace. Descended not
the steeps, shorn from its height, the lofty pine,
cleaving the trackless waves of alien shores,
nor distant realms were known to wandering men.
The towns were not entrenched for time of war;
they had no brazen trumpets, straight, nor horns
of curving brass, nor helmets, shields nor swords.
There was no thought of martial pomp —secure
a happy multitude enjoyed repose.
Then of her own accord the earth produced
a store of every fruit. The harrow touched
her not, nor did the plowshare wound
her fields. And man content with given food,
and none compelling, gathered arbute fruits
and wild strawberries on the mountain sides,
and ripe blackberries clinging to the bush,
and corners and sweet acorns on the ground,
down fallen from the spreading tree of Jove.
Eternal Spring! Soft breathing zephyrs soothed
and warmly cherished buds and blooms, produced
without a seed. The valleys though unplowed
gave many fruits; the fields though not renewed
white glistened with the heavy bearded wheat:
rivers flowed milk and nectar, and the trees,
the very oak trees, then gave honey of themselves.
When Saturn had been banished into night
and all the world was ruled by Jove supreme,
the Silver Age, though not so good as gold
but still surpassing yellow brass, prevailed.
Jove first reduced to years the Primal Spring,
by him divided into periods four,
unequal,—summer, autumn, winter, spring.—
then glowed with tawny heat the parched air,
or pendent icicles in winter froze
and man stopped crouching in crude caverns, while
he built his homes of tree rods, bark entwined.
Then were the cereals planted in long rows,
and bullocks groaned beneath the heavy yoke.
The third Age followed, called The Age of Bronze,
when cruel people were inclined to arms
but not to impious crimes. And last of all
the ruthless and hard Age of Iron prevailed,
from which malignant vein great evil sprung;
and modesty and faith and truth took flight,
and in their stead deceits and snares and frauds
and violence and wicked love of gain,
succeeded.—Then the sailor spread his sails
to winds unknown, and keels that long had stood
on lofty mountains pierced uncharted waves.
Surveyors anxious marked with metes and bounds
the lands, created free as light and air:
nor need the rich ground furnish only crops,
and give due nourishment by right required,—
they penetrated to the bowels of earth
and dug up wealth, bad cause of all our ills,—
rich ores which long ago the earth had hid
and deep removed to gloomy Stygian caves:
and soon destructive iron and harmful gold
were brought to light; and War, which uses both,
came forth and shook with sanguinary grip
his clashing arms. Rapacity broke forth—
the guest was not protected from his host,
the father in law from his own son in law;
even brothers seldom could abide in peace.
The husband threatened to destroy his wife,
and she her husband: horrid step dames mixed
the deadly henbane: eager sons inquired
their fathers, ages. Piety was slain:
and last of all the virgin deity,
Astraea vanished from the blood-stained earth.
And lest ethereal heights should long remain
less troubled than the earth, the throne of Heaven
was threatened by the Giants; and they piled
mountain on mountain to the lofty stars.
But Jove, omnipotent, shot thunderbolts
through Mount Olympus, and he overturned
from Ossa huge, enormous Pelion.
And while these dreadful bodies lay overwhelmed
in their tremendous bulk, (so fame reports)
the Earth was reeking with the copious blood
of her gigantic sons; and thus replete
with moisture she infused the steaming gore
with life renewed. So that a monument
of such ferocious stock should be retained,
she made that offspring in the shape of man;
but this new race alike despised the Gods,
and by the greed of savage slaughter proved
a sanguinary birth.
(Ovid. Metamorphoses. Brookes More. Boston. Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922.)
Vix ita limitibus dissaepserat omnia certis,
cum, quae pressa diu massa latuere sub illa,
sidera coeperunt toto effervescere caelo.
Neu regio foret ulla suis animalibus orba,
astra tenent caeleste solum formaeque deorum,
cesserunt nitidis habitandae piscibus undae,
terra feras cepit, volucres agitabilis aer.
Sanctius his animal mentisque capacius altae
deerat adhuc et quod dominari in cetera posset.
Natus homo est, sive hunc divino semine fecit
ille opifex rerum, mundi melioris origo,
sive recens tellus seductaque nuper ab alto
aethere cognati retinebat semina caeli;
quam satus Iapeto mixtam pluvialibus undis
finxit in effigiem moderantum cuncta deorum.
Pronaque cum spectent animalia cetera terram,
os homini sublime dedit, caelumque videre
iussit et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus.
Sic, modo quae fuerat rudis et sine imagine, tellus
induit ignotas hominum conversa figuras.
Aurea prima sata est aetas, quae vindice nullo,
sponte sua, sine lege fidem rectumque colebat.
Poena metusque aberant, nec verba minantia fixo
aere legebantur, nec supplex turba timebat
iudicis ora sui, sed erant sine vindice tuti.
Nondum caesa suis, peregrinum ut viseret orbem,
montibus in liquidas pinus descenderat undas,
nullaque mortales praeter sua litora norant.
Nondum praecipites cingebant oppida fossae;
non tuba directi, non aeris cornua flexi,
non galeae, non ensis erat: sine militis usu
mollia securae peragebant otia gentes.
ipsa quoque inmunis rastroque intacta nec ullis
saucia vomeribus per se dabat omnia tellus;
contentique cibis nullo cogente creatis
arbuteos fetus montanaque fraga legebant
cornaque et in duris haerentia mora rubetis
et quae deciderant patula Iovis arbore glandes.
Ver erat aeternum, placidique tepentibus auris
mulcebant zephyri natos sine semine flores.
Mox etiam fruges tellus inarata ferebat,
nec renovatus ager gravidis canebat aristis;
flumina iam lactis, iam flumina nectaris ibant,
flavaque de viridi stillabant ilice mella.
Postquam, Saturno tenebrosa in Tartara misso,
sub Iove mundus erat, subiit argentea proles,
auro deterior, fulvo pretiosior aere.
Iuppiter antiqui contraxit tempora veris
perque hiemes aestusque et inaequalis autumnos
et breve ver spatiis exegit quattuor annum.
Tum primum siccis aer fervoribus ustus
canduit, et ventis glacies adstricta pependit.
Tum primum subiere domus (domus antra fuerunt
et densi frutices et vinctae cortice virgae).
Semina tum primum longis Cerealia sulcis
obruta sunt, pressique iugo gemuere iuvenci.
Tertia post illam successit aenea proles,
saevior ingeniis et ad horrida promptior arma,
non scelerata tamen. De duro est ultima ferro.
Protinus inrupit venae peioris in aevum
omne nefas: fugere pudor verumque fidesque;
In quorum subiere locum fraudesque dolique
insidiaeque et vis et amor sceleratus habendi.
Vela dabat ventis (nec adhuc bene noverat illos)
navita; quaeque diu steterant in montibus altis,
fluctibus ignotis insultavere carinae,
communemque prius ceu lumina solis et auras
cautus humum longo signavit limite mensor.
Nec tantum segetes alimentaque debita dives
poscebatur humus, sed itum est in viscera terrae:
quasque recondiderat Stygiisque admoverat umbris,
effodiuntur opes, inritamenta malorum.
Iamque nocens ferrum ferroque nocentius aurum
prodierat: prodit bellum, quod pugnat utroque,
sanguineaque manu crepitantia concutit arma.
Vivitur ex rapto: non hospes ab hospite tutus,
non socer a genero; fratrum quoque gratia rara est.
Inminet exitio vir coniugis, illa mariti;
lurida terribiles miscent aconita novercae;
filius ante diem patrios inquirit in annos.
Victa iacet pietas, et virgo caede madentis,
ultima caelestum terras Astraea reliquit.
Neve foret terris securior arduus aether,
adfectasse ferunt regnum caeleste Gigantas
altaque congestos struxisse ad sidera montes.
Tum pater omnipotens misso perfregit Olympum
fulmine et excussit subiectae Pelion Ossae.
Obruta mole sua cum corpora dira iacerent,
perfusam multo natorum sanguine Terram
inmaduisse ferunt calidumque animasse cruorem,
et, ne nulla suae stirpis monimenta manerent,
in faciem vertisse hominum. Sed et illa propago
contemptrix superum saevaeque avidissima caedis
et violenta fuit: scires e sanguine natos.
Virgil refers extensively to the myth of the "ages" in four or five times. In particular he does it in the famous Fourth Eclogue, in which he sings a happy next time. At the time I will devote an article to this eclogue of now I just give four verses in which he expressly refers to the ages of man:
Now the last age by Cumae's Sibyl sung
has come and gone, and the majestic roll
of circling centuries begins anew:
justice returns, returns old Saturn's reign,
with a new breed of men sent down from heaven.
Only do thou, at the boy's birth in whom
the iron shall cease, the golden race arise,
befriend him, chaste Lucina; 'tis thine own
(Vergil. Eclogues. J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1895.)
Ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas;
magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo:
iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna;
iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto.
Tu modo nascenti puero, quo ferrea primum
desinet ac toto surget gens aurea mundo,
casta fave Lucina: tuus iam regnat Apollo.
Note: This eclogue was written shortly before the birth of Christ, and later Christians gave it a meaning of Christian prophecy, for example Lactantius and Augustine. But the truth is that almost certainly it is dedicated to the newborn son of Pollio, consul inthat year.
Virgil also refers it on Georgics I, 125-145 /
Fields knew no taming hand of husbandmen;
To mark the plain or mete with boundary-line—
Even this was impious; for the common stock
They gathered, and the earth of her own will
All things more freely, no man bidding, bore.
He to black serpents gave their venom-bane,
And bade the wolf go prowl, and ocean toss;
Shooed from the leaves their honey, put fire away,
And curbed the random rivers running wine,
That use by gradual dint of thought on thought
Might forge the various arts, with furrow's help
The corn-blade win, and strike out hidden fire
From the flint's heart. Then first the streams were ware
Of hollowed alder-hulls: the sailor then
Their names and numbers gave to star and star,
Pleiads and Hyads, and Lycaon's child
Bright Arctos; how with nooses then was found
To catch wild beasts, and cozen them with lime,
And hem with hounds the mighty forest-glades.
Soon one with hand-net scourges the broad stream,
Probing its depths, one drags his dripping toils
Along the main; then iron's unbending might,
And shrieking saw-blade,—for the men of old
With wedges wont to cleave the splintering log;—
Then divers arts arose; toil conquered all,
Remorseless toil, and poverty's shrewd push
In times of hardship. Ceres was the first
Set mortals on with tools to turn the sod,
When now the awful groves 'gan fail to bear
Acorns and arbutes, and her wonted food
Dodona gave no more.
(Vergil. Bucolics, Aeneid, and Georgics Of Vergil. J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1900.)
Ante Iovem nulli subigebant arva coloni;
ne signare quidem aut partiri limite campum
fas erat: in medium quaerebant ipsaque tellus
omnia liberius nullo poscente ferebat.
Ille malum virus serpentibus addidit atris
praedarique lupos iussit pontumque moveri,
mellaque decussit foliis ignemque removit
et passim rivis currentia vina repressit,
ut varias usus meditando extunderet artis
paulatim et sulcis frumenti quaereret herbam.
Ut silicis venis abstrusum excuderet ignem.
Tunc alnos primum fluvii sensere cavatas;
navita tum stellis numeros et nomina fecit,
Pleiadas, Hyadas, claramque Lycaonis Arcton;
tum laqueis captare feras et fallere visco
inventum et magnos canibus circumdare saltus;
atque alius latum funda iam verberat amnem
alta petens, pelagoque alius trahit humida lina;
tum ferri rigor atque argutae lamina serrae,—
nam primi cuneis scindebant fissile lignum
tum variae venere artes. Labor omnia vicit
inprobus et duris urgens in rebus egestas.
Prima Ceres ferro mortalis vertere terram
instituit, cum iam glandes atque arbuta sacrae
deficerent silvae et victum Dodona negaret.
And also in the final verses of Book II of the Georgics:
Georgics, II 532 et seq .:
Such life of yore the ancient Sabines led,
Such Remus and his brother: Etruria thus,
Doubt not, to greatness grew, and Rome became
The fair world's fairest, and with circling wall
Clasped to her single breast the sevenfold hills.
Ay, ere the reign of Dicte's king, ere men,
Waxed godless, banqueted on slaughtered bulls,
Such life on earth did golden Saturn lead.
Nor ear of man had heard the war-trump's blast,
Nor clang of sword on stubborn anvil set.
But lo! a boundless space we have travelled o'er;
'Tis time our steaming horses to unyoke.
(Translation by English J. B. Greenough, 1900)
Hanc olim veteres vitam coluere Sabini,
hanc Remus et frater, sic fortis Etruria crevit
scilicet et rerum facta est pulcherrima Roma,
septemque una sibi muro circumdedit arces.
Ante etiam sceptrum Dictaei regis et ante
inpia quam caesis gens est epulata iuvencis,
aureus hanc vitam in terris Saturnus agebat;
necdum etiam audierant inflari classica, necdum
inpositos duris crepitare incudibus enses.
Sed nos inmensum spatiis confecimus aequor,
et iam tempus equum fumantia solvere colla.
Note: On Virgili’s the work is not a punishment from Jupiter, but the source of civilization.
Horace speaks on end of epode XVI of three ages, omitting Silver age:
Epode, XVI, 57 et seq.
The pine rowed by the Argonauts never attempted to come hither; nor did the lascivious [Medea] of Colchis set her foot [in this place]: hither the Sidonian mariners never turned their sail-yards, nor the toiling crew of Ulysses. No contagious distempers hurt the flocks; nor does the fiery violence of any constellation scorch the herd. Jupiter set apart these shores for a pious people, when he debased the golden age with brass: with brass, then with iron he hardened the ages; from which there shall be a happy escape for the good, according to my predictions. (Translated by C.Smart)
non huc Argoo contendit rémige pinus,
neque impudica Cochis intulit pedem;
non huc Sidonii torserunt cornua nautae
laboriosa nec cohors Vlixei:
Iuppiter illa piae secrevit litora genti,
ut inquinavit aere tempus aureum;
aere, dehinc ferro duravit saecula, quórum
piis secunda vate me datur fuga.
Horace refers on other place to the progressive degeneration of human generations (our grandparents, our parents, ourselves and our children, each geneation worse than the previous generation) Carmina, III, 6, 45 et seq .
What has not cankering Time made worse?
Viler than grandsires, sires beget
Ourselves, yet baser, soon to curse
The world with offspring baser yet.
(Horace. The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace. John Conington. trans. London. George Bell and Sons. 1882).
damnosa quid non imminuit dies?
aetas parentum peior avis tulit
nos nequiores, mox daturos
The Latin poet Tibullus Albius ( 50-19 BC) reduces the ages to two: the Age of Saturn, when love was free, and this one of Jupiter with violence, private property and theft
Tibullus (50 a. C. – 19 a. C) .Elegies, I,3,35-66
How happily men lived when Saturn reigned!
Ere weary highways crossed the fair young world,
Ere lofty ships the purple seas disdained,
Their swelling canvas to the winds unfurled!
No roving seaman, from a distant course,
Filled full of far-fetched wares his frail ship's hold:
At home, the strong bull stood unyoked; the horse
Endured no bridle in the age of gold.
Men's houses had no doors? No firm-set rock
Marked field from field by niggard masters held.
The very oaks ran honey; the mild flock
Brought home its swelling udders, uncompelled.
Nor wrath nor war did that blest kingdom know;
No craft was taught in old Saturnian time,
By which the frowning smith, with blow on blow,
Could forge the furious sword and so much crime.
Now Jove is king! Now have we carnage foul,
And wreckful seas, and countless ways to die.
Nay! spare me, Father Jove, for on my soul
Nor perjury, nor words blaspheming lie.
If longer life I ask of Fate in vain,
O'er my frail dust this superscription be:—
"Here Death's dark hand TIBULLUS doth detain,
Messala's follower over land and sea!"
Then, since my soul to love did always yield,
Let Venus guide it the immortal way,
Where dance and song fill all th' Elysian field,
And music that will never die away.
There many a song-bird with his fellow sails,
And cheerly carols on the cloudless air;
Each grove breathes incense; all the happy vales
O'er-run with roses, numberless and fair.
Bright bands of youth with tender maidens stray,
Led by the love-god all delights to share;
And each fond lover death once snatched away
Winds an immortal myrtle in his hair.
Far, far from such, the dreadful realms of gloom
By those black streams of Hades circled round,
Where viper-tressed, fierce ministers of doom,—
The Furies drive lost souls from bound to bound.
The doors of brass, and dragon-gate of Hell,
Grim Cerberus guards, and frights the phantoms back:
Ixion, who by Juno's beauty fell,
Gives his frail body to the whirling rack.
(By Theodore C. Williams, Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin Company. (The Riverside Press Cambridge)1908
Quam bene Saturno vivebant rege, priusquam
Tellus in longas est patefacta vias!
Nondum caeruleas pinus contempserat undas,
Effusum ventis praebueratque sinum,
Nec vagus ignotis repetens conpendia terris
Presserat externa navita merce ratem.
Illo non validus subiit iuga tempore taurus,
Non domito frenos ore momordit equus,
Non domus ulla fores habuit, non fixus in agris,
Qui regeret certis finibus arva, lapis.
Ipsae mella dabant quercus, ultroque ferebant
Obvia securis ubera lactis oves.
Non acies, non ira fuit, non bella, nec ensem
Inmiti saevus duxerat arte faber.
Nunc Iove sub domino caedes et vulnera semper,
Nunc mare, nunc leti mille repente viae.
Parce, pater. timidum non me periuria terrent,
Non dicta in sanctos inpia verba deos.
Quodsi fatales iam nunc explevimus annos,
Fac lapis inscriptis stet super ossa notis:
‘Hic iacet inmiti consumptus morte Tibullus,
Messallam terra dum sequiturque mari.’
Sed me, quod facilis tenero sum semper Amori,
Ipsa Venus campos ducet in Elysios.
Hic choreae cantusque vigent, passimque vagantes
Dulce sonant tenui gutture carmen aves,
Fert casiam non culta seges, totosque per agros
Floret odoratis terra benigna rosis;
Ac iuvenum series teneris inmixta puellis
Ludit, et adsidue proelia miscet Amor.
65Illic est, cuicumque rapax mors venit amanti,
Et gerit insigni myrtea serta coma.
At scelerata iacet sedes in nocte profunda
Abdita, quam circum flumina nigra sonant:
Tisiphoneque inpexa feros pro crinibus angues
Saevit, et huc illuc inpia turba fugit.
tum niger in porta serpentum Cerberus ore
stridet et aeratas excubat ante fores.
Juvenal, for whom the people under Saturn lived simply, says in his Satire, VI, 1-20
The Ways of Women
In the days of Saturn, I believe, Chastity still lingered on the earth, and was to be seen for a time —-days when men were poorly housed in chilly caves, when one common shelter enclosed hearth and household gods, herds and their owners; when the hill-bred wife spread her silvan bed with leaves and straw and the skins of her neighbours the wild beasts—-a wife not like to thee, O Cynthia, nor to thee, Lesbia, whose bright eyes were clouded by a sparrow's death, but one whose breasts gave suck to lusty babes, often more unkempt herself than her acorn-belching spouse. For in those days, when the world was young, and the skies were new, men born of the riven oak, or formed of dust, lived differently from now, and had no parents of their own. Under Jove, perchance, some few traces of ancient modesty may have survived; but that was before he had grown his beard, before the Greeks had learned to swear by someone else's head, when men feared not thieves for their cabbages or apples, and lived with unwalled gardens. After that Astraea withdrew by degrees to heaven, with Chastity as her comrade, the two sisters taking flight together.
To set your neighbour's bed a-shaking, Postumus, and to flout the Genius of the sacred couch,6 is now an ancient and long-established practice. All other sins came later, the products of the age of Iron; but it was the silver age that saw the first adulterers.
[Translated by G. G. Ramsay, 1918]
Note: Juvenal, the satirist of “saeva indignatio”, of the cruel spite, does not resist to demystify the myth when starting this Satire he contrasts the primitive atmosphere of happiness and naturalness to "the mother disheveled breastfeeding and husband belching acorns"
Credo Pudicitiam Saturno rege moratam
in terris uisamque diu, cum frigida paruas
praeberet spelunca domos ignemque laremque
et pecus et dominos communi clauderet umbra,
siluestrem montana torum cum sterneret uxor 5
frondibus et culmo uicinarumque ferarum
pellibus, haut similis tibi, Cynthia, nec tibi, cuius
turbauit nitidos extinctus passer ocellos,
sed potanda ferens infantibus ubera magnis
et saepe horridior glandem ructante marito. 10
quippe aliter tunc orbe nouo caeloque recenti
uiuebant homines, qui rupto robore nati
compositiue luto nullos habuere parentes.
multa Pudicitiae ueteris uestigia forsan
aut aliqua exstiterint et sub Ioue, sed Ioue nondum 15
barbato, nondum Graecis iurare paratis
per caput alterius, cum furem nemo timeret
caulibus ac pomis et aperto uiueret horto.
paulatim deinde ad superos Astraea recessit
hac comite, atque duae pariter fugere sorores. 20
anticum et uetus est alienum, Postume, lectum
concutere atque sacri genium contemnere fulcri.
omne aliud crimen mox ferrea protulit aetas:
uiderunt primos argentea saecula moechos.