ENG 462: Backgrounds for Behn
Scanned directly from: More, Thomas. Utopia. Ed. Robert M. Adams. NY: W. W. Norton, 1975. 96-7.
(First Century s.c.-First Century A.D.)
The myth of the Golden Age, from which man sprang and to which he
may someday hope to return, is practically immemorial; as it has no point
of origin, it has no fixed limits, significance, or precise definition. For example-
Ovid, who under his slick, civilized Augustan surface had a deep feeling
for the distant past, gave one memorable expression to the myth in the first
book of his Metamorphoses. But, like other parts of that radiant poem, the
tale of the Golden Age spread and had repercussions far beyond what Ovid
himself could have visualized. Viewed from a Christian perspective, the Age
of Gold transformed itself almost automatically into the Garden of Eden or
the community of the saints. Long before Freud, psychological interpreters
had no difficulty in reading it as nostalgia for the womb; and messianic rev-
olutionaries, by simply transferring it to the other end of the historical
time-scale, have easily converted it to the classless society or the New Jeru-
ments as at the notion that his poem had influenced Sir Thomas More's
Utopia. But it did—not so much directly and specifically, as through a dif-
fused and pervasive atmosphere of thought that identified a life of inno-
cence, equality, and closeness to nature as the first and last state of man.
[The Golden Age] +
The age was formed of gold; in those first davs
No law or force was needed; men did right
Freely; without duress they kept their word.
No punishment or fear of it; no threats
Inscribed on brazen tablets; no crowds crawled
Beseeching mercy from a lofty judge;
For without law or judge all men were safe.
High on its native hills the pine tree stood,
Unlopped as yet, nor yet compelled to cross
Ocean's wide waves, and help men leave their homes.
Towns had no moats; no horns of winding brass
Nor trumpets straight, nor swords nor shields existed.
The nations dozed through ages of soft time,
Safe without armies; while the earth herself,
Untouched by spade or plowshare, freely gave,
As of her own volition, all men needed:
+ Book I, lines 89-136 (R.M.A.).
And men were well content with what she gave
Unforced and uncompelled; they found the fruit
Of the arbutus bush, and cornel-cherries,
Gathered wild berries from the mountain-sides,
Eating ripe fruit plucked from the thorny canes,
And acorns as they fell from Jove's wide oak.
Spring lasted all year long; the warm west wind
Played gently over flowers sprung from no seed:
Soon too the unfilled earth brought forth profuse
Her crops of grain; and fields, uncultivated,
Whitened beneath their stalks of bearded wheat.
Streams flowed profuse, now milk, now nectar, and
The living oak poured streams of golden honey.
Later, with Saturn sent to gloomy Hell,
Jove ruled the world; the Age of Silver came,
Worse than the Age of Gold, though not so bad
As was to be the Age of yellow Brass.
Jove cut the old spring short and turned the year
To the four changing seasons, winter, spring
(Brief now), hot summer, and contrarious fall.
Then first the air burnt white with summer heat,
And icicles hung down, gripped by the winds:
Then men first sought out homes; they lived before
In caves, or else in thickets, where they wove
Together twigs and withes with strips of bark.
Then first the seeds of grain were set in rows,
And bullocks groaned, under the heavy yoke.
Third of the ages came the Age of Bronze,
Harder of mind, quicker to savage arms,
But not yet brutal. Last was the Age of Iron.
Evil at once broke forth; from such coarse stuff
Modesty, truth, and faith withdrew; their place
Was filled by tricks, deceitful plots, brute force,
Treachery, and the shameful lust for gain.
Sails now spread to the winds—at first, the sailors
Knew little of their use—while keels of wood
That long had stood on lofty mountain-tops,
Now leaped exultantly over strange waves.
And now the ground itself, which once had been
Common to all, like sunlight and the air,
Fell under the surveyor's drawn-out lines.