The ideal is always something inhuman:
“These men were the so-called golden race, subjects of Cronus, who lived without cares or labour, eating only acorns, wild fruit, and honey that dripped from the trees, drinking the milk of sheep and goats, never growing old, dancing, and laughing much; death, to them, was no more terrible than sleep.”
According to Robert Graves, the golden age myth has its origins in the worship of the Bee-goddess. Like bees, the ideal human beings just get on with whatever comes naturally, dance their dance, and are incapable of worry. Like the bee they don’t labour: you might think of a bee as “busy”, but it doesn’t count as work when it’s no trouble and just part of an eternal dance.
The golden age ideal is a state of bliss free from worry. Neither is there any choice, since choice implies worry. “Did I do the right thing?” Everyone moves according to a natural flow, and no place for reflection or second-guessing.
Reflection comes in the silver age, where people start to become “quarrelsome”. With reflection comes judgement and retrospection. “You shouldn’t have done that.” The implication here is that these quarrelsome people are inferior to the golden ones. According to the golden age myth, we should all have remained as bees and thereby remained perfect. It’s funny that the silver race are criticised for being “ignorant” when the golden ones were all mindless as bees.
But bees aren’t entirely mindless. They know what they need to know to do what they do. The people of the silver age lack that kind of knowledge. They do not sacrifice to the gods – and thereby fail to do what is necessary for their own survival. They are ignorant in the sense that their minds are always on the wrong things, spiralling off into reflection and blame, and thereby losing sight of the material reality of their own existence.
It’s difficult to remain focused on what’s important when you have so much to think about. The golden age myth is a reminder that less can be more: emptying your mind can put you in touch with reality again, with what is essential for a creative life. That all the calculations and abstractions in the world won’t get you anywhere if you can’t catch hold of what is in front of you.
(I’ve been reading The Greek Myths by Robert Graves)