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Quattuor aetates. Gigantes.


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.

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