Posted by Eric » 6 Comments »
Chris comments in the post below:
If I recall, some “silver age” authors actually first designated Cicero, Vergil, and company as authors of the “Golden Age”. So naturally taken up from that Silver Age would be a complement. My OED is packed before the move, so I cannot check it at the moment.
I would be interested in any references in which ‘silver’ writers refer to the Augustan writers (or even to late Republican literature if we want to extend back to Cicero, as we probably should) as having written in a ‘Golden Age’. To be sure, ‘silver’ writers sometimes made a trope of their secondariness; for example, Statius Thebaid 10.445-6 (Hinds discusses this and other passages relating to ‘secondariness’):
vos quoque sacrati, quamvis mea carmina surgant
inferiore lyra, memores superabitis annos.
Also of interest is the pseudo-Ovidian Argumenta Aeneidis, praefatio 1-4 (text from Ziolkowski and Putnam’s The Virgilian Tradition):
Vergilius magno quantum concessit Homero,
tantum ego Vergilio, Naso poeta, meo.
Nec me praelatum cupio tibi ferre, poeta;
ingenio si te subsequor, hoc satis est.
Vergil refers to the return of a golden age in general terms in Eclogue 4, which he specifically relates to Saturnian myth (e.g., redeunt Saturnia regna, 6): ac toto surget gens aurea mundo (9); but a quick glance through Ziolkowski and Putnam’s index s.v. ‘golden age’ didn’t yield anything relating to literary designations (but I was skimming pretty quickly and don’t have time at the moment for a really thorough search).
In English, the term ‘golden age’ to refer to Augustan literature seems to have come into play earlier than ‘silver age’. The OED’s earliest reference is from Dryden in 1700: ‘With Ovid ended the golden age of the Roman tongue.’ Interestingly, Dryden uses the term mythically 15 years previous to this: ‘Those first times, which Poets call the Golden Age.’
Posted by Eric » 2 Comments »
I was intrigued by a footnote in Stephen Hinds’ Allusion and Intertext regarding the post-antique designation of early imperial literature as ‘silver’–namely, how long this designation has been around, which according to the OED goes back at least to 1736 (p. 83 n. 66).
So I went to the OED entry for ‘silver age’. The first meaning is the mythical one: ‘The second age of the world, according to the Greek and Roman poets, inferior in simplicity and happiness to the first or golden age.’
Definition 1.b is the literary meaning: ‘The period of Latin literature from the death of Augustus to that of Hadrian.’ And indeed, the first use is from 1736, where Ainsworth writes: ‘Tacitus, Pliny the historian, Suetonius, and some other prose writers, flourished in the silver age.’ The next use comes in Charles Butler’s Life of Hugo Grotius:’The language of the Pandects is of the silver age.’
What I find most interesting is the way in which a term used to describe a mythical period in ancient literature (cf. subiit argentea proles, Ovid Met.1.114) has made its way into English as a literary-historical term to describe the actual poetry (and prose) of certain ancient writers. Huh.