What is a Golden Age?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A golden age is a time in a specific culture when cultural advancements are at their highest point. For example, many refer to the Golden Age of Classical Greece as a time in the 5th century BCE when literature, drama, philosophy, art and politics were most inspired. These ages are often followed by a decline, where new cultural products are derivative and less inspired and where politics begin to veer off from their initial course. If such ages could be graphed, they would be the high point, the top of the bell on a bell curve, or the apex of a society.

During the golden age of the Delian League, many aspects of Western Civilization were developed in the Greek city state of Athens.
During the golden age of the Delian League, many aspects of Western Civilization were developed in the Greek city state of Athens.

Many people all use this term to refer to a time when a specific thing seems to reach a high point. For example, many look at the 1940s as the golden age of American cinema. Recognizing a high point generally means that something is the best it will ever be, however, and many hesitate to use the term.

Christopher Marlowe was a playwright during the golden age of the Elizabethan period.
Christopher Marlowe was a playwright during the golden age of the Elizabethan period.

In a sense, use of the term is often nostalgic and overly romanticized, particularly in history. For example, not all people who lived in ancient Greece benefited. In particular, slaves and women had few personal or political rights. Generally speaking, however, these time periods are simply a sort of cultural explosion occurs where new developments, and new ideas that benefit society as a whole happen with great rapidity.

Shakespeare was a writer during the Elizabethan golden age.
Shakespeare was a writer during the Elizabethan golden age.

Classical Greek literature, for example, is said to have experienced its peak with the dramatists like Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, and the comic playwright Aristophanes. Modern people still read and study their work and find it relevant not only to its own time, but also to the present day. Similar claims can be made about theater in the Elizabethan period, which during which time Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Christopher Marlowe all lived and worked.

Golden ages are typically periods of time where one can observe a definite low point prior to and after the age. It is frequently premature to call a new event a golden age, therefore, since without being able to foretell the future, it's impossible to view its decline. The term generally relates to things past and should not be applied to present events or cultural developments.

Ben Jonson, a product of the Elizabethan golden age, was England's first poet laureate.
Ben Jonson, a product of the Elizabethan golden age, was England's first poet laureate.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

ZsaZsa56
Is there any time in human history that is definitively called the "Golden Age", maybe the Romans or the Renaissance? It seem like humanity has experienced so many highs and lows that to pick a crowning moment would be short sighted.
profess
I think that we may have seen the golden age of the internet come and go in the span of just 10 years or so. I think as the internet gets more commercialized, regulated, homogenized and streamlined, the wild wild west culture that produced so much innovation online in the early years will be lost.

anon173007

Can anyone remember the poem about the golden age about what you can and can't do anymore as a golden ager? it is very comical and true if you can, please put it online. i would love to have it.

anon132509

The golden age is yet to come, when the whole world will be at peace and serenity.

anon72023

This is great. thanks for the simple, full answer I was looking for.

anon39348

This is great thanks for the simple, full answer I was looking for.

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