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CHERNYSHOV Ju. G.
THE SOCIAL-UTOPIAN IDEAS AND THE MYTH OF THE “GOLDEN AGE” IN ANCIENT ROME.
Pt. 2. EARLY PRINCIPATE.
Both parts of this book are devoted mainly to the problem of the specific features of the utopian (or, as some scholars suggest, antiutopian) mentality in ancient Rome. Simultaneously ñ.151 the development of the “Saturnia regna” popular legends and their connection with the respective development of the social-utopian ideas are examined. From the author’s point of view it is hard to admit that “the Romans did not know an Utopia”: more exactly would be to say that at present Roman utopian ideas (or “Roman utopia” in a wide sense), unlike the Greek ones, have not experienced a serious and profound investigation.
One may recognize the relative weakness of the Roman political Utopia, which spread only in the second half of the
The Roman literary utopia contains very many praises of this happy being blessings, often associated with the life of the “barbarians” or with the “simple life” in any idyllic country like Arcadia. At the same time a gradual “deprimitivisation” and “patriotisation” of the “Saturnia regna” myth developed. An ideal of “simple life” was no more connected with the wild (“bestiarum modo”) being of the first man, but associated with the “mores majorum”, which were yet in honour among the Italian peasants, heirs of Saturn. During the principate semi-official writers and poets presented Rome of the emperors as the highest stage of the cultural and military development, giving its blessings to all the nations. In non-official versions more traditionalistic and “primitivistic” views were expressed. They ordinarly placed the reign of Saturn in the patriarchal past or, rarely, in the future times, which must come after the eshatological ruin of the old world. In any case the descriptions of the “golden age” in semi-official and in non-official literature were stylised: these “topoi” were often used as a form for the praising of the ruler or for the blaming of the contemporary moral degradation.
The most interesting and important changes are to be found in the religious—mythological utopia. Just in the Roman period eshatological and messianic ideas of the coming blissful epoch were spread, and just at that time FIRSTLY the “golden age” (not “golden race”) conception appeared. According to Hesiod’s version of the myth the special ñ.153 “golden race” (“chryseon genos”) had remained in the past not to return, and for the modern “iron race” only destruction by Zeus is prepared. Yet in the I-st century
It should be stressed that even in the quite different “golden age” descriptions the same blessings were often repeated: these are the peace among the living creatures, the abundance of natural products, the soft climate, the absence of sin’ etc. These universal “paradisical” motives were the main ingredients of the myth archaic versions, and only later they were supplemented or substituted by the various private interpretations. The old sacral-archaic contents of the myth were gradually being squeezed out by the new social-utopian interpretations, which were often using only the form of the popular myth. Some “utopiologists” say that the place of utopia is between the myth and the science. If it is so, we may call the myth of the “golden age” as the “most utopian” ancient myth, as the “myth-utopia”, as the initial point and the concentrate expression of the ancient social utopia. But there is no reason to discuss the indispensable “communistic” or “socialistic” tendencies of this myth and these utopias. In Rome, for example, the criticism of luxury and the praise of ñ.154 “community of possessions” were, mainly, the natural social reaction to the destruction of the patriarchal civil collectivism with its traditions of the “civitas” and its property on the “ager publicus”. Besides it was the wide-spread rhetorical “locus communis” that was used by many authors (such as Ovid, Germanic, Seneca the Philosopher etc.), actually very far off from any “communism”.
If it’s true that “historia est magistra vitae”, we can find the answer to one question: is it really, as some sociologists say, that the end of utopia began in the second half of our century? In order to estimate the present situation, we must see some historical perspective. The “crisis of utopia” took place in the
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