Monday, 27 July 2015

The Decline and Rise of Mankind

There are two competing approaches to the state of mankind in Greek mythology. Basically, things are either gradually degrading and getting worse, or civilisation is improving the world.

The Golden Age, as Hesiod wrote, was a real concept in ancient myths, based on a blessed age of mankind when there was no war, the climate was splendid and food plentiful. Mankind then progressed through the Silver and Bronze Ages, ending with the Heroic and Iron Ages (Iron being current for Hesiod, writing about two and a half thousand years ago). In short, everything’s deteriorating over time.

However, there is a directly opposing perspective. Namely that mankind is civilising the world, and that as civilisation progresses so everything improves. There are a huge number of Greek myths related to monster-slaying, effectively taming the relics of vicious antiquity and making safe lands previously plagued by chimeras, the hydra and so on.

Have to admit I had to check this on Wikipedia, but another aspect could be technology. Prometheus was punished by Zeus for giving fire (technology/knowledge) to mankind, and some say this ended the initial Golden Age. By chance, Prometheus is also sometimes associated with Lucifer, and the knowledge of fire equated with eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. So, the ending of the Golden Age and the exile from Eden could be directly comparable or (if you choose to view things this way) even the same event.

The idea of industry as a bad thing is no stranger in fantasy either. The iconic images of Saruman having the trees torn down are pretty unambiguous, as is his treatment of the Shire (at the end of the book, the films take another path).

On the other hand, Red Country (by Joe Abercrombie) has new technologies advancing warfare and other spheres, and the opening up of new country as civilisation expands to reclaim land lost by a fallen/declining empire.

The idea of fading magic being gradually surpassed by improving technology is not a new idea in fantasy, but the deterioration/improvement of the world as entropy and progress clash is an interesting idea to explore.


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