Classics scholar connects ‘golden age’ Hollywood themes to ancient texts

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LAWRENCE — The idea of a “golden age” often permeates Hollywood cinema. The recent success of films like “La La Land,” for example, showcases nostalgia for an earlier age of Hollywood itself, and the immensely popular 2000 epic film “Gladiator” is reminiscent of the “golden age” of so-called “sword and sandal” films, which themselves traded on a notion of the classical past as a type of “golden age.”

However, often overlooked is the idea that this theme of a yearning for things to return to the way they were in the past has ancient roots, according to a University of Kansas scholar of film and the classics.

“The concept as we know it is something that originates in ancient Greece and Rome,” said Emma Scioli, associate professor of classics. “Several texts from Greece and Latin literature articulate an idea that things were better in an earlier time. There’s a sense that life during that time was much easier or more simple. While people idealize this time, they are always aware that, in defining it as prior to their own time, the golden age has passed and is irretrievable. This feeling of belatedness creates a longing for that elusive prior time.”

Various Greek and Roman authors depict the golden age as a time when humans lived like gods and the earth provided nourishment for people who didn’t have to work the land to produce food for themselves to survive. Another type of golden age narrative recalls a time when people lived in a society based on trust and had no need for laws or a military, Scioli said. 

“One hallmark of the ‘golden age’ was that people didn’t fortify their cities or travel by sea because they were content where they were,” she said. “Sea-faring is seen as the beginning of the end of the golden age, primarily because it is associated with …

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