THE GOLDEN AGE
THERE was a pervasive sense in ancient Greek culture that the past was better than the present. At times this belief conjured a golden age of perfection in which vegetarianism was practiced. It is this belief that is the subject of this chapter. Although these "once upon a time" stories of a contract between man and animal are merely stories, so are the "once upon a time" stories of a contract between man and man.1 In that this condition has not bothered the history of social contract theory from Plato to Kant to Rawls, it should not bother us. That is, these stories of an ancient vegetarian past, even if not true, offer insight into the beliefs of the people who told them.
The two key elements in understanding the ancient vegetarian age are the myth of the ages and the story of Prometheus.2 These two elements are often depicted in conflict, with degeneration away from the golden age being the point of the myth of the ages, and progress from original primitivism being the point of the Prometheus story. In the case of vegetarianism, however, the Prometheus story also has a pessimistic ring.
The best place to start a discussion of the golden age is with Hesiod Works and Days (109-201). This passage establishes that the first race of men, the golden race, was created by the