Every child knows Olympic gold medals are for first place, silver for second and bronze for third. But where does this tradition come from?
Like most everything else relating to the Olympics, we can trace the tradition back to the ancient Greeks, who assigned metals (not medals) to different Ages of Man. First among them was the Golden Age, characterized as a peaceful time when humans and gods lived in harmony and food was plentiful.
The Greeks believed this to be the pinnacle of our existence, after which it all went downhill. Following that golden period came the Silver Age, when childhood lasted 100 years. Then, the Bronze Age, a time of violence and destruction among warring tribes.
The Greeks weren’t alone in their reverence of gold, of course. It fascinates me that nearly every ancient people, no matter the continent or region, imbued the precious metal with the same degree of sacredness and purity.
One of the earliest known metals, gold was valued for its resemblance to the sun, itself worshipped as a powerful deity in many cultures. The ancient Incans, in fact, referred to gold as “sweat of the sun.” When you held a gold nugget, it was believed, you held a piece of the gods themselves.
Although most of us no longer believe gold emerged from the sweat glands of great celestial beings, we nevertheless still hold the metal in very high regard. This is what I often refer to as the Love Trade, the proof of which can be seen all around the globe—from beautiful gold wedding rings in the U.S., to finely crafted bridal jewelry in India, to gold coins given to newborn babies in South Korea.
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