The Greeks had a lot of stories about the beginnings of the world or how the world got to be the way it was. One of them described a series of ages: the Gold, the Silver, the Bronze, the Heroes, and the Iron, the present-day age of the poet who wrote the story, Hesiod.
At first you might think that each age gets worse and worse-- like Olympic medals, the gold is better than the silver is better than the bronze. But not in this story:
In the beginning the immortals created the golden generation of mortal people. They lived as if there gods, their heart free from all sorrow. No miserable old age came their way. When they died, it was as if they fell asleep.
Next after these the Olympians created a second generation, far worse than the other. A child was a child for a hundred years, kept at home, a complete booby. But when it came time to grow up, they lived only a short time, by their own foolishness they had troubles and they would not worship the gods.
Then came the age of bronze. They were not like the silver generation. They came from spears the shafts of which were ash wood. They ate no bread, but maintained an adamantine spirit. Weapons grew from their shoulders. The weapons were bronze, their houses were bronze, and they worked on bronze all the day long. These too were destroyed by one another, and they went to Hades.
The next generation was that of the heroes, and they were much better and nobler, for these are called half-gods-- the generation before our own. Some of them fought by seven-gated Thebes, and others fought for the sake of the lovely-haired Helen. Death came to these as well, bt they live in the islands of the blessed, by the deep-swirling stream of the ocean.
After this, Zeus made one more generation of people, our present one, but had been before or after. I wish I had not any part of this generation, for this is an age of iron. There will never be an end to work and pain, nor at night rest from dreams and nightmares. Yet there shall be some good things mixed with the evils, and Zeus will destroy this generation also when the goddesses Decency and Respect leave the earth.
(story condensed and paraphrased from Hesiod's Works and Days, Lattimore translation)