Gold as a metal has always been a valuable commodity since ancient times. We find numerous references to gold in the ancient Greek literature, and mythology, Roman mythology, Native American, and Egyptian mythology. Man has always been fascinated with this golden metal. Gold in literature is often associated with power, opulence, desire, and a sense of ultimate perfection. An unforgettable tale of the Greek mythology about a king named Midas, explains a lot about human nature. He wished that whatever he touches may turn into gold. Once Dionysus granted his wish, he realised the terrible mistake he had made.
During the renaissance, gold was extensively used in terms of its material value, and for the purpose of symbolism. However, even before that, when English as a language was still in its developmental phase, Geoffrey Chaucer used the term of gold in his famous Canterbury Tales. He says that precious time, which is lost in idleness, is more lamented than losing stores of gold.
Tragic history of Faustus was initiated by his self-conceit, and greed for accumulating gold. Marlowe told, Faustus uttered his greed in the following manner:
‘Be a physician, Faustus; heap up gold’-
(Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe)
Shakespeare has given detailed accounts of gold in imagery and symbolism. For example in The Merchant of Venice (Act 2; scene vii) he writes: ‘all that glisters is not gold’, which is an old proverb. However, Shakespeare uses it here in a specific context to explain the significance, and uniqueness of gold, and how sometimes people misjudge others on their face values only.
Gold was always accepted as a metal with great monetary value. Indian literature is full with frequent references to gold as an object to worship, and as a holy gift to their gods and goddesses. Chinese literature has abundant material where gold has been used allegorically, or is referred to physically.
After the Californian gold rush, writers and poets found new avenues to work on. They came up with thrilling, exciting, and adventurous stories, which simply enthralled the readers. Gold thus acquired a new status in literature, but it was a purely materialistic approach to it. The gold hunt stories, and how the fictitious characters in a novel made their journeys from rags to riches, found a great to the readers-especially the young generation.
Mark Twain’s The Californian’s Tale held the attention of every individual when it was first published. It was not only about gold, and its aesthetic, or monetary value. It was a story of a sad man in the backdrop of the Californian gold rush. This short story is about the socio-economic factors surrounding that particular era.
Gold shall always find new dimensions to be expressed in our literature. The reason is its universal and perhaps eternal appeal, which has gripped mankind since ages. Robert Frost though had a different opinion. He was of the view that gold, as all other materials are not forever. In his poem Nothing Gold can Stay, he is referring to the gold color only, but his logic suggests that gold is not something that stays with you forever.