The Golden Era, the time when all was right in the world, before everything turned to crap.

Maybe these are your salad days. Maybe they passed long ago. It could even be that they are still to come.

Grab your ankles and enjoy life my friend.

              picker of buttercups
And the big bullying daisies
                             through the field wonderful
with eyes a little sorry
Another comes
              also picking flowers

e.e. cummings – (1923)

Rendered unto Caesar

The phrase salad days describes the period of youth, innocence and inexperience. Coined by William Shakespeare in his play Antony and Cleopatra it made its debut in Act I, Scene V where Cleopatra is missing Antony a great deal. Musing over her fading beauty and youth, she even though she was still attractive, in her youth men like Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great could not take their eyes off her. In the midst of contemplating the beginning the signs of aging a messenger arrives carrying a pearl and a letter from Antony pledging to her many kingdoms to make up for his absence. Cleopatra inquires about Antony's disposition and hearing that was neither sad nor happy she rejoices in the news as a sign of his divine nature. In Antony's communiqué he wonders why she has sent so many messengers--at least one every day-- and she replies with a note that it is a sign of the scope of her love.

Failing to distract herself from missing Antony, Cleopatra begins to query her most trusted servant Charmian as to what she thinks Antony is doing right now. Charmian is a dynamic character in custody of an independent spirit and when she thinks the queen's treatment of Antony is unreasonable or imprudent, she tells her so. Not only is Charmian on familiar grounds with her mistress, can tease her about her past life and former lovers. It's at this point in Shakespeare’s play when Cleopatra asks Charmian whether, in her opinion, she ever loved Julius Caesar as much as she now loves Antony. Charmian is quick to point out her adoration for the Emperor and goes into raptures over the likes of Caesar. This perturbs the queen and she commands her, "Say, 'the brave Antony,'" only Charmian saucily retorts:

    Charmian O! that brave Caesar.
    Cleopatra Be chok’d with such another emphasis! Say the brave Antony.
    Charmian The valiant Caesar!
    Cleopatra By Isis, I will give thee bloody teeth, thou with Caesar paragon again My man of men.
    Charmian By your most gracious pardon, I sing but after you.
    Cleopatra My salad days, When I was green in judgment, cold in blood, To say as I said then! But come, away; Get me ink and paper: He shall have every day a several greeting, Or I’ll unpeople Egypt
    Antony and Cleopatra I.V

The chief overtone of the expression is the sense of young bright vigor tossed with delight and drenched with a flavorful dressing of limitless potential. When Cleopatra explains her change of heart to Charmin by saying, “My salad days, when I was green in judgment,” Not only is green used to refer to the color of a salad, but Shakespeare is also having his character describe the days of her youth when she was without experience.

Written around 1606-1607 Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare's best known tragedies. The play represents tangible events and persons from Roman history encompassing the love story of its title characters. Drawn from the tales of the ancient Roman historian who wrote Plutarch's Lives (Sir Thomas North's 1579 English version) Shakespeare borrowed the historical setting to stage his intrigue and intimate love story between the Roman general and the Egyptian queen. One note of interest is that the portrayal of Cleopatra upon her barge offered by the character Enobarbus in the play ( II.ii) is almost a literal rendition of a passage from Plutarch.

Composed late in his career the romantic comedy was originally published in the First Folio (1623), reviewer G. Merritt summarizes the play:

    It tells the story of a doomed romance between two charismatic lovers, Roman military leader, Marc Antony, and the captivating Queen of Egypt (and former mistress of Julius Caesar), Cleopatra. When his wife, Fulvia unexpectedly dies, Antony is summoned from Egypt to Rome to mend a political rift with Octavius by marrying his recently widowed sister, Octavia. Of course, this news enrages passionate Cleopatra. She vents her anger on the messenger, but is quick to realize that Octavia is no real rival to her when it comes to beauty. However, Antony soon follows his heart back to Cleopatra's arms, abandoning his new wife in Athens. This leads to war, when Octavius declares war on Egypt. After Octavius eventually defeats Antony at Alexandria, Cleopatra sends a false report of her suicide, which prompts Antony to wound himself mortally. Antony dies in his lover's arms, and rather than submit to Roman rule under the new Caesar (Octavius), the heart-broken Cleopatra asks to have a poisonous snake delivered to her in a basket of figs. In the end, Antony and Cleopatra is as much about new sparks re-igniting the flames of love as new political forces supplanting old political regimes.

Shakespeare wrote the play shortly after the tragic death of his only son Hamnet. His marriage was in turmoil and both events combined brought out a more disparaging and wry Bard than the young and naive one who had penned Julius Caesar ten years earlier. Disillusionments are seen not only in the tragic deaths of Antony and Cleopatra, but can also be found undermining the clash and dishonesty of an imaginary driving force in the pretext of their love for one another. Both lovers incessantly and almost tenaciously deceive each other throughout the play – destabilizing both of their leaderships that leads to their tragic and untimely downfall.

Caesar salad days!

Derived from the Latin term for salt, the word salad has been around since the fifteenth century and wasn't just a mixture of lettuces served with dressing, but it described any green vegetable that was used to season a dish. Well before Shakespeare’s day green described someone youthful and alluded to the young green shoots of spring.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes that in 1865 the May issue of Cornhill Magazine used the phase in the following context, “Being in want of a horse at the time it was in my salad days, reader I looked through the advertisements in The Times, and noticed one which at any rate promised well. “ By 1882 English journalist Charles Peabody reported that, “ All the newspapers that flourished in the green and sallet days of the Press have been replaced by more adventurous rivals.” And playwright Dylan Marlais Thomas included the following in his 1953 play Under Milk wood, “She whispers to her salad-day deep self.“

The expression continued to grow in popularity during the 19th century until it gained the meaning of “the period when one is young and inexperienced" and a “the peak or heyday of something.” Today salad days has become a metaphor for “unflagging, enthusiastic youth” describing the time of life between childhood and maturity. Some useful synonyms are adolescence, greenness, juvenescence, juvenility, puberty, spring, youth, and youthfulness. And that about all there is to a-dressing salad days!


The Mavens' Word of the Day, Salad days:
Accessed August 4, 2005.

Origin of Phrases - Have Origins,Salad Dyas:
Accessed August 4, 2005.

Salad days:
Accessed August 4, 2005.

Salad Days:
Accessed August 4, 2005.

Sparknotes, Antony and Cleopatra:
Accessed August 4, 2005.

The Word Detective:
Accessed August 4, 2005.

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