"A grand old man stands in the mount erect"

(Canto 14, line 103)

This "old man" represents a gradual degradation of the state of mankind. The image of the old man is taken from the dream dreamt by Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel: "Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. The image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay". A passage at the beginning of Ovid's Metamorphoses provides a detailed gloss: Ovid writes of a "golden age" followed later by a "silver age", characterized as "more somewhat base than golde, More precious yet than freckled brasse", which was to follow. The brass age, then, was "More hard of nature, somewhat bent to cruell warres and rage", though not altogether "wicked." Last of the ages is the iron age, wherein "all mischief rushed forth" and mankind lost "faith, truth and honest shame" only to gain "Craft, Treason, Violence, Envie, Pride and wicked Lust to win".

Damietta is located at the mouth of the Nile in Egypt - the old man has his back turned to the oriental origins of civilization. Rome should probably be taken to represent the monarchy and the Church. Most commentators interpret the old man's two feet to represent spiritual and worldly authority of the church and the monarchy respectively - the iron foot of monarchy already in a state of depravation, but not as entirely corrupt as the clay foot of the Church, the most important reason for the state of society.