In Greek mythology, Cronus, Cronos, or Kronos (/ˈkroʊnəs/ or /ˈkroʊnɒs/, US: /-oʊs/, from Greek: Κρόνος, Krónoς), was the leader and youngest of the first generation of Titans, the divine descendants of Uranus, the sky, and Gaia, the earth. He overthrew his father and ruled during the mythological Golden Age, until he was overthrown by his own son Zeus and imprisoned in Tartarus. According to Plato, however, the deities Phorcys, Cronus, and Rhea were the eldest children of Oceanus and Tethys.
Cronus was usually depicted with a harpe, scythe or a sickle, which was the instrument he used to castrate and depose Uranus, his father. In Athens, on the twelfth day of the Attic month of Hekatombaion, a festival called Kronia was held in honour of Cronus to celebrate the harvest, suggesting that, as a result of his association with the virtuous Golden Age, Cronus continued to preside as a patron of the harvest. Cronus was also identified in classical antiquity with the Roman deity Saturn.
myth recorded by Hesiod’s Theogony, Cronus envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe, Uranus. Uranus drew the enmity of Cronus’s mother, Gaia, when he hid the gigantic youngest children of Gaia, the hundred-handed Hecatoncheires and one-eyed Cyclopes, in Tartarus, so that they would not see the light. Gaia created a great stone sickle and gathered together Cronus and his brothers to persuade them to castrate Uranus.
Giorgio Vasari: The Mutilation of Uranus by Saturn (Cronus)
Only Cronus was willing to do the deed, so Gaia gave him the sickle and placed him in ambush. When Uranus met with Gaia, Cronus attacked him with the sickle, castrating him and casting his testicles into the sea. From the blood that spilled out from Uranus and fell upon the earth, the Gigantes, Erinyes, and Meliae were produced. The testicles produced a white foam from which the goddess Aphrodite emerged. For this, Uranus threatened vengeance and called his sons Titenes[a] for overstepping their boundaries and daring to commit such an act.[b]
After dispatching Uranus, Cronus re-imprisoned the Hecatoncheires, and the Cyclopes and set the dragon Campe to guard them. He and his older sister Rhea took the throne of the world as king and queen. The period in which Cronus ruled was called the Golden Age, as the people of the time had no need for laws or rules; everyone did the right thing, and immorality was absent.
Painting by Peter Paul Rubens of Cronus devouring one of his children
Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own sons, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to prevent the prophecy. When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children.
Rhea secretly gave birth to Zeus in Crete, and handed Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, also known as the Omphalos Stone, which he promptly swallowed, thinking that it was his son.
Rhea kept Zeus hidden in a cave on Mount Ida, Crete. According to some versions of the story, he was then raised by a goat named Amalthea, while a company of Kouretes, armored male dancers, shouted and clapped their hands to make enough noise to mask the baby’s cries from Cronus. Other versions of the myth have Zeus raised by the nymph Adamanthea, who hid Zeus by dangling him by a rope from a tree so that he was suspended between the earth, the sea, and the sky, all of which were ruled by his father, Cronus. Still other versions of the tale say that Zeus was raised by his grandmother, Gaia.
Once he had grown up, Zeus used an emetic given to him by Gaia to force Cronus to disgorge the contents of his stomach in reverse order: first the stone, which was set down at Pytho under the glens of Mount Parnassus to be a sign to mortal men, and then his two brothers and three sisters. In other versions of the tale, Metis gave Cronus an emetic to force him to disgorge the children.
After freeing his siblings, Zeus released the Hecatoncheires, and the Cyclopes who forged for him his thunderbolts, Poseidon’s trident and Hades’ helmet of darkness. In a vast war called the Titanomachy, Zeus and his older brothers and older sisters, with the help of the Hecatoncheires and Cyclopes, overthrew Cronus and the other Titans. Afterwards, many of the Titans were confined in Tartarus. However, Oceanus, Helios, Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus and Menoetius were not imprisoned following the Titanomachy. Gaia bore the monster Typhon to claim revenge for the imprisoned Titans.
Accounts of the fate of Cronus after the Titanomachy differ. In Homeric and other texts he is imprisoned with the other Titans in Tartarus. In Orphic poems, he is imprisoned for eternity in the cave of Nyx. Pindar describes his release from Tartarus, where he is made King of Elysium by Zeus. In another version, the Titans released the Cyclopes from Tartarus, and Cronus was awarded the kingship among them, beginning a Golden Age. In Virgil’s Aeneid, it is Latium to which Saturn (Cronus) escapes and ascends as king and lawgiver, following his defeat by his son Jupiter (Zeus).
One other account referred by Robert Graves, who claims to be following the account of the Byzantine mythographer Tzetzes, it is said that Cronus was castrated by his son Zeus just like he had done with his father Uranus before. However the subject of a son castrating his own father, or simply castration in general, was so repudiated by the Greek mythographers of that time that they suppressed it from their accounts until the Christian era (when Tzetzes wrote).
In a Libyan account related by Diodorus Siculus (Book 3), Uranus and Titaea were the parents of Cronus and Rhea and the other Titans. Ammon, a king of Libya, married Rhea (3.18.1). However, Rhea abandoned Ammon and married her younger brother Cronus. With Rhea’s incitement, Cronus and the other Titans made war upon Ammon, who fled to Crete (3.71.1-2). Cronus ruled harshly and Cronus in turn was defeated by Ammon’s son Dionysus (3.71.3-3.73) who appointed Cronus’ and Rhea’s son, Zeus, as king of Egypt (3.73.4). Dionysus and Zeus then joined their forces to defeat the remaining Titans in Crete, and on the death of Dionysus, Zeus inherited all the kingdoms, becoming lord of the world (3.73.7-8).
Cronus is mentioned in the Sibylline Oracles, particularly in book three, which makes Cronus, ‘Titan’ and Iapetus, the three sons of Uranus and Gaia, each to receive a third division of the Earth, and Cronus is made king over all. After the death of Uranus, Titan’s sons attempt to destroy Cronus’s and Rhea’s male offspring as soon as they are born, but at Dodona, Rhea secretly bears her sons Zeus, Poseidon and Hades and sends them to Phrygia to be raised in the care of three Cretans. Upon learning this, sixty of Titan’s men then imprison Cronus and Rhea, causing the sons of Cronus to declare and fight the first of all wars against them. This account mentions nothing about Cronus either killing his father or attempting to kill any of his children.
Cronus was said to be the father of the wise centaur Chiron by the Oceanid Philyra who was later on, transformed into a linden tree. The Titan chased the nymph and consorted with her in the shape of a stallion, hence the half-human, half-equine shape of their offspring; this was said to have taken place on Mount Pelion.
Two other sons of Cronus and Philyra may have been Dolops and Aphrus, the ancestor and eponym of the Aphroi, i.e. the native Africans.
In some accounts, Cronus was also called the father of the Corybantes.
Name and comparative mythology
During antiquity, Cronus was occasionally interpreted as Chronos, the personification of time. The Roman philosopher Cicero (1st century BCE) elaborated on this by saying that the Greek name Cronus is synonymous to chronos (time) since he maintains the course and cycles of seasons and the periods of time, whereas the Latin name Saturn denotes that he is saturated with years since he was devouring his sons, which implies that time devours the ages and gorges.
The Greek historian and biographer Plutarch (1st century CE) asserted that the Greeks believed that Cronus was an allegorical name for χρόνος (time). The philosopher Plato (3rd century BCE) in his Cratylus gives two possible interpretations for the name of Cronus. The first is that his name denotes “κόρος” (koros), the pure (καθαρόν) and unblemished (ἀκήρατον) nature of his mind. The second is that Rhea and Cronus were given names of streams (Rhea – ῥοή (rhoē) and Cronus – Xρόνος (chronos)). Proclus (5th century CE), the Neoplatonist philosopher, makes in his Commentary on Plato’s Cratylus an extensive analysis on Cronus; among others he says that the “One cause” of all things is “Chronos” (time) that is also equivocal to Cronus.
Chronos and his child by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, National Museum in Warsaw, a 17th-century depiction of Titan Cronus as “Father Time,” wielding a harvesting scythe
In addition to the name, the story of Cronus eating his children was also interpreted as an allegory to a specific aspect of time held within Cronus’ sphere of influence. As the theory went, Cronus represented the destructive ravages of time which devoured all things, a concept that was illustrated when the Titan king ate the Olympian gods — the past consuming the future, the older generation suppressing the next generation.
From the Renaissance to the present
During the Renaissance, the identification of Cronus and Chronos gave rise to “Father Time” wielding the harvesting scythe. H. J. Rose in 1928 observed that attempts to give “Κρόνος” a Greek etymology had failed. Recently, Janda (2010) offers a genuinely Indo-European etymology of “the cutter”, from the root *(s)ker- “to cut” (Greek κείρω (keirō), cf. English shear), motivated by Cronus’s characteristic act of “cutting the sky” (or the genitals of anthropomorphic Uranus). The Indo-Iranian reflex of the root is kar, generally meaning “to make, create” (whence karma), but Janda argues that the original meaning “to cut” in a cosmogonic sense is still preserved in some verses of the Rigveda pertaining to Indra’s heroic “cutting”, like that of Cronus resulting in creation:
This may point to an older Indo-European mytheme reconstructed as *(s)kert wersmn diwos “by means of a cut he created the loftiness of the sky”. The myth of Cronus castrating Uranus parallels the Song of Kumarbi, where Anu (the heavens) is castrated by Kumarbi. In the Song of Ullikummi, Teshub uses the “sickle with which heaven and earth had once been separated” to defeat the monster Ullikummi, establishing that the “castration” of the heavens by means of a sickle was part of a creation myth, in origin a cut creating an opening or gap between heaven (imagined as a dome of stone) and earth enabling the beginning of time (chronos) and human history. A theory debated in the 19th century, and sometimes still offered somewhat apologetically, holds that Κρόνος is related to “horned”, assuming a Semitic derivation from qrn. Andrew Lang’s objection, that Cronus was never represented horned in Hellenic art, was addressed by Robert Brown, arguing that, in Semitic usage, as in the Hebrew Bible, qeren was a signifier of “power”. When Greek writers encountered the Semitic deity El, they rendered his name as Cronus.
Robert Graves remarks that “cronos probably means ‘crow’, like the Latin cornix and the Greek corōne”, noting that Cronus was depicted with a crow, as were the deities Apollo, Asclepius, Saturn and Bran.
El, the Phoenician Cronus
When Hellenes encountered Phoenicians and, later, Hebrews, they identified the Semitic El, by interpretatio graeca, with Cronus. The association was recorded c. AD 100 by Philo of Byblos’ Phoenician history, as reported in Eusebius’ Præparatio Evangelica I.10.16. Philo’s account, ascribed by Eusebius to the semi-legendary pre-Trojan War Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon, indicates that Cronus was originally a Canaanite ruler who founded Byblos and was subsequently deified. This version gives his alternate name as Elus or Ilus, and states that in the 32nd year of his reign, he emasculated, slew and deified his father Epigeius or Autochthon “whom they afterwards called Uranus”. It further states that after ships were invented, Cronus, visiting the ‘inhabitable world’, bequeathed Attica to his own daughter Athena, and Egypt to Taautus the son of Misor and inventor of writing.
Roman mythology and later culture
While the Greeks considered Cronus a cruel and tempestuous force of chaos and disorder, believing the Olympian gods had brought an era of peace and order by seizing power from the crude and malicious Titans, the Romans took a more positive and innocuous view of the deity, by conflating their indigenous deity Saturn with Cronus. Consequently, while the Greeks considered Cronus merely an intermediary stage between Uranus and Zeus, he was a larger aspect of Roman religion. The Saturnalia was a festival dedicated in his honour, and at least one temple to Saturn already existed in the archaic Roman Kingdom.
His association with the “Saturnian” Golden Age eventually caused him to become the god of “time”, i.e., calendars, seasons, and harvests—not now confused with Chronos, the unrelated embodiment of time in general. Nevertheless, among Hellenistic scholars in Alexandria and during the Renaissance, Cronus was conflated with the name of Chronos, the personification of “Father Time”, wielding the harvesting scythe.
As a result of Cronus’s importance to the Romans, his Roman variant, Saturn, has had a large influence on Western culture. The seventh day of the Judaeo-Christian week is called in Latin Dies Saturni (“Day of Saturn”), which in turn was adapted and became the source of the English word Saturday. In astronomy, the planet Saturn is named after the Roman deity. It is the outermost of the Classical planets (the astronomical planets that are visible with the naked eye).
This artifact is a part of SwordTemple Library