In Greek mythology, Cronus (Ancient Greek: Κρόνος, Krónos), also called Cronos or Kronos, was the leader of the first generation of Titans. After overthrowing his father, Uranus, Cronus ruled over the other gods throughout the duration of the mythological Golden Age, until he himself was usurped by his own son, Zeus. Cronus was typically related to agriculture, particularly the harvest, as well as the passage of time.
The etymology of the theonym cronus is obscure. Despite some conflation of the terms in the Alexandrian and Renaissance periods, Cronus is not necessarily related to the Greek word χρόνος, Chronos, meaning time. Nor is he related to Chronos, the personification of time in Greek mythology; although Cronus was the god of time among the Titans, Chronos is an entirely different divine being. The name, however, may be related to the Proto-Indo-European root *krno- which would later develop into the Latin cornu and the Germanic *hurnaz, from which the English word "horn" derived. This reference to a "horned" deity suggests a possible connection with the ancient Indian demon Kroni or the Levantine deity El.
The legend of Cronus may also have been extrapolated from events in the life of a historical figure. An account ascribed by the historian Eusebius to the semi-legendary pre-Trojan War Phoenician historian, Sanchuniathon, indicates that Cronus was originally a Canaanite ruler who founded the city of Byblos and was subsequently deified. This report gives his alternate name as Elus or Ilus, and states that in the thirty-second year of his reign, he castrated, slew and deified his father Epigeius. Epigeius, the narrative claims, was thereafter known as Uranus. It further states that after ships were invented, Cronus, visiting the 'inhabitable world', bequeathed Attica to his own daughter, Athena, and Egypt to Thoth, the son of Misor.
Family and Function
Cronus was the youngest of the twelve Titans, the divine descendants of the earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Uranus. He eventually married his sister Rhea, another earth goddess. With Rhea, Cronus sired Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Demeter, Hera and Zeus. Other children Cronus is reputed to have had include the centaur Chiron by the nymph Philyra, and the personification of strife Eris by the night goddess Nyx.
As a result of his association with the bountiful and virtuous Golden Age, Cronus was construed as a harvest deity, overseeing grain, agriculture and nature in general. Thus, the fact that his divine consort was said to be Rhea, the earth mother, is not surprising. While she was responsible for allowing crops to grow, it was Cronus who performed the harvest. As such, he was usually depicted with a sickle, which he used not only to harvest crops but also as a weapon for the purpose of castrating his father Uranus. Cronus was also connected with the progression of time as it related to humans.
Cronus hated Uranus, envious of the power his father enjoyed as the ruler of the universe. Uranus' feelings for Cronus were reciprocal, as he hated each of the children Gaia had bore him. Fed up, Uranus hid their youngest children, the hundred-armed Hecatonchires and the one-eyed Cyclopes, in the underworld of Tartarus so that they would not be able to see the light of day. This evoked Gaia's enmity and prompted her to create a massive iron sickle so that she and her children could orchestrate their revenge. She gathered together Cronus and his brothers and tried to persuade them to kill Uranus with the sickle. All of them were afraid of Uranus' power, save for Cronus, who was more than willing to undertake the task. Gaia placed the sickle in the hands of Cronus and positioned him for an ambush. When Uranus met with Gaia that night, Cronus attacked him with the sickle, cutting off his testicles then casting them into the sea. From the drops of blood (or, by a few accounts, semen) that fell from Uranus' wound and onto the earth, the Gigantes, Erinyes, and Meliae were produced. Aphrodite later emerged from the vital fluids which fell in the sea, drifting into shore on the severed member. As a result of these acts, an infuriated Uranus threatened vengeance and labeled his sons the titenes (or "straining ones") for overstepping their boundaries and daring to commit such an act. This is the source of the name Titan.
Shortly after dispatching Uranus, Cronus re-imprisoned the Hecatonchires, the Gigantes, and the Cyclopes and commanded the dragon Campe to guard them. He and Rhea assumed the title of king and queen of the universe. The period in which Cronus ruled was called the Golden Age, because all of humanity restrained from immorality and performed only good deeds. As such, there was no need for laws or rules in this age.
Although Cronus now held dominion over the gods, he was plagued by the burden of assault he had perpetrated against his father. His worries were only exacerbated by the prophecy delivered by his parents that he too was destined to be overcome by his own son. As a result, Cronus promptly swallowed each of the first four children Rhea bore him as soon as they were born in hopes of preventing the prophecy from being actualized. When the fifth and six children, Poseidon and Zeus, were born, Rhea sought Gaia in order to devise a plan to save the newborns, and also to gain retribution on Cronus for his acts against their father. Rhea covertly gave birth to Zeus in Crete, hiding him in a cave on the northern slope of Mount Ida. In place of the actual child, she handed Cronus a stone (also known as the Omphalos Stone) wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he swallowed greedily, thinking that it was his son. Rhea used a similar ruse to save Poseidon, this time tricking Cronus to swallow a goat instead of his actual 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 armored male dancers called the Kouretes shouted and clapped their hands to render the baby's cries inaudible, thereby preventing the arousal of Cronus' suspicions. Other versions of the myth claim that Zeus was 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.
Once he had grown up, Zeus used an emetic given to him by Gaia to force Cronus to vomit. Up came the contents of his stomach in reverse order: first the stone (which was set down at Pytho under the glens of Mount Parnassus), then the goat, and then Zeus' two brothers and three sisters. In other versions of the tale, Zeus cuts Cronus' stomach open. After freeing his brothers and sisters, Zeus released the Gigantes, the Hecatonchires, and the Cyclopes from Tartarus. This incited an epic war called the Titanomachy, wherein Zeus and his siblings, with the help of the Gigantes, Hecatonchires, and Cyclopes, overthrew Cronus and the other Titans. Afterwards, many of the Titans were confined in Tartarus, though not all of them. Cronus was among those who escaped imprisonment, fleeing instead to relative obscurity.
Considering his fallen mythological status, it is not surprising that Cronus was not widely celebrated in the popular religious activity of the ancient Greeks. However, he was not entirely forgotten. In Athens, on the twelfth day of the Athenian month of (Hekatombaion), a festival called Kronia was held in honor of Cronus. The nature of the festival was decidedly agrarian, as it occurred after the final grain harvest, therefore Cronos as the god of agriculture was closely connected to this event. During Kronia, social mores were temporarily dissolved. For example, slaves were emancipated from their duties, and permitted to participate in the festivities alongside their masters. In some cases, masters even became “servants” of their slaves, serving them food during the feasts. This was done to commemorate the Golden Age under Cronus, when slavery and oppression did not exist. Furthermore, in its acknowledgment of the tenuous nature of dominion, the festival paid homage to the myth in which Cronus overthrew his father, only to be overthrown himself by Zeus. Some modern Neopagans still celebrate this festival, although it is not particularly popular in North America due to the fact that its occurrence in mid-summer does not correspond the time of the harvest in the Western world.
Cronus in Roman Mythology
While the Greeks believed that Cronus was representative of chaos and disorder, having fronted the crude and malicious Titans, the Romans had a more positive view of the deity. Although the Romans drew heavily upon Cronus when developing the character of their deity Saturn, they favored Saturn much more than the Greeks did Cronus. Under Roman influence, Saturn's character became more innocuous. His association with the Golden Age lead him to become viewed as the god of "human time," including calendars, the seasons, and the harvests. Furthermore, while the Greeks largely neglected Cronus, considering him to be no more than an intermediary monarch between Uranus and Zeus, Saturn became an indispensable figure in Roman mythology and religion. For example, the popular public festival Saturnalia was dedicated in his honor, celebrating the dedication of Saturn's temple. Just as in the Kronias celebration, the social order was temporarily subverted during this event, and the roles of slaves and freemen were often reversed.
As a result of Cronus' importance to the Romans as Saturn, he has indirectly had a large influence on Western culture. In accordance with the Near Eastern tradition, the seventh day of the Judaeo-Christian week was also 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 so called because of Roman influence. It was considered the seventh and outermost of the seven heavenly objects that are visible with the naked eye, thereby corresponding to the seventh day of the week. Moreover, some have entertained the theory that Saturnalia may have influenced the development of Christmas, as both occur in late December and involve the exchange of gifts as well as the acknowledgement of an evergreen tree.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion (John Raffan, trans). Oxford: Blackwell Press, 1985. ISBN 0631112413
- Buxton, Richard. The Complete World of Greek Mythology. Thames & Hudson, 2004. ISBN 978-0500251218
- Nussbaum, Alan J. Head and Horn in Indo-European. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1986. ISBN 3110104490
- Rose, H. J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. Routledge, 1990. ISBN 978-0415046015
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