Cronus or Kronos (Ancient Greek Κρόνος, Krónos) was the leader and the youngest of the first generation of Titans, divine descendants of Gaia, the earth, and Uranus, the sky. He overthrew his father and ruled during the mythological Golden Age, until he was overthrown by his own sons, Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon, and imprisoned in Tartarus. Cronus was usually depicted with a sickle, which was also the weapon 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 honor 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 harvest. Cronus was also identified in classical antiquity with the Roman deity Saturn.
Name and comparative mythology
H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology (1928), observed that attempts to give Kronos a Greek etymology have failed.
Janda (2010) offers a genuinely Indo-European etymology of "the cutter", from the root *(s)ker- "to cut" (Greek κείρω, c.f. English shear), motivated by Cronus' 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:
- RV 10.104.10 ārdayad vṛtram akṛṇod ulokaṃ "he hit Vrtra fatally, cutting [> creating] a free path"
- RV 6.47.4 varṣmāṇaṃ divo akṛṇod "he cut [> created] the loftiness of the sky."
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 as 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.
Cronus had been conflated with the name of Chronos, the personification of time in Classical Antiquity. In the Renaissance, the combination of Cronus and Chronos give rise to "Father Time" wielding the harvesting scythe.
A theory debated in the 19th century, and sometimes still offered somewhat apologetically, holds that Kronos 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 Levantine deity El, they rendered his name as Kronos.
In Greek mythology and early myths
In ancient 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' mother, Gaia, when he hid the gigantic youngest children of Gaia, the hundred-armed Hecatonchires 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. 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 (or, by a few accounts, semen) 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 Aphrodite emerged. For this, Uranus threatened vengeance and called his sons titenes (according to Hesiod meaning "straining ones," the source of the word "titan", but this etymology is disputed) for overstepping their boundaries and daring to commit such an act.
In an alternate version of this myth, a more benevolent Cronus overthrew the wicked serpentine Titan Ophion. In doing so, he released the world from bondage and for a time ruled it justly.
After dispatching Uranus, Cronus re-imprisoned the Hecatonchires, the Gigantes, and the Cyclopes and set the dragon Campe to guard them. He and his 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.
Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia, and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born, to preempt 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. Other children Cronus is reputed to have fathered include the centaur Chiron, by Philyra.
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 a mixture of mustard and wine 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, then the goat, 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, or Zeus cut Cronus' stomach open. After freeing his siblings, Zeus released the Gigantes, the Hecatonchires, and the Cyclopes, who forged for him his thunderbolts, Poseidon's Trident and Hades' Helm of darkness. In a vast war called the Titanomachy, Zeus and his brothers and sisters, with the help of the Gigantes, Hecatonchires, and Cyclopes, overthrew Cronus and the other Titans. Afterwards, many of the Titans were confined in Tartarus. Some Titans were not banished to Tartarus. Atlas, Epimetheus, Menoetius, Oceanus and Prometheus are examples of Titans who were not imprisoned in Tartarus following the Titanomachy. Gaia bore the monster Typhon to claim revenge for the imprisoned Titans, though Zeus was victorious.
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).
In a Libyan account related by Diodorus Siculus (1st c. BCE), Cronus or Saturn, son of Uranus and Titea, is said to have reigned over Italy, Sicily, and Northern Africa. He cites as evidence the heights in Sicily that were in his time known as Cronia. Cronus, joined by the Titans, makes war against and eventually defeats his brother Jupiter, who reigns in Crete, and his brother-in-law Hammon, who reigns at Nysa, an island on the river Triton, somewhere in Africa. Cronus takes his sister Rhea from Hammon, to be his own wife. Cronus in turn is defeated by Hammon's son Bacchus or Dionysus, who appoints Cronus' and Rhea's son, Jupiter Olympus, as governor over Egypt. Bacchus and Jupiter Olympus then join their forces to defeat the remaining Titans in Crete, and on the death of Bacchus, Jupiter Olympus inherits all the kingdoms, becoming lord of the world. (Diodorus, Book III)
Cronus is again mentioned in the Sibylline Oracles, particularly 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' 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.
El, the Phoenician Cronus
When Hellenes encountered Phoenicians and later, Hebrews, they identified the Semitic El with Cronus. The association was recorded ca. 100 CE 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 Thoth the son of Misor and inventor of writing.
In 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 honor, 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 "human time", i.e., calendars, seasons, and harvests — not to be confused with Chronos, the unrelated embodiment of time in general.
As a result of Cronus' importance to the Romans, his Roman variant, Saturn, has had a large influence on Western culture. The seventh day of the Judeo-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 (those that that are visible with the naked eye).
- Andrew Lang habitually called him Cronos, a form neither Greek nor Latin, as Robert Brown observed in Semitic Influence in Hellenic Mythology, 1898:112-13.
- Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology 1928:43.
- Michael Janda, Die Musik nach dem Chaos, Innsbruck, 2010, 54-56.
- Fritz Graf, Thomas Marier, trans. Thomas Marier, Greek mythology: an introduction, 1996 ISBN 9780801853951, p. 88.
- Janda 2010, p. 54 and passim.
- LSJ entry Κρόνος
- "We would like to consider whether the Semitic stem q r nmight be connected with the name Kronos," suggests A. P. Bos, as late as 1989, in Cosmic and Meta-cosmic Theology in Aristotle's Lost Dialogues, 1989:11 note 26.
- As in H. Lewy, Die semitischen Fremdwörter in Griechischen, 1895:216. and Robert Brown, The Great Dionysiak Myth, 1877, ii.127. "Kronos signifies 'the Horned one'", the Rev. Alexander Hislop had previously asserted in The Two Babylons; or, The papal worship proved to be the worship of Nimrod and his wife, Hislop, 2nd ed. 1862 (p.46). with the note "From krn, a horn. The epithet Carneus applied to Apollo is just a different form of the same word. In the Orphic Hymns, Apollo is addressed as 'the Two-Horned God'".
- Lang, Modern Mythology 1897:35.
- Brown, Semitic Influence in Hellenic Mythology, 1898:112ff.
- "Philôn, who of course regarded Kronos as an Hellenic divinity, which indeed he became, always renders the name of the Semitic god Îl or Êl ('the Powerful') by 'Kronos', in which usage we have a lingering feeling of the real meaning of the name" (Brown 1898:116)
- Hesiod, Theogony. 188ff.
- Walcot, "Five or Seven Recesses?" The Classical Quarterly, New Series, 15.1 (May 1965), p. 79. The quote stands as Philo Fr. 2.
- Eusebius of Caesarea: Praeparatio Evangelica Book 1, Chapter 10.
- TheoiProject: Kronos in classical literature, a collection of translated source texts confirming most of the statements in this article.
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