Kronos

kronos

The First Fruits from the Earth Offered to Saturn by Giorgio Vasari. Photo by Raffaello Bencini, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license. Image modified by author.

Kronos (Latin: Saturnus) is the Titan father of Zeus and His siblings (the Kronidai), father of Chiron, husband of Rhea (Latin: Ops), and the mythic ruler of the Golden Age. He is associated with change, stability, sowing and harvest, spring and wintertime, hail- and winter-storms, liberation, renewal, sovereignty, truth, wealth, death and funerals.

In Platonism, Kronos is the pure intellect, the divine Nous. For Iamblichus, Kronos rules the aether while theologian Pherecydes describes Kronos as ruling Ouranos, or the heavens (Kupperman 2014, 105) (Schibli).

 

Iconography

Kronos is often depicted as a veiled elder holding either a scythe (or harpe, a curved sword) or a ouroboros (a snake eating itself). In late Antiquity, Saturn is merged with Kairos and is sometimes depicted with wings. Other symbols or synthemata include golden items, wooden vessels for oils, cornucopia, ropes, veils, honey, and greenery such as garlands and holly.

 

Worship

In prayer and ritual, Kronos is approached unveiled. According to Plutarch, we do so because Kronos is the Father of Truth, and truth itself is an unveiling (Barasch).

Suitable offerings may include wheat or other crops, wine, honey, mead, olive oil, and gingerbread men.

 

Epithets

Krouown ton Noun –  He who strikes the mind.

Pikilómythos – (poicilomythus) of various discourse

Of the Shifting Stories

Son of Earth and Starry Heaven

Father of Gods and Man

Stercutus – manure–a reference to the re-emerging of life out of death in His agricultural functions

 

The Orphic Hymn to Kronos

13. Krónos [Cronus, Κρόνος] [18]

The Fumigation from Storax.

Ethereal father, mighty Titan, hear,

Great sire of Gods and men, whom all revere:

Endu’d with various council, pure and strong,

To whom perfection and decrease belong.

Consum’d by thee all forms that hourly die,

By thee restor’d, their former place supply;

The world immense in everlasting chains,

Strong and ineffable thy pow’r contains;

Father of vast eternity, divine,

O mighty Saturn, various speech is thine:

Blossom of earth and of the starry skies,

Husband of Rhea, and Prometheus wise.

Obstetric Nature, venerable root,

From which the various forms of being shoot;

No parts peculiar can thy pow’r enclose,

Diffus’d thro’ all, from which the world arose,

O, best of beings, of a subtle mind,

Propitious hear to holy pray’rs inclin’d;

The sacred rites benevolent attend,

And grant a blameless life, a blessed end.

 

 

Festivals and Religious Dates

Kronia (December 17th-23rd)

The famous Roman festival of Kronia, called Saturnalia in Latin, is celebrated to both commemorate the opening of the Temple of Kronos in the Roman Forum and to honor the peaceful existence in the Golden Age which Kronos once ruled. The festival begins on December 17 and lasts up to the 23rd of December. During that time, all social norms are upturned. In the ancient world, this would see slaves being served by their masters, illegal gambling being temporarily allowed, and both the poor and rich receiving and exchanged gifts. Trees are decorated during this time with gold stars and faces of Ianos, and homes are decorated with evergreen and holly garlands and wreaths, ornamental candles, and gold or otherwise sparkly stars.

 

The Spring Equinox

In the ancient city of Elis, the new year was brought in at the spring equinox with a sacrifice to Kronos (Martinios). Mt. Kronios, near Elis, was said to be the location of the final wrestle between Kronos and Zeus and where Zeus claimed victory over Kronos. In commemoration of this event, Elis held the famous Olympic Games. This city also had their own version of the Dodekatheon, which included Kronos and Rhea, and the following deities: Zeus and Poseidon, Hera and Athena, Hermes and Apollon, the Kharites and Dionysos, and Artemis and Alpheus, a river God (Martinios).

 

Kronia (12 Hekatombaion, around July)

The Athenian festival of Kronia was very similar to the Roman festival in that there were some role reversals between master and slave, and slaves participated in the festivities by playing games and running through the streets with raucous noise (Melissa). This festival was held in the summer and marked the end of the cereal harvest.

 

Temples

Temple of Kronos in Athens

The Temple of Kronos may have existed in Athens as early as the 6th century BCE, but archaeological evidence no longer remains of the original building. After Hadrian rebuilt the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, the Temple of Kronos and Rhea were rebuilt nearby it and a newly erected Temple of Zeus Panhellenios (Cartwright).

 

Templum Saturni in Rome

The Temple of Kronos, or the Temple of Saturn, was built in 498 BCE and much of which still survives today, sat at the beginning of the road which led to the Capitoline Hill. Before the temple was built, worshippers had built an altar to the God in that spot, and according to legend, Hercules was the one who consecrated the original altar (Digitales). Inside the temple, a large, hollow wooden statue of the God, sporting a veil and scythe, was kept filled with oil, and its feet bound with strips of wool. During Saturnalia, the statue’s feet were unbound to symbolize liberation.

 

Mythology and Theology

King Titan

Kronos is the youngest son of Ouranos (Caelus, supreme sky deity) and Gaia (Tellus, earth mother). Nyx, Titan Goddess of the night, however, is the one who cares for and raises Kronos. Tired of Ouranos’ suppression, Gaia gathers Her Titan children, presents Them with an adamantine sickle, and urges one to overthrow Ouranos, Their father, and promises the victorious Titan the heavenly throne (HellenicGods.org, “Cronus”). Kronos alone steps up for His mother and takes the sickle. Together, Gaia and Kronos succeed in overthrowing Ouranos, castrating Him with the sickle. Aphrodite Ourania is then born of sea foam mingling with Ouranos’ genitals.

Cicero, the great Roman orator, offers his understanding of the myth  The Nature of the Gods 2.64):

“The point they make is that the ethereal or fiery element which lies at the summit of heaven and brings forth all things unassisted does not possess that bodily part which has to fuse with another body for the purpose of procreation. By Saturn, they seek to represent that power which maintains the cyclic course of times and seasons.”

 

Kronos and Orphion

In another version of Kronos’ ascent to the throne, He wrestles with and defeats the Titan king Orphion, husband of Euronyme who Rhea also wrestled into submission. Orphion is often identified as Phanes, the primordial serpentine God from the Orphic Theogonies, so in a way, Kronos also has His own myth of wrestling a serpent of chaos like Zeus. In yet another interpretation of the myth, Orphion is identified as Chronus, God of Time, Age, Eternity. And further, in some traditions, Kronos is identified with Phanes, Ophion, and Chronus altogether.

 

Father of the Olympians

After Kronos became ruler, He takes His sister, Rhea (Ops), as His wife. Together, They have Hestia (Vesta), Demeter (Ceres), Hera (Juno), Plouton (Dis Pater), and Poseidon (Neptune). Filled with fear that He too would be overthrown by His children as He did to His own father, Kronos swallows each God as they are born. When Zeus (Jupiter) is born, Rhea hides the baby in Crete and disguises a rock in swaddling clothes to give to Kronos instead, saving baby Zeus. When Zeus grows up, He and Rhea, with the help of Nyx, trick Kronos into throwing up the other Gods by serving Him honey. Zeus and the Gods then wage war against Kronos and defeat Him. Depending on the myth, Kronos is either banished into and chained in Tartarus, made King of the Blessed Isles (or Elysium), or fleas to Latium to rule a new Golden Age with Janus.

Again, Cicero offers his own understanding just below the previous passage, “…the story that [Saturn] regularly devoured his own children is explained by the fact that time devours the courses of the seasons, and gorges itself “insatiably” on the years that are past. Saturn was enchained by Jupiter to ensure that his circuits did not get out of control, and to constrain him with the bonds of the stars.

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/613771823112519681/672544919046586403/image0.jpg

Saturno, Giorces, distributed under a CC BY 2.5 license.

 

Ruler of the Golden Age

Kronos’ rule of the Golden Age is both before and after Zeus succeeding as King of the Gods. The actions in myth are not linear, and that line continues here. According to Ovid and Virgil, Kronos ruled during an age when humans lived and ate on earth without labor or exertion. Saturnalia and the Kronia are both celebrations in honor of Kronos’ rule which liberated humans from slavery and toiling for the fruits of the earth.

Below is a passage from Ovid’s Metamorphoses detailing the beauty and peace of the Saturnian Golden Age (Ovid Metamorphoses, 1:88-92, 100-103, 108, 112-114):

Golden was that first age which unconstrained,

With heart and soul, obedient to no law,

Gave honour to good faith and righteousness.

No punishment they knew, no fear; they read

No penalties engraved on plates of bronze(…)

No sword, no helmet then–no need of arms;

The world untroubled lived in leisured ease.

Earth willingly, untouched, unwounded yet

By hoe or plough, gave all her bounteous store(…)

Springtime it was, always, for ever spring(…)

The unfallowed fields lay gold with heavy grain,

And streams of milk and springs of nectar flowed

And yellow honey dripped from boughs of green.

 

In The First Georgic, Virgil posits why this age could not last (The Georgics, pg 11-12):

For Father Jupiter himself ordained

That the way should not be easy. It was he

Who first established the art of cultivation,

Sharpening with their cares the skills of men,

Forbidding the world he rules to slumber in ease (…)

Stripped from the leaves of oaks the dewlike honey

That made them glisten there; hid fire from man;

Turned off the flow of wine that everywhere

Ran in streams; all this so want should be

The cause of human ingenuity,

And ingenuity the cause of arts,

Finding little by little the way to plant

New crops by means of plowing, and strike the spark

To ignite the hidden fire in veins of flint.

 

Here, Virgil places the Golden Age before Zeus’ kingship while in the Aeneid, he appears to be the first to modify the timeline of Kronos’ mythic Golden Age by placing it after Kronos fleas from Greece to Latium to rule as Saturn alongside Janus (Schiebe) (Vergil Aeneid, book 8: 319-325):

Saturn was first to arrive from outside, from the heights of Olympus,

Stripped of his power, as a fugitive fleeing from Jupiter’s weapons. 

He got this untamed species, dispersed through the highlands, together

Gave them a law code and honoured this land where he’d lately lain hidden Unmutilated, made Latium its name as his ultimate preference.

Under this ruler occurred what tradition describes as the Golden

Centuries, such was the peace and the calm of his rule over peoples.

While Virgil’s artistic and mythic innovations may have been propelled by politics, I believe it works well as a reminder that myths are not to be taken literally or linearly.

 

Bibliography

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“Cronus.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed January 22, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Cronus

“Cronus.” Hellenic Gods. Accessed January 22, 2020. http://www.hellenicgods.org/kronos—kronos

Donald L. Wasson, “Saturn.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Accessed January 22, 2020. https://www.ancient.eu/Saturn/

Hermann S. Schibli. Pherekydes of Syros. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990.

Jeffery S. Kupperman. Living Theurgy: A Course in Iamblichus’ Philosophy, Theology, and Theurgy. England: Avalonia, 2014.

Marianne Wifstrand Schiebe, “THE SATURN OF THE “AENEID”-TRADITION OR INNOVATION?” Vergilius (1959-), Vol. 32 (1986), pp. 43-60.

Marcus Tullius Cicero and P. G. Walsh. The Nature of the Gods. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Mark Cartwright. “Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Accessed January 23, 2020. https://www.ancient.eu/article/815/temple-of-olympian-zeus-athens/

Melissa G., “Kronia” Hellenion. Accessed January 22, 2020. http://www.hellenion.org/festivals/kronia/

Moshe Barasch. “The Language of Art: Studies in Interpretation” New York: New York University Press, 1997.

Publius Ovidius Naso and A. D. Melville. Metamophoses. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Publius Vergilius Maro and Frederick Ahl. The Aeneid. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Publius Vergilius Maro and David Ferry. The Georgics of Virgil. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

“Saturn.” Roman Pagan WordPress. Retrieved December 4, 2019 from //romanpagan.wordpress.com/saturn/

“Saturn (mythology).” New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 4, 2019 from //www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Saturn_(mythology)&oldid=1026521

“Temple of Saturn.” Digitales Forum Romanum. Retrieved January 24, 2020. http://www.digitales-forum-romanum.de/gebaeude/saturntempel/?lang=en

 

Author: Ewe