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Before the times of the Olympians, the ruthless Titan Cronus (also spelled Kronos or Cronos) was the god of time and the ruler of the universe. Cronus is known as a tyrant, but his dominion in the Golden Age of Greek mythology was prosperous. Cronus is typically depicted as a strong, tall man with a sickle, but sometimes he’s portrayed as an old man with a long beard.
Hesiod refers to Cronus as the most terrible of the Titans. Here’s a closer look at Cronus.
Cronus and Uranus
According to Greek mythology, Cronus was the youngest of the twelve Titans born from Gaia, the personification of earth, and Uranus, the personification of the sky. He was also the primordial god of time. His name comes from the Greek word for chronological or sequential time, Chronos, from which we get our modern words like chronology, chronometer, anachronism, chronicle and synchrony to name a few.
Before Cronus was the ruler, his father Uranus was the ruler of the universe. He was irrational, evil and had forced Gaia to keep his children the Titans, the Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires in her womb, because he despised them and didn’t want them to see the light. However, Gaia managed to conspire with Cronus to take down Uranus and end his reign over the universe.
According to the myths, Cronus used a sickle to castrate Uranus, thus separating the skies from the earth. The Erinyes were born from the blood of Uranus that fell onto Gaia, while Aphrodite was born from the white foam of the sea when Cronus tossed the severed genitals of Uranus into the sea.
When Uranus was unmanned, he cursed his son with a prophecy that said that he would suffer the same destiny as his father; Cronus would be dethroned by one of his sons. Cronus then went on to free his siblings and ruled over the Titans as their king.
The myths say that as a result of Uranus’ dethroning, Cronus separated the heavens from the earth, creating the world as we know it nowadays.
Cronus and the Golden Age
In current times, Cronus is seen as an unmerciful being, but the tales of the pre-Hellenistic Golden Age tell a different story.
Cronus’ reign was a plentiful one. Although humans already existed, they were primitive beings who lived in tribes. Peace and harmony were the foremost markers of the rule of Cronus in a time where there was no society, no art, no government, and no wars.
Due to this, there are tales of Cronus’ benevolence and the limitless abundance of his times. The golden age is known as the greatest of all human eras, where gods walked on earth among men, and life was teeming and peaceful.
After the Hellenes arrived and imposed their traditions and mythology, Cronus began to be depicted as a destructive force that ravaged everything on his way. The Titans were the first enemies of the Olympians, and this gave them their dominant role as the villains of Greek mythology.
Cronus wed his sister Rhea, and together they ruled the world after Uranus’ demise. They sired six children: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus in that order.
Unexpectedly, and after a period of calm and excellent ruling, Cronus started acting like Uranus, and conscious of his father’s prophecy, he swallowed all his children as soon as they were born. That way, none of them could dethrone him.
However, Rhea would not have this. With her mother Gaia’s help, she managed to hide the last child, Zeus, and gave Cronus a rock wrapped in clothes to eat instead. Zeus would grow to be the one to fulfill Uranus’ prophecy.
The Dethroning of Cronus
Zeus eventually challenged his father, managing to save his siblings by making Cronus disgorge them, and together they fought Cronus for the rule of the cosmos. After a mighty fight that struck both heaven and earth, the Olympians rose victorious, and Cronus lost his power.
After being dethroned, Cronus did not die. He was sent to the Tartarus, a deep abyss of torment, to remain there imprisoned as a powerless being with the other Titans. In other accounts, Cronus was not sent to the Tartarus but instead stayed as king in Elysium, the paradise for immortal heroes.
Cronus could not break the cycle of sons dethroning fathers in Greek mythology. According to Aeschylus, he passed on his curse to Zeus with the prophecy that he would suffer the same fate.
Cronus’ Influence and Other Associations
Cronus’ myths have given him a variety of associations. Given the abundance of his rule in the Golden Age, Cronus was also the god of harvest and prosperity. Some myths refer to Cronus as Father Time.
Cronus has been associated with the Phoenician god of time, El Olam, for the child sacrifices that people offered to both of them in antiquity.
According to Roman tradition, Cronus’ counterpart in Roman mythology was the agricultural god Saturn. Roman stories propose that Saturn reinstated the golden age after he escaped the Latium – the celebration of this time was Saturnalia, one of Rome’s most important traditions.
The Saturnalia was a festival celebrated yearly from December 17th to December 23rd. Christianity later adopted many of the customs of Saturnalia, including giving gifts, lighting candles and feasting. The influence of this agricultural festival still impacts the western world and the way we celebrate Christmas and the New Year.
Cronus in Modern Times
After the rise to power of the Olympians, the benevolence and the generosity of Cronus were left aside, and his role as the antagonist was the prevalent idea people had of the titan. This association continues today.
In Rick Riordan’s saga Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Cronus tries to return from Tartarus to declare war once again to the gods with the help of a group of demigods.
In the series Sailor Moon, Sailor Saturn has the powers of Cronus/Saturn and his connection to the harvests.
Father Time appears in the videogame series God of War with some modifications to his Greek Mythology story.
Although he is seen as one the greatest antagonists of Greek mythology, the King of the Titans may not have been that bad after all. With the most prosperous times in human history ascribed to his reign, Cronus seems to have been a benevolent ruler at one stage in time. His role as the usurper of power against Uranus and later as the antagonist against whom Zeus fought makes him one of the most important characters of Greek mythology.