Cronus is possibly the most famous of the Titans as he was the King and leader of his brothers fighting against Uranus and eventually the Olympian Gods. Born of Uranus and Gaia, he was the wiliest and youngest of their offspring and perhaps the most powerful. Cronus would gain by power by overthrowing his father and eventually lose it by being beaten by his son Zeus.
In Greek mythology, Cronus was the primordial God of time, in which time was described as a destructive, all-devouring force. With the help of his Titan brothers, Cronus was able to depose his father Uranus and rule the cosmos, ruling during the mythological Golden Age. Hesiod in his Theogony recorded this saga; Cronus envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe. Uranus angered Gaia when he hid her children, the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes in Tartarus, and they were imprisoned unable to see the light. Gaia created a great stone sickle and persuaded Cronus and his Titan brothers to castrate Uranus.
Only Cronus was willing to commit the act, and when it was all over the blood that fell onto the Earth from Uranus created the Gigantes, Erinyes and Meliae. The blood that fell into the sea created white foam from which the goddess Aphrodite emerged.
After dispatching Uranus, Cronus once again incarcerated his youngest siblings, the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes and commanded the dragon Campe to guard them. He and his sister Rhea took the throne as King and Queen and ruled during a Golden Age, as the people of the time had no need for laws and immorality were absent. Cronus had many famous children, one of them was born through his infidelity with Philyra, daughter of Oceanus, when upon being found out by his wife Rhea, Cronus leapt out of bed and galloped off in the form of a stallion. Philyra in shame retreated to the Pelasgian ridges where she gave birth to Chiron, the wise and half divine centaur.
A prophecy, predicted by Uranus, decreed Cronus would be overthrown by his son, to prevent this from occurring Cronus swallowed each of his children; Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon, as they were born. Rhea, his sister and wife, managed to save the youngest, Zeus, by hiding him away on the island of Crete and feeding Cronus a stone swaddled in cloth. Some versions of the story have Zeus raised by a goat named Amalthea or the nymph Adamanthea on Mount Ida. When Zeus was full-grown he forced Cronus to vomit up his siblings and led the Olympians in a ten-year way against the Titans; Zeus was based on Mount Olympus and the Titans on Mount Othrys. The stone that had been disguised as baby Zeus was set in the earth at Pytho, under the glens of Parnassus, to be a sign and a marvel to mortal men. Eventually, the Olympians were successful and drove their opponents into the pit of Tartarus. After freeing his siblings, Zeus also released the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes; who forged for him his lighting bolts, Hade’s helmet and Poseidon’s’ trident.
Cronus is often depicted with a scythe or a sickle, which was what he used to castrate and overthrow Uranus. He is also associated in Athens with the twelfth day of the Attic month when a festival called Kronia was held in his honour to celebrate the harvest. This celebration is likely due to his association with the virtuous Golden Age of his rule. Thus he continued to preside as a patron of the harvest even though he was ousted from power.
The fate of Cronus differs across texts, in Homeric text, Cronus is imprisoned with the other Titans in Tartarus. In Orphiv’s poems, he is incarcerated in the cave of Nyx, a cave of night or darkness. In later myths, according to Pindar, Zeus was said to have released Cronus and his brothers from their prison and make his father the King of the Elysian Islands, home of the blessed dead in the Underworld. This was the final resting place of the souls of heroes and virtuous men such as Orpheus and Lycus, and the Trojan War heroes like Achilles, Patroclus, Ajax and Menelaus. This list is exhaustive as in ancient Greece it was presumed that any hero who possessed a hero cult would be transferred to Elysian.
Other Interesting Facts About Cronus
- In Roman mythology, Cronus is depicted as their deity named Saturn, his period of rule was honoured every year by the Saturnalia feast
- Saturn was worshipped far more widely, as the God of Agriculture, by the Romans than Cronus had ever been
- During the Renaissance, the depiction of Cronus gave rise to ‘Father Time’ wielding a harvesting scythe
- There have been no temples dedicated to Cronus found in Greece
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