One of the most exciting tales in Greek Mythology is the succession myth. Ancient Greeks went through many generations of deities who fought to lead the world and rule from above. While most are familiar with the last generation, the 12 Olympians before them also achieved incredible feats. However, they would never exist if not for Cronus.
Cronus (Kronos, Cronos) was the leader of the first generation of Titans. He ruled during the Golden Age of man and paved the way for the future Olympians to rise to power.
The Origins of Cronus
Another version of the tale by Plato says that Cronus was the son of Oceanus and Tethys. In the “Sibylline Oracles,” Cronus only had two siblings. The legend says that Cronus shared a third of the world with Titan and Iapetus. However, most retellings refer to the Uranus and Gaia origins.
Uranus was the personification of the sky, and Gaia was the goddess of the earth. Both primordial deities were some of the first beings to exist, ruling before humans walked the earth.
According to Hesiod’s “Theogony,” Uranus was a hate-driven god who did not allow his children to prosper. He ended up imprisoning all of his children, preventing them from leaving Gaia’s womb. The Titans, Cyclopes, and Hecatonchires (Hekatonkheires, Hecatoncheires) were unable to escape and prosper.
Fed up and overcome by grief, Gaia pleaded with her children to take action. Her youngest, Cronus, was the only one who wasn’t scared to do something about Uranus. Gaia created an adamantine sickle and hid Cronus until the time was right. Cronus then escaped Gaia’s womb and castrated Uranus!
The castrated testicles of Uranus created other important figures. Cronus reportedly hurled the testicles away, allowing them to roll into the sea. There, they produced a white foam in which Aphrodite emerged.
As for Uranus, his story practically ends upon his castration. The former ruler of the cosmos faded into obscurity and rarely showed up in future myths beyond a brief mention.
Cronus freed most of his siblings and quickly became the new ruler of the universe. The Titans grew to power, and Cronus took his sister Rhea as his wife. The couple sat on the throne of the world, leading as king and queen.
Cronus was not widely worshipped in Pre-Hellenic Greece. As a result, he didn’t have any temples of his own. The practice of creating temples for the Greek gods and goddesses didn’t exist until later in human history.
That said, Cronus did appear in some art. The son of Uranus was often depicted as an older man carrying a sickle, scythe, or a harped sword. The accessory referred to the story of his father’s castration.
At first, Cronus became a mighty rule. His actions to dethrone Uranus resulted in prosperity throughout the world. His mother, Gaia, was free from her burdens and could go on to fertilize the land. She helped grow crops, leading to a long period of bliss for humans and gods alike.
Cronus was the leader of the Titans during the Golden Age of humans. Immorality was nonexistent, and there was no need for laws. It truly was a time of virtue and prosperity. Thanks to the happiness of Gaia and the Titans, the world flourished. Many believe that Cronus’ connection to agriculture and harvest is due to his leadership during this time.
While the Titans’ rule was peaceful, the time of relative harmony did not last forever. Eventually, Cronus became violent and somewhat paranoid.
Cronus released most of his siblings from imprisonment, allowing them to rule alongside him. However, he kept the trio of Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires giants locked up in Tartarus. Then, he sent the dragon Campe to stand guard.
After receiving a prophecy that his children would overthrow him, Cronus started to swallow them. His wife, Rhea, gave birth to five children that Cronus swiftly swallowed to ensure that the prophecy would not come true.
Rhea was not happy with the loss of her children. So, she turned to Gaia for assistance. Together, they hatched a plan.
The Birth of the Olympians
When she became pregnant with her sixth child, Gaia told Rhea to go to the island of Crete to give birth in secret. There, the Olympian Zeus was born. Rhea then tricked Cronus by giving him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to swallow. Cronus devoured the rock, called the Omphalos stone, without giving it a second thought. He was not suspicious, and Rhea‘s plan worked!
Rhea hid her baby Zeus in a cave on Mount Ida. Who raised him varies between accounts. Some stories say that a goat helped him reach maturity. Others say that a nymph or even mother Gaia watched over him.
Either way, Zeus grew into adulthood without Cronus even knowing he existed.
When he was ready, Zeus went to Cronus disguised as a cupbearer. He gave Cronus an emetic drink made by Metis. Upon drinking it, Cronus disgorged the children he swallowed! First came the Omphalos stone. Then, the other Olympian gods followed.
After Zeus fled with his siblings, the Olympians and Titans went to war. The Titanomachy was a 10-year war between the two generations of deities.
The Titans ultimately won. Their secret weapon was Cronus’ imprisoned siblings. Zeus freed the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires beasts, which Cronus kept in Tartarus despite their relation and the castration of Uranus.
The Cyclopes and Hecatonchires assisted the Olympians by hurling stones at the Titans as Zeus unleashed a hailstorm of thunderbolts. The manoeuvre was successful, and the Titans fell. The Olympians rose to Mount Olympus, ruling the world and becoming the more recognizable figures in the Greek Pantheon.
There are a few different versions of what happened to Cronus next. In most accounts, Cronus and Titans were imprisoned. Homeric hymns say that the Titans were banished to the depths of Tartarus. There, they were tortured as the Olympians rules above.
In some Orphic poems, Cronus spent his time imprisoned in the cave of Nyx. Other retellings say that Cronus escaped to Latium or he ended up being castrated by Zeus just like his father before him.
How long Cronus was punished is up for debate. He either suffered in Tartarus for all of eternity or was eventually forgiven by Zeus. In the latter scenario, mythographers say that Zeus forgave his father after many human generations. He then made Cronus the ruler of the Island of the Blessed or Elysium. This island was a representation of heaven reserved for the souls of heroes.
Cronus in Roman Mythology
In Roman mythology, Cronus was known as Saturn. While the stories are similar across the two mythologies, Romans viewed Saturn much more positively.
He wasn’t the cruel god that he was to Ancient Greeks. Instead, he was simply an intermediary figure between the Titans and the Olympians. To Romans, Saturn was the one who ended the rule of the Titans by seizing their power.
For this reason, Saturn played a more significant part in Roman mythology. They created many temples in his honor and held festivals to celebrate him. The most popular, Saturnalia, was one of the most important holidays for Ancient Romans. According to some scholars, it even inspired our modern traditions for celebrating Christmas.
Other Tales of Cronus
The story of Cronus’ birth and subsequent fall during the Titanomachy are the most commonly told. However, the Titan is mentioned in other stories.
In this legend, Cronus attempted to cheat on his wife and sister Rhea. His target of desire was Philyra. She was an Oceanid nymph and the daughter of Oceanus.Cronus reportedly chased the nymph around Mount Pelion. But during the tryst with Philyra, Rhea appeared and interrupted them. Cronus transformed himself into a stallion to escape notice. That’s how the half-man, half-horse Chiron came to be! Other purported children from this union include Dolops and Aphrus.
Chiron eventually played a big part in Greek mythology, interacting with several key figures. He was a renowned teacher who taught some of the greatest heroes in Ancient Greece including Jason, Theseus, Perseus, Achilles and even Heracles.
Cronus was the youngest of the 12 Titans, later becoming the King of the Titans.
He was also the brother of the three Cyclopes and three Hecatonchires born from Uranus and Gaia.
He was the progeny of primordial gods Uranus and Gaia.
Cronus ruled during the Golden Age for mortals.
Cronus led a rebellion against his father, furthering the succession myth.
The equivalent of Cronus in Roman mythology is Saturn.
In Greco-Roman Egypt, Cronus had a connection with the Egyptian god Geb.
Cronus married his sister, Rhea.
One legend says that Cronus also fathered the centaur Chiron.
The Kronia festival in Attica and Athens occurred in honor of Cronus. It celebrated agriculture and a bountiful harvest. The Roman variant of this festival was Saturnalia.
Cronus and the rest of the Titans ultimately fell during the Titanomachy.
After the great war, Cronus was imprisoned in the depths of Tartarus. In some versions of his myth, he later became the ruler of the Island of the Blessed or the Fields of Elysium.
During the Age of Antiquity, Cronus was confused with Chronus (Chronos), the primordial god of time. As a result, depictions started to show Cronus as “Old Father Time.”
The Roman philosopher pushed the Chronus connection further, stating that Cronus maintains the cycle of the seasons and courses of time.
The planet Saturn is named after Cronus’ Roman equivalent.
The Roman variant, Saturn, influenced the creation of the word “Saturday.” It came from the Latin word “Dies Saturni,” which translates to “The Day of Saturn.” The word continued to evolve in Western cultures, leading to the word “Saturday.”
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