Cronus

Definition

Liana Miate
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published on 25 October 2022
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Available in other languages: Spanish, French
Chronos and His Child (by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, Public Domain)
Chronos and His Child
Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (Public Domain)

In Greek mythology, Cronus (also spelt Kronos) is a Titan and the youngest son of Uranus (Heaven/Sky) and Gaia (Earth). He dethroned Uranus and became the world's first king, ruling over his siblings and fellow Titans. Cronus married his sister Rhea and was eventually overthrown by his son Zeus.

Cronus' origin story is most famously told in Hesiod's (c. 700 BCE) Theogony. He is linked to the Roman god Saturn, the Egyptian god Geb, the Phoenician Ēl, and the Hittite/Hurrian god Kumarbi.

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Birth & Family

According to Hesiod, Cronus was the youngest child of Uranus, the primordial deity of heaven and the sky, and Gaia, the primordial deity of the earth. Uranus and Gaia had six male Titans and six female Titans (Titanides):

And then she lay with Heaven, and bore
Deep-whirling Oceanus and Koios; then
Kreius, Iapetos, Hyperion,
Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne,
Lovely Tethys, and Phoebe, golden-crowned.
Last, after these, most terrible of sons,
The crooked-scheming Kronos came to birth
Who was his vigorous father's enemy.

(Hesiod, Theogony, 131-138)

The Titans are rarely represented in art and are not found in many myths; however, they played an essential role in the creation story of the Olympian gods. Uranus and Gaia also gave birth to the Cyclopes (giants with one eye) and the Hecatonchires (giants with a hundred hands).

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Cronus & Uranus

As a lustful Uranus attempted to make love to Gaia, Chronus struck, slicing off his father's genitals.

Although Uranus and Gaia had many children, Uranus grew jealous of them and hid them under the earth, so they never saw the light of day. Gaia hated how her children were being treated and devised a plan to save them. She invented grey steel and made a sharp sickle. She told her children of her plan, but they feared taking a stand against their powerful father. Cronus was the only one who volunteered to help his mother, as he was envious of his father's power.

Then crooked Kronos, growing bold,
Answered his well-loved mother with these words:
"Mother, I undertake to do the deed;
I do not care for my unspeakable
Father, for he first thought of shameful acts."

(Hesiod, Theogony, 167-171)

Gaia told Cronus to hide in her bedchamber as Uranus would be visiting her that night. Cronus hid, holding the sickle and ready to carry out his mother's plan. As a lustful Uranus attempted to make love to Gaia, Chronus struck, slicing off his father's genitals. The blood landed on Gaia, who gave birth to the Erinyes (Furies). Cronus threw the genitals into the ocean behind him, where they eventually made their way to Cyprus. The foam from the genitals would subsequently result in the birth of the goddess Aphrodite.

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The Mutilation of Uranus by Saturn (Cronus)
The Mutilation of Uranus by Saturn (Cronus)
Giorgio Vasari (Public Domain)

Cronus as King of the World

Cronus imprisoned his father deep in Tartarus (the infernal region) along with the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires in caves. With his father now out of the way, Cronus became the first king of the world. He took the sky from Uranus and the earth from Gaia and threatened his siblings Oceanus and Tethys to grant him control over the sea. He trusted no one and ruled alone.

Cronus' rule was regarded as the Golden Age, a time when there was no disease, hunger, or hardship. The people, known as the Golden Race, were happy, and once they died, they became spirits and could watch over their loved ones. Some heroes chose not to die but were instead transported to the Isles of the Blessed at the end of the world, which Cronus also ruled.

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Cronus & Zeus

Cronus married his sister Rhea, and they had six children: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus, father of gods and men. However, Cronus was a troubled and paranoid father, as his parents had warned him that his own children would turn against him, just as Cronus had turned against his father.

With this warning present in his mind, Cronus swallowed each child as soon as Rhea gave birth. A distraught and pregnant Rhea turned to her parents for help, not wanting another child of hers to be swallowed by Cronus. Uranus and Gaia advised Rhea to journey to the island of Crete and give birth to her youngest child (Zeus) there. In Crete, Rhea met with the she-goat Amalthea and the Meliae, the nymphs of the manna-bearing ash tree. She also tracked down a special stone that Gaia had instructed her to find.

Kronos/Saturn
Kronos/Saturn
Peter Paul Rubens (Public Domain)

Cronus regularly travelled from one end of Greece to another, visiting his Titan siblings and ensuring they were not plotting against him. When he returned home, Rhea pretended to give birth and handed Cronus the "baby". In reality, the baby was the special stone that she had swaddled in blankets. Cronus swallowed this stone without hesitation, not even suspecting that his wife would trick him. Finally, Rhea travelled back to Crete to give birth to Zeus and swore that Zeus would one day destroy Cronus, continuing the tradition of son-father violence.

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Rhea left Zeus on Crete, where Amalthea and the Meliae fed him. Rhea visited him regularly and taught him how to carry out revenge. In some traditions, a nymph named Adamanthea suspended Zeus from a rope hanging on a tree to hide him from Cronus. Zeus grew up to be strong and magnificent. Rhea enlisted her friend Metis, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, to help prepare Zeus for his role in overthrowing Cronus. Metis made a mixture of copper sulphate, poppy juice, and syrup of manna, which she gave to Zeus.

Zeus took this mixture to Cronus, and as soon as he started drinking it, he threw up his children one by one. First came the stone, then Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter and Hestia. Cronus passed out after throwing up his children, and Zeus attempted to behead Cronus with his sickle but did not have the strength to wield it. Zeus' siblings thanked him for freeing them and swore allegiance to him. Together, they would overthrow Cronus and begin a new age – the age of the Olympian gods.

The Titanomachy

Cronus was cursed to travel the world & measure out eternity all alone.

Cronus would not simply allow his children to overthrow him without a fight, and so began the Titanomachy, a ten-year-long battle between the Titans and the Olympian gods. The Titans fought from Mount Othrys, while the gods fought from Mount Olympus. In the beginning, Cronus and the Titans outnumbered the weaker Olympian gods. Metis told Zeus to go down to Tartarus and free the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires so they would fight on the side of the gods. The Cyclopes created the gods' famous weapons: the thunderbolts for Zeus, the trident for Poseidon and a helmet of darkness for Hades. These weapons, along with the hundred-handed Hecatonchires, soon turned the tide of the battle. The overwhelmed Titans employed Atlas as their leader, and he rallied them into a long resistance.

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Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon came up with a plan that would be sure to defeat the Titans once and for all. Hades stole Cronus' weapons while Poseidon threatened him with his trident, and Zeus threw his thunderbolts at him. While Cronus was distracted, the Hecatonchires rained rocks down on the rest of the Titans. This attack finally ensured victory for the Olympian gods. The Titans were sent to Tartarus, while Atlas was given the harsher punishment of hoisting the heavens on his shoulders for eternity.

Cronus was cursed to travel the world and measure out eternity all alone. He was therefore known as 'Old Father Time.' He began to age, reminding everyone of the relentless passing of time that would eventually drive all mortals to the end of their days. In other traditions, Cronus was sent to Tartarus with the rest of his siblings. Other myths state that he was allowed to live out the rest of his days on the Isles of the Blessed.

The Fall of the Titans
The Fall of the Titans
Cornelis van Haarlem (Public Domain)

Cronus & Philyra

On Mount Pelion, Cronus had an affair with the Oceanid Philyra, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. One day, as Cronus lay with Philyra, he was interrupted by Rhea and, in a panic, turned himself into a stallion and fled. Philyra became pregnant and gave birth to the centaur Cheiron. Disgusted by the thought of having to suckle and raise a half-horse, half-man creature, she prayed that she would transform into something else, and Zeus, sympathetic to her plight, turned her into a linden tree.

Cronus & Chronus

The Stoics associated Cronus with Chronus (time). His role in the creation story of the gods was interpreted to mean that all things were begotten by time. The children of Cronus represent the ages, and Cronus devouring them meant that "time consumes the ages."

Although there is no etymological link between Cronus and Chronus, the Stoics believed that the definition of a word was also the meaning of a myth. Therefore the similarity of the words conjured up an image of Cronus that was closely integrated with the image of Father Time as the Grim Reaper, an aging man who carried around a sickle, just as Cronus had used the sickle to overthrow his father, Uranus.

Worship & Legacy

The Hill of Cronus was located above the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia. It was sacred to Cronus, who received offerings there. A temple dedicated to Cronus was located on the island of Gadir (modern-day Cádiz, Spain), founded by the Phoenicians. Another temple in Athens, built by Peisistratos, was dedicated to Cronus and Rhea.

A festival called the Kronia was also believed to have been held in honour of Cronus. Unfortunately, not much is known about the Kronia. However, some sources state that it was similar to the Roman Saturnalia. It was an agricultural festival held in Athens, Samos and Kolophon at the end of the year when slaves were temporarily freed. Other sources state that the Kronia was a dark festival with human sacrifices being made to Cronus. This darker festival was supposed to be inspired by Cronus' link to the Phoenician god Ēl.

In 2017, a star known as HD 240430 was given the nickname Kronus after it was observed eating the planets surrounding it. From Chronus, we get the words 'Chronicles', 'Synchronised,' and 'Chronic'.

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Editorial Review This article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.
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Questions & Answers

How is Cronus killed?

Cronus is overthrown by Zeus and his other children in the Titanomachy. Some sources say that he was sent to Tartarus with the rest of the Titans, while other sources claim that he was sent to the Isles of the Blessed to live out the rest of his days.

Is Cronus evil or good?

Depending on what way you look at it, Cronus is both good and bad. As king of the world, Cronus oversaw a golden age when there was no sickness or hunger and everyone lived happy long lives. As a father, he was paranoid that his children would one day overthrow him, and so he swallowed each child as soon as they were born, causing great distress to his wife, Rhea.

Did Cronus eat Zeus?

No. Rhea gave birth to Zeus on the island of Crete and tricked Cronus with a swaddled stone, which he promptly swallowed, thinking it was Zeus. Zeus was able to grow into a strong man who was trained to overthrow his father, Cronus.

What was Cronus afraid of?

Cronus was afraid of his children overthrowing him, just as he had once overthrown his father Uranus. This is why he swallowed each of his children as soon they were born, except for Zeus.

Translations

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About the Author

Liana Miate
Liana is the Social Media Editor for Ancient History Encyclopedia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a major in ancient Greece, Rome & Late Antiquity. She is particularly passionate about Rome and Greece, and anything to do with mythology or women.

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Cite This Work

APA Style

, L. M. (2022, October 25). Cronus. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/Cronus/

Chicago Style

, Liana Miate. "Cronus." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified October 25, 2022. https://www.worldhistory.org/Cronus/.

MLA Style

, Liana Miate. "Cronus." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 25 Oct 2022. Web. 30 Nov 2022.

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