Cronus: Ancient Greek Titan and Father of Zeus and half of the Olympian gods

Greek Titan Cronus | Image: Chronos and his child by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, National Museum in Warsaw, a 17th-century depiction of Titan Cronus as Father Time, wielding a harvesting scythe

Who was Cronus?

Cronus, the youngest child of Uranus and Gaea, is perhaps the most famous Greek Titan in Greek mythology. He’s famed for overthrowing his father Uranus and then bringing forth the Golden Age of primordial peace, harmony and stability.

And just as Uranus was toppled, Cronus was also toppled by his children who were led by Zeus. Although beginning his reign as a benevolent and peace-loving leader, Cronus descended into a tyrannical ruler. And as it is claimed in the mythology, Cronus and his fellow Titans were cast into the deepest parts of Tartarus following their defeat at the hands of the Olympian gods-led coalition during the Titanomachy.

What was Cronus deity of?

Ancient Greeks and Romans considered the Titan Cronus the deity of time and darkness. Following his overthrow, he also became the ruler of the Elysian Fields (the Heavens).

Who were Cronus’ parents?

His parents were the earth goddess Gaia (Gaea) and the sky god Uranus.

Who were the siblings of Cronus?

According to the myth, Cronus had three broad categories of siblings. The first category was made up of the Titans that included the likes of  Hyperion, Oceanus, Crius, Coeus, Iapetus, Mnemosyne, Tethys, Theia, Phoebe, Themis, and Rhea. The next category was the Cyclopes, hideous looking creatures with one eye. Finally, there was the Hecatoncheires, who even more terrifying beings than the Cyclopes.

In some regard, the giants Erinyes and Meliae (race of Gigantes) can be considered siblings of Cronus. So can Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, love, lust and sexuality.

Who was Cronus’ consort?

For a wife, Cronus took his older sister the Titanese Rhea, also known as a mother goddess and the mother of six Greek Olympian gods and goddesses.

Who were the children of Cronus?

With his sister/wife, Cronus father six children: Hestia, Hades, Hera, Demeter, Poseidon, Zeus. Cronus also fathered a centaur called Chiron with his niece Philyra, the daughter of Oceanus.

Where does the Greek Titan Cronus live?

Depending on which account, Cronus either lives in Tartarus or the Elysian Fields.

History, Origins and Family

 

Greek Titan Cronus was the son of Uranus and Gaea, deities of the sky and the earth respectively. Six sets of twins – Cronus was one of them

According to the myths, in the beginning of time, the world was made of a vast emptiness called  Chaos. Gaea, Cronus’s mother, was one of the first primordial deities to appear right after the Erebus – a deity of death and Night – and Eros, the deity of love and light.

Gaea brought forth the being Uranus, the god of the sky, who she later married. Together with Uranus, Gaea gave birth to a number of beings such as the Titans, the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires (Hekatoncheires).

The first generation of Titans included a set of six twins (making the original Twelve Titans): Hyperion and Theia, Iapetus and Themis, Cronus and Rhea, Coeus and Phoebe, Crius and Mnemosyne, and Oceanus and Tethys. They were beautiful and each represented a force of nature. They were called “Titans” due to their incredible strength and grace. Their father Uranus was very proud of them and deemed them very worth of his grace.

On the contrary, the Cyclopes were born hideous creatures with a single round eye. They were so monstrous that their father Uranus deemed them unworthy of his love and praise. Additionally they were stubborn and very violent creatures with little to no emotions.

As if the Cyclops weren’t hideous looking enough, then came the Hecatoncheires whose only language was destruction. The Hecatoncheires were far worse than the Cyclopes as they were fierce and strong creatures with hundered arms and 50 heads. Most notable of those creatures were Cottus, Briareus, and Gynes.

Uranus considered the Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires a complete set of abominations that had to to be put down. Filled with immense disgust for them, he imprisoned every one of them in a hell-like prison called Tartarus (a place buried deep in the womb of Gaea, i.e. Earth).

Cronus family tree

Cronus family tree | The Titan Cronus fathered half of the Olympian gods and goddesses; the remaining half comprised Zeus’ children

Cronus castrates Uranus

Cronus castrates Uranus | Image: Giorgio Vasari – The Mutilation of Uranus by Saturn (Cronus)

Not only did Cronus’ father Uranus have an irrational hate for the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires, he also loathed some of Cronus’ Titan siblings. This forced Cronus and his mother Gaea to devise a plan to overthrow Uranus. Their goal was to break Cronus’ siblings out of their prison cells in Tartarus. Only Cronus was brave enough to stand against his father, the other Titans were either in prison or too scared to go against Uranus.

To accomplish their plan, Gaea forged a mighty sickle (adamantine sickle) out of stone. The plan was to use the very sharp edge of the sickle to castrate Uranus. Subsequently, Gaea hid Cronus in her womb (i.e. Tarturus).

While Gaea and Uranus laid with each other at the gate of Tarturus, Cronus emerged from hiding and swiftly sliced the genitals of Uranus. Writhing in pain, Uranus swore to seek vengeance before fleeing the scene, never to be seen again.

The blood from the genital area of Uranus fell into the sea and formed two gargantuan beings – Erinyes and Meliae (race of Gigantes). Additionally, the white foam from the sliced testicles of Uranus formed the beautiful Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, love, lust and sexuality.

Cronus’ reign and the Golden Age

With Uranus out of the picture, Cronus became ruler of the universe in his father’s place. As the lord of the Heavens, his reign ushered in a period of tranquility, prosperity and peace. This period was celebrated by the mortals as the Golden Age in classical Greek mythology.

However, Cronus reneged on his promise to free his siblings that were locked up in Tartarus. Uranus had gotten drunk on power and began to be weary of the threat that his siblings – the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires – could pose to his rule. Besides, just like his father Uranus, Cronus had begun seeing them for who they truly were – a bunch of hideous creatures. Cronus placed a powerful dragon called Campe to stand guard at their prison cells in Tarturus.

Cronus went on to co-rule with his sister Rhea, who he had just married. His golden age of serenity and righteousness was interrupted by his irrational fear of his father’s fate befalling him. This fear of his was reinforced by Gaea’s prophecy that stated that that Cronus would be toppled by his children.

Seeking to avoid the prophecy, Cronus was quick to act once his children were born. One after the other he swallowed the children he had with Rhea. The first to go was Hestia, and then there was Hera, Hades, Demeter, and Poseidon. He imprisoned them in his belly.

Cronus eating his children | Painting by Peter Paul Rubens of Cronus devouring one of his children

Just before Rhea gave birth to the sixth child, Zeus, Rhea and Gaea fashioned out a plan to end Cronus’s menace and reign of terror. The two goddesses wrapped the Omphalos Stone in a swaddling piece of cloth and presented it to Cronus. Reasoning that the wrapped piece of cloth was the sixth and last of his children, the Titan quickly gulped it up, just like he had done to the previous five children of his.

The baby Zeus was sent to Crete to be looked after by the Kouretes on Mount Ida. Gaea and Rhea patiently waited for a time when Zeus would be strong and old enough to free his older siblings and then end Cronus’ tyrannical rule.

How Cronus was toppled by the Olympians during the Titanomachy

Rhea presenting the omphalos stone in a swaddling of cloth in order to deceive Cronus into thinking that the stone was the sixth and last of his children, Zeus.

In ancient Greek mythology, the Titanomachy describes the 10-year war that saw the Olympian gods overthrow Cronus and his Titan allies.

When Zeus was just mature enough, Rhea and Gaea set out to implement phase two of their plan. By this time Cronus, having eliminated all possible threats to his throne, had gotten so drunk on power that he spent his all his days literally drunk and being an awful ruler.

Rhea disguised Zeus as Cronus’ cupbearer and asked him to present a flask of wine to his father. Upon drinking the wine, which contained an emetic potion, Cronus collapsed to the ground and clutched his stomach. Twisting and turning, the Titan ruler began to regurgitate all his children that were imprisoned in his belly in reverse order. First came the stone, then the other five fully-grown siblings of Zeus.

Zeus then struck Cronus down, similar to the way Uranus was struck by Cronus. This marked the beginning of the Titanomachy – a fierce war between the Titans and the first generation Olympian gods.

Zeus and his fully-grown siblings with their godly powers led an army to bring down Cronus and his Titan allies. The Olympians were also aided by Gaea, the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires. Although Cronus and his titan siblings (including his second in command Atlas) fought very bravely, they were ultimately defeated by the Olympians.

Just as the prophecy had stated, Cronus was overthrown by his children. Zeus being the leader, and perhaps the strongest of the Olympians, was crowned king of the gods. He would go on to rule with his sister/wife Hera as queen.

Greek Titan Cronus in Tartarus

Greek Titan Cronus | Image: The Fall of the Titans, Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, 1596-1598

Cronus and his Titan friends were cast into the darkest parts of Tartarus by his children the Olympians. The mad Titan is bound to remain in Tartarus for an eternity. As a result of this, he became known as the deity of time and darkness.

According to some myths, however, Zeus freed Cronus after sometime and made him the Lord of time and the ruler of the Elysian Fields (the Island of the Blessed).

Greek Titan Cronus meaning and epithets

The fact that the Greek word for time “Chronos”, resulted in the Greek Titan Cronus becoming associated with time, with some myth going as far as calling him the Lord of time or the “Old Father Time”. He was also known as the “Patron of the Harvest”. This epithet of Cronus reflects the time period (i.e. the Golden Age) that he ruled over.

Symbols, depictions and appearance

Cronus symbols and depictions

Being a father deity, Cronus was often times depicted as bearded figure with a scythe or sickle in his hand. The sickle being the very tool that Cronus used in castrating his father Uranus, ancient Greeks and Romans considered the sickle an important symbol of Cronus. Other symbols of the titan are the harpe, grain, and snake.

More Cronus facts

Temple of Saturn

The 4th-century Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum

Other names the Greek Titan Cronus include Kronus and Cronos.

His most common cult and worship centers of Cronus were at Gades, Olympia and Athens.

The Ro1man equivalent of Cronus is the god Saturn. The Egyptian equivalent is the sky god Geb.

According to some myths, Cronus was the father of the famous centaur Chiron, perhaps the wisest of all centaurs. It is believed that Cronus turned himself into a dashing mare and mated with Philyra, the daughter of Oceanus.

Because Gaea was the goddess of the earth, ancient Greeks believed that Tartarus was the womb of Gaea, i.e. the deepest parts of the earth.

On the 12th day of the Attic month in the Hekatombaoian calendar, Ancient Athenians celebrated a festival called Kronia in honor of the Titan Cronus. The festival was a basically one of harvest. In order to mask the cries of the baby Zeus, the Kouretes at Mount Ida sang and danced. Cronus could also not see Zeus since he was hidden in place found between the heavens and earth (by the nymph Adamanthea).

According to some accounts of the myth, the war between the Titans and the Greek Olympians lasted for about 10 years. In the end, Cronus was imprisoned in Tartarus. And in an act of mercy, Zeus allowed Cronus to become the lord of time and the Elysian Fields. The fields were a place where the righteous souls go.

According to the ancient Romans, Cronus fled to Latium after his army of Titans was defeated by the Olympians. He went on to rule righteously and introduced the people to an era of peace and prosperity. This explains why Saturn (the Greek name for Cronus) was celebrated every year in a festival called the Saturnalia.

According to famous Greek philosopher Plato, Cronus, Phorcys and Rhea were rather the children of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys.

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