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Myth Monday - Kronos vs. Zeus

By December 3, 2012

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Saturn Cutting off Cupid's Wings with a Scythe (1802) by Ivan Akimov (Tretyakov Gallery)
Saturn Cutting off Cupid's Wings with a Scythe (1802) by Ivan Akimov (Tretyakov Gallery)
PD Courtesy of Wikipedia

Now that it is December, solar festivals are fast approaching. One of the holidays associated with the light is the Roman Saturnalia, which arrives in about two weeks. This reversal of roles festival among the Romans honored their one-time agricultural god Saturn who had assumed the functions of one of the Greek gods, specifically, the broad-bearded Titan Kronos, father of Zeus (Roman Jupiter) et al. Kronos had his own festival among the Greeks known as Kronia that Saturnalia is associated with. Today we see passages from Greek literature illustrating King Kronos' relationship, roles and reversals, with Father Zeus.

Kronos is a puzzling kind of god since he was so full of contradictions. We read of a golden age when he was in charge. Mankind enjoyed peace and prosperity. Then, when Zeus deprived him of power, the age turned to the lesser metal silver and mankind was sent into a downward spiral.

Callimachus, Iambi Fragment 192 (from Oxyrhynchus Papyri 7) :

"[In the Golden Age when Kronos ruled :] It was the time when birds and creatures of the sea and four-footed animals could talk in the same way as the Promethean clay ... (lacuna) in the time of Kronos, and even before. Just is Zeus, yet unjust was his ruling when he deprived the animals of their speech, and -- as though we were in a position to give part of our voice to others -- diverted it to the race of men."
Theoi - Kronos

Yet Kronos is often betrayed as anything but benevolent. He was especially cruel to his relatives. He castrated his father, cannibalized his kids, and fought and lost to his son Zeus:

Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 7. 10 (trans. Jones) :

"Now some say that Zeus wrestled here [at Olympia, Elis] with Kronos himself for the throne, while others say that he held the games in honour of his victory over Kronos."

and then cursed Zeus to suffer as he had. Fortunately for the king of the Greek gods as we know them, Prometheus alerted Zeus to the danger of letting Thetis produce a supplanter, so Zeus let a mortal marry the nymph and sire Achilles:

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 907 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) :

"Prometheus: Yes, truly, the day will come when Zeus, although stubborn of soul, shall be humbled, seeing that he plans a marriage [i.e. with the goddess Thetis] that shall hurl him into oblivion from his sovereignty and throne; and then immediately the curse his father Kronos invoked as he fell from his ancient throne, shall be fulfilled to the uttermost ...."

Zeus defeated Kronos, shackled him, and kept him guarded in Tartaros. In time Zeus let Kronos return to some semblance of responsibility, but only in the Underworld, in the land of dead heroes:

Hesiod, Works and Days 156 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) :

"But to the others father Zeus the son of Kronos gave a living and an abode apart from men, and made them dwell at the ends of earth. And they live untouched by sorrow in the islands of the blessed along the shore of deep swirling Okeanos, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year, far from the deathless gods, and Kronos rules over them; for the father of men and gods released him from his bonds."

More (basics) on Saturn/Kronos to come....

Previous 2012 Myth Mondays:

  1. Hercules Hurls His Guest
  2. Scylla
  3. Olympics Origins II: Myrtilos
  4. Hercules the Giant-Killer
  5. The First Tyrant
  6. The King and the Harpies
  7. The Dawn Goddess Loves a Mortal
  8. Vediovis
  9. Even a Boar Wishes to Kiss Adonis
  10. Hero and Leander
  11. Who Were the Argonauts?
  12. The Chimera
  13. Narcissus and Echo
  14. How Perseus Fits In
  15. Hesiod and the Bestiary
  16. The First Olympics Origins I
  17. Dionysus and the Return of Hephaestus
  18. Zeus, the Recent Victor of the Titanomachy, Wins Once More in Hesiod's 'Theogony'
  19. Atlas, the Titan Who Didn't Shrug
  20. Troilus and ... Polyxena
  21. Who Is the Virgo?
  22. Pandora's Box
  23. Achilles and His Heel
  24. Hercules and His Labors
  25. The First Humans
  26. The Death of Pentheus
  27. Greek Ghosts
  28. One More Underworld God
  29. A Norse God of Winter
  30. "Why Is Gold Called Sif's Hair?"
  31. How Much Do You Know About Athena?
  32. How Much Do You Know About Artemis?
  33. Zeus vs Kronos

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