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Cronos. 8910: Skaegget mand med kappe over issen. 'Saturnus'. Romersk 1 årh. e. kr. Vatikanet, Sala dei Busti (Royal Cast Collection, Copenhagen).

"There are new rulers in heaven, and Zeus governs with lawless customs; that which was mighty before he now brings to nothing." (The OCEANIDS to Prometheus 1. Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 150).

"Thou best of kings, thou shall be ousted of thy sceptre by thy son." (Oracle given to Cronos. Ovid, Fasti 4.197).

Cronos is the wily, youngest and most terrible of the children of Uranus, whom he hated. He castrated his father and became ruler of the universe, but was later overthrown by his own son Zeus.

Children of Uranus

Cronos' father Uranus (Sky) is counted as the first to have ruled the Universe. He was the son of Gaia (Earth) or, as others say, the son of Aether (the Upper Sky) and Hemera (Day). Uranus married Gaia, and had children by her among which the HECATONCHEIRES, who had hundred hands and fifty heads, and the CYCLOPES, who had only one eye in their forehead. Uranus, for some reason or other, hated these children of his and hid them away in a secret place on earth, or as others say, cast them into Tartarus, which is a gloomy place in the Underworld as far distant from earth as earth is from the sky. However, Gaia, grieved at the destruction of her gifted children, and being strained and stretched with so many giant beings inside her, planned the destruction of her own husband and his rule as a way to set them and herself free.

Cronos eager to revolt

In order to overthrow him, Gaia tried to persuade the TITANS, who were also her own children by Uranus, to attack their father, but these were afraid, excepting Cronos who immediately said:

"Mother, I will undertake to do this deed, for I reverence not our father of evil name, for he first thought of doing shameful things." (Cronos to Gaia. Hesiod, Theogony 170).

In order to accomplish the seditious purpose, Gaia gave Cronos an adamantine sickle with jagged teeth, which is said to have been made by the TELCHINES. And when Uranus by night approached Gaia longing for love, Cronos came out from his hiding place and cut off his father's genitals, throwing them into the sea behind his back at cape Drepanum in Achaea. And from the foam which gathered round the severed genitals, lovely Aphrodite was born after a long time, but from the drops of flowing blood that fell on Earth the ERINYES were created, who avenge crime and wickedness, and punish those who are guilty of bloodshed within the family.

Power changes the mind

This is how the TITANS dethroned their father and first ruler of the Universe, committing the sovereignty to Cronos, who was the youngest of them all. Having thus succeeded his father, Cronos brought up the CYCLOPES and the HECATONCHEIRES, who were prisoners in Tartarus. But Power changes the mind, whereas there is no mind able to change the nature of Power. So, when Cronos became ruler, he started seeing things in the same way as the predecessor he had dethroned had seen them; and soon he again bound and shut his brethren up in the same dark depth. Cronos was affected, for having attacked his father, by what later came to be called the "Punishment of Neoptolemus", which consists in suffering oneself what one has done to another, or almost. Soon Cronos was prophetically informed by his parents that he would be dethroned by his own son.

Cronos devours his offspring

And believing that these fateful news could be averted, he started to swallow his offspring at birth. But once the procedure had been repeated several times, her wife and sister Rhea 1, feeling for her children as Gaia for her own, deceived her husband by wrapping a stone in clothes and giving it to him to swallow, as if it were the newborn child Zeus. Some say that when Rhea 1 brought the stone to Cronos, he, believing the stone to be a child, bade her offer milk to the baby. Rhea 1 then pressed her breast, and the flowing milk created the stars that are known by the name of the Milky Way.

Rhea 1 gives Cronos a wrapped stone to swallow, as if it were the child Zeus. mur001: Cronos and Rhea. Alexander S. Murray, Manual of Mythology (1898).

Note: English translations of Hesiod 477-485 (for example Evelyn-White's or Dorothea Wender's) appear to say that Gaia, and not Rhea, gave Cronos the stone to swallow. But modern authors, dictionaries and manuals have since long ago followed exclusively the version saying that Rhea gave her husband the stone wrapped in swaddling clothes as if it were the baby Zeus. This version is originally found in the works of Apollodorus and Pausanias among other ancient sources. The name of the subject in verse 485 of the Theogony is not mentioned, but the Hesiodic context suggests, in more than one way, that Gaia and not Rhea gave the stone to Cronos.

Rhea 1 saves Zeus

Having thus deluded her husband, Rhea 1 went to Crete where she gave birth to Zeus in a cave in Mount Dicte. And while the child was fed by NYMPHS on the milk of Amalthea the goat, the CURETES who guarded the cave clashed their spears on their shields in order that Cronos might not hear the child's voice.

Cronos meets Philyra 1

In the meantime, Cronos, having realised that he had been deluded by means of a stone, was hunting his child Zeus throughout the earth. During his search he met the Oceanid Philyra 1 and consorted with her. By him she bore the wise Centaur Chiron, but later, when Philyra 1 saw the strange species she had given birth to, she asked Zeus to change her into another form, and he turned her into the tree called linden.

What was said in Arcadia

The Arcadians are reported to have said that when Rhea 1 gave birth to Poseidon, which she did before she gave birth to Zeus, she declared to Cronos that she had given birth to a horse. Apparently Cronos had no reason to disbelieve his wife, for gods are capable of anything, and so Rhea 1, who had laid Poseidon in a flock of lambs to live with them, gave him a foal to swallow instead of the child. This account has been considered to be both foolish and wise, for wisdom at times appears as foolishness, being sometimes difficult to tell one from the other, specially when riddles and hidden meanings are suspected. And the Arcadians also said that in a wonderful mountain near Methydrium, Rhea 1 enlisted, when she was pregnant with Zeus, the giant Hopladamus as an ally against Cronos, whom she feared might attack her, adding that it was in that place that the substitution of a stone for the child took place. The stone itself, however, was shown at Delphi, not far away from the tomb of Neoptolemus, whose "punishment" Cronos shared. Olive oil was poured on the stone every day, and on special occasions unworked wool was placed on it.

The Divine Vomit

In any case, Cronos was later forced to disgorge the children that he had previously swallowed through a drug that the Oceanid Metis 1 gave him. So when the gods had been vomited, they aided Zeus in waging war against Cronos and the TITANS, for Zeus had promised that whosoever would fight with him against the TITANS, would keep the office he had before, adding that he who was without office or right under the rule of Cronos, should be raised and acquire them.

Zeus banishes Cronos

Cronos devouring his offspring. 9824: Peter Paul Rubens 1577-1640: Saturno. Museo Nacional del Prado.

The TITANS, who fought from Mount Othrys in Thessaly, were defeated when the CYCLOPES and the HECATONCHEIRES sided with the gods, who fought from Mount Olympus. When Zeus had conquered the TITANS he bound them in chains and shut them up in Tartarus to live in darkness, for Night spreads about it in triple line.

Men cannot do as gods do

Some have thought that neither Cronos nor Zeus honoured their fathers, and that consequently, men could do the same or even worse against their own, but Apollo reminds that Zeus was able to undo Cronos' fetters whenever he wished, for gods have at their disposal many remedies,

"But when the dust has drawn up the blood of a man, once he is dead, there is no return to life." (Apollo to the ERINYES. Aeschylus, Eumenides 645).

The rule of Cronos

Despite all these events, which some have called barbarous, Cronos has been celebrated for having ruled the world under the period known as the Golden Age, which is the first age of man. At this time there were no punishments, no swords, no helmets and no threatening words, and even to eat the flesh of oxen was held a crime. And being so, war was unknown and life passed in gentle ease. This was the time when spring was everlasting, and streams of milk, nectar and honey flowed in abundance. And, as unbelievable as it sounds, this was the nature of the rule held by the one who castrated his father: a time and a rule without pain, during which the earth, without compulsion, brought forth great stores of all kinds of needful things, and men lived secure never cheating or destroying each other.

More about his rule

During the reign of Cronos, they say, men did not have children, for at that time, when the universe revolved backwards, all humans came out of the earth and were therefore called AUTOCHTHONOUS. And for that very reason there were no families or states and nothing of what comes with them. Instead, humans had the ability of conversing, not only among themselves, but also with all kinds of animals, and were able to learn from every creature. For all these reasons the men of the Golden Age are believed in any respect to have been happier than those of the following ages. This rule lasted until Zeus overthrew his father and banished him to Tartarus, land of darkness and death in the depth of the Underworld. Later, however, Zeus released Cronos from his bonds and let him rule the Islands of the Blest, a place where the virtuous come after death, retaining their faculties and enjoying a life free of care (see also Underworld & Afterlife).

Note about Cronos and Chronos

The name Chronos appears in several authors such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Pindar, Quintus Smyrnaeus, Cicero and Nonnus. He is identified with Time, but some of them say that he is the same as Cronos (Saturn). Chronos is said to be the father of the HORAE, of Aether and Eros. In this version (Nonnus), the HORAE are regarded as Hours instead of Seasons. Chronos appears as father of Aether (the upper sky) and Eros in the Argonautica Orphica.







Oceanus & Tethys


Uranus is the first ruler of the universe.

See also Castration of Uranus, Titanomachy, Gaia, and Table Theogony. For Tethys see TITANS, and for this particular parentage see one of the versions at Myths of Creation.




Philyra 1

Philyra 1 is one of the OCEANIDS.



Picus lived on the Aventine hill in Italy. He is said to have used powerful drugs and practised clever incantations. See also Circe, who loved him, and being refused, transformed him into a bird.
Picus married the gifted singer Canens, daughter Janus and Venilia, and had by her a son Faunus 1, who was king of Latium, and is sometimes identified with Pan, or with one of the SATYRS.

Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Chiron, CORYBANTES, Cronos, Demeter, Gaia, Hades, Hera, Hestia, Oceanus, Philyra 1, Picus, Poseidon, Rhea 1, Tethys, Uranus, Zeus.

Related sections






Rhea 1
Castration of Uranus
Golden Age
The Ages of the World
The Era of Zeus

Cronos in GROUPS:


Epimetheus (Play)

Apd.1.1.4-5, 1.2.1, 1.2.4; Cic.ND.2.63; Hes.The.137, 176, 453ff.; Hes.WD.174; Hom.Il.8.479ff, 14.203; Nonn.18.223; Ov.Met.1.113ff.; Pau.7.23.5, 8.8.2, 8.36.2; Pin.Pyth.3.4; Pla.Tim.40e; Pla.Sta.272a et seq.;Strab.10.3.19, 14.2.7; Vir.Aen.7.48.