Chronos vs. Cronus: It’s About Time!

After witnessing a recent conversation about synchronicity, specifically the etymology of the word itself, I really started meditating, or perhaps more accurately, obsessing over the concept of time and the ancient myths associated with it. What follows is the inspiration for my next woodcut print edition.

The Greek elements of the word “synchronicity” are; “syn” meaning “together with”, “chrono” which is “time” and the suffix “ity” which simply implies the “condition or quality of being”. The ancient Greeks had a deity that personified time, so “synchronicity” could literally mean “being at one with the god of time”, but who is that? The most perpetuated answer is that Cronus (the Titan god whose Roman equivalent is Saturn) is the god of time, but that doesn’t satisfy me as an artist who likes a logical flow to the stories that inspire me.

Cronus is noted as the youngest of the twelve Titans of whom Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth) are parents. He later castrates his father and takes the throne of the world as king. With his Titaness sister, Rhea, he fathers six children, including Zeus (Roman equivalent, Jupiter), who later dethrones him, but with regard to Cronus personifying time I already find holes in these myths of early creation. Doesn’t it seem necessary that Chronos (Time) should exist before it’s possible to lay out so many events in chronological order? I just don’t easily resonate with Cronus (Saturn) as the god of time, especially when it’s virtually impossible to cite an original Greek myth that illustrates his dominion over it.

Some say a merging of Chronos and Cronus happened during the Hellenistic period while the Romans were adopting/adapting Greek myths. Who knows? I don’t see conclusive evidence for that, but instances of Chronos (Time) and Cronus (Saturn) merging into one via translation from Greek to Latin seem plausible when considering the original Greek words; Chronos (Χρόνος) and Cronus (Κρόνος). Barely one stroke different! Regardless, by the time Macrobius’ Saturnalia was written (ca. 400 A.D.), Cronus (Saturn) as the god of time was indeed well established. Still, from an artistic standpoint I don’t find many inspirational advantages in Cronus (Saturn) as the preeminent god of time. Fortunately that’s not the only interpretation, it’s just a popular one.

I think the most tantalizing Greek tales of time and creation come from Orphism, which can be traced back to at least the fifth century B.C. (The Orphic Rhapsodies and the more recent discovery in 1962 of the oldest known literary papyrus, The Derveni Papyrus (ca. 340-320 B.C.) are especially intriguing.) Orphism was an ancient religion associated with the works of a mythical poet named Orpheus. Taking the Orphic cosmogony into account allows one to seamlessly weave a primordial deity of time into the more familiar Greek creation myths like that of the Titans. There are variations in the Orphic poems, but here’s an example of how time factors in: Chronos (Time), symbolized as serpentine in form with three heads – that of a man, a bull and a lion, with his serpentine consort, Ananke (Necessity) entwine to produce the Cosmic Egg which they then constrict in their coils. Phanes, the hermaphroditic Protogonus (First-born) emerges when the egg is split into Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth) whose union produces the twelve Titans and so on to complete the rest of the ordered universe.

C’mon… that’s beautiful! I’m going to woodcut it.


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