The Titan God Cronus in Greek Mythology

Updated on March 12, 2018
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

The Greek God Cronus

Stories of Greek mythology have entertained countless generations, and as a result the names of many deities of the Greek pantheon are recognisable today. Indeed, most people will have heard of the gods Zeus, Apollo and Hermes.

These gods though, were Olympian gods, gods of Mount Olympus, and were effectively the last generation of gods of Ancient Greece. There were though, previous generations of gods, who though now largely forgotten, were once widely worshipped. One such god was Cronus.

The Greek God Cronus

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770) PD-art-100
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770) PD-art-100 | Source

Cronus or Kronos - What's in a Name?

The name of the god Cronus is also written down as Kronos or Chronos, depending on how the Ancient Greek name is translated.

The translation process can lead to some confusion between the god known as Chronos (Kronos), a Titan god, and Chronus (Khronos), the Primordial god of time. The confusion is of course not helped when the Kronos timesheet software had taken its name from the former, rather than the more logical Khronos.

The former god is one with a far reaching mythology associated with it, whilst Father Time is a god mentioned in only a small section of ancient sources.

The Genealogy of Cronus

The genealogy of Greek gods is normally taken from Hesiod’s Theogony, and in that ancient work we are told that Cronus, or Kronos, was the son of the primordial gods Ouranus (sky) and Gaia (earth).

Ouranus had established himself as the supreme being, and would become the most important of the Protogenoi, the first born gods. Having established himself as lord of the cosmos though, Ouranus was far from secure in his position, and was fearful of possible challengers.

Ouranus would become father to three sets of children with Gaia, the first of these were the three Cyclopes and three Hecatonchires. Ouranus was so worried about the strength of his own children though, that he imprisoned them within Tartarus, in the depths of Gaia.

The third set of children were the 12 Titans, six brothers and six sisters, one of which was Cronus, strangely though, Ouranus was not worried about these offspring, and so the Titans were allowed to stay free from imprisonment.

Cronus Wields the Scythe

Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) Cristofano Gherardi (1508–1556) PD-life-100
Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) Cristofano Gherardi (1508–1556) PD-life-100 | Source

Cronus Comes to Power and the Golden Age of Greek Mythology

Leaving the Titans free would prove to be a mistake for Ouranus. Gaia, upset mentally and physically, by the imprisonment of her other children in Tartarus, started to plot the overthrow of Ouranus.

The Titans were sympathetic to their mother, but were reticent about directly facing the power of Ouranus. Gaia though, had an adamantine sickle fashioned, which when used would remove much of the sky god’s powers, and convinced Cronus to wield the weapon.

When Ouranus next descended to mate with Gaia, the male Titans held their father down, and Cronus castrated his father with the adamantine sickle. From the resulting blood flow the Gigantes, Meliae and Erinyes were born, whilst the fallen member would be transformed into Aphrodite when it hit the water.

Ouranus retreated skywards, but now devoid of much of his power, the Titans were allowed to take over the cosmos, and Cronus, having wielded the weapon, became supreme deity.

Cronus and his siblings would pair up, and rule over different aspects of life. So it would become that Cronus and Rhea were one pair, with other pairs being Oceanus and Tethys; Hyperion and Theia; Coeus and Phoebe; Mnemosyne Themis, Crius and Iapetus.

The rule of Cronus and the Titans was said to be the “Golden Age” of Greek mythology, a time of plenty. Later mythology would have Cronus as a cruel and ruthless deity, but earlier tales tell of Cornus being just, and ruling over a peaceful time.

Cronus Imprisons His Children

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) PD-art-100
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) PD-art-100 | Source

The Downfall of Cronus

Cronus might have been a just ruler, and the period known as the “Golden Age”, but the supreme deity was not without his faults.

Like his father, Cronus was worried about his position and so he kept his uncles, the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires, locked up in Tartarus, and even placed the dragon Kampe as prison guard.

Further worry was put upon Cronus, when Gaia prophesised that Cronus’ own child would one day force him from power, just as Cronus had done to Ouranus.

Cronus and Rhea, would father six children, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia, Poseidon and Zeus, but in order to circumvent the prophecy, Cronus would swallow each newborn, imprisoning it within his own stomach. The first five children would thus be imprisoned, but Zeus was saved from the same fate.

The imprisonment of her children annoyed Rhea, just as much as it had annoyed Gaia, and when Zeus was born, Rhea substituted a large stone, wrapped in cloth, for her son. Zeus was then hidden away in a cave on Mount Ida, Crete, where he was allowed to grow to maturity without Cronus being aware of him.

When strong enough, Zeus was convinced by Gaia that it was time to bring down his father and the other Titans. Zeus needed allies though, and so Cronus was given a poison that forced the Titan to regurgitate Zeus’ siblings. Zeus would also free the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires from Tartarus, and so Zeus now had the start of an army to face Cronus and the Titans.

The Titanomachy, the ten-year Titan war, could then begin in earnest. Cronus would take part in the war, alongside several of his siblings, but much of the fighting was left to the second-generation Titans, under the battlefield leadership of Atlas.

The two sides were evenly matched, but finally the weapons crafted by the Cyclopes for Zeus and his brothers would prove decisive; the helmet of invisibility allowing Hades to destroy the armaments of the Titans, bring the war, and the rule of the Titans to a close.

Cronus Falls from Power

Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638) PD-art-100
Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638) PD-art-100 | Source

Cronus in Later Mythology

After the Titanomachy Zeus took on the role of supreme deity, whilst Poseidon was given dominion over the waters and Hades became lord of the Underworld. Zeus then punished Cronus and the other Titans who had fought against him.

The majority of Titans, Cronus included, would be imprisoned inside Tartarus for eternity, guarded by the Hecatonchires, the giants who he previously imprisoned.

In a few tales, Cronus is imprisoned in solitary confinement, in the cave of Nyx, whilst in some others; Zeus eventually forgave his father, and promoted him to the position of ruler of the Elysian Fields, so he became the king of paradise.

The mythology of Cronus can also be found in later Roman mythology, as the Romans incorporated the Greek god into this pantheon, equating Cronus with Saturn. Saturn, or Cronus, to the Romans was a more venerated figure; Saturn being a forgiving god, and one closely associated with bountiful harvests, just as had occurred during the “Golden Age”.

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