Kronos the Titan in Greek Mythology

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Titans held an interesting, and often misunderstood, place in Greek mythology. In this lesson, we'll talk about Kronos and see what role he played in the mythological foundations of Greek civilization.

Kronos and the Titans

One of the most famous stories in all of Greek mythology is the triumph of the gods over the race of cosmic beings known as the Titans. The gods ushered in a new age of humanity and civilization as we know it emerged. Thanks to this story, the Titans often have a reputation as being an ancient and ultimate cosmic evil. When we look at Greek mythology, however, that's not what we see.

To understand the Titans in Greek mythology, we have to start with their ruler: Kronos. Kronos was one of the most powerful beings of Greek mythology, a deification and symbol of the harvest and unlimited abundance. Does that sound like the ultimate evil in the Universe to you?

The Rise of Kronos

Let's start by examining Kronos' family tree. Kronos' parents were two of the most ancient figures in all of Greek mythology: Uranus (the deified personification of the sky/heavens) and Gaia (the deified personification of the Earth).

So, his parents were pretty important, and also the king and queen of the Universe. The children of this cosmic power couple were called the Titans. There were twelve of them, and Kronos was the youngest. Kronos would later marry his sister Rhea, also a goddess of the Earth.

Uranus hated his children, and hid them away in the Underworld. Gaia could not stand this and started plotting with her children to defeat the king of the cosmos.

All of the Titans were too afraid of Uranus to fight him, except for Kronos. Kronos took up an iron sickle made by Gaia and attacked Uranus, castrating him. With that, Uranus was deposed. Kronos and Rhea took up the throne as the new king and queen of the Universe.

Kronos deposes his father, Uranus
knonos and uranus

Kronos and Humans

It's important to remember that, according to Greek mythology, humans were alive for all of this. They just weren't humans as we know them today. Kronos ruled over the Universe in an era known in Greek mythology as the Golden Age, a mythological period when humans lived in complete peace and harmony, but also in primitive tribes.

Basically, these were humans as more base animals, with no societies, no art, no governments and since there was no war, slavery or violence, no laws or rules. In this Golden Age, Kronos ruled over existence and provided limitless abundance.

The Golden Age was a mythical era of peace, abundance, and frivolity
golden age

Kronos and the Gods

While Kronos was benevolent to these primordial humans, he was also a paranoid and angry figure. In particular, he feared that his own children would continue the cycle of throne usurpation, a fear validated by a prophecy that his own child would defeat him. To ensure that this never happened, Kronos devoured his children, known as the gods.

Just as Gaia had tired of Uranus' abuse of their children, so did Rhea. After Kronos had devoured their first several children, she decided to take action. Rhea gave birth to another son, but hid him from Kronos.

She wrapped a stone in a blanket and gave that to the Titan king, who devoured it greedily and didn't realize he'd been tricked. Rhea's son had been saved. His name was Zeus.

A medieval depiction of Kronos (identifiable by the scythe or sickle) eating his children
kronos and children

When Zeus finally grew up, he returned to save his siblings. With Rhea's help, he slipped Kronos a poison that made the Titan regurgitate the other gods. Zeus then released the monsters of the cosmos who Kronos had imprisoned in order to maintain order and with the gods managed to defeat Kronos.

Kronos wasn't killed, but was dethroned. He lost his power, and therefore the right to have anybody worship him. In essence, he became irrelevant to the Greeks, who didn't worship demoted deities.

Don't feel too bad for Kronos, however. The Romans later identified him with their deity Saturn, a god of harvest, and revered him openly. On Saturn's festival day, Roman masters served their slaves and social classes became irrelevant, a reminder of what life was like in the Golden Age.

The Romans liked Saturn so much that they even named a day after him in their calendar. They called it Dies Saturni. We call it Saturday.

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