Old Father Time


Chronos (also known as Chronus) is the personification of time itself. Indeed, the word means "time" and is the root of "chronology" and other modern words. It was, however, originally employed in a purely poetic sense. There is no God or Goddess directly associated with time per se in the annals of Greek mythology, but there may have been a Titan of Time.

Saturn (referred to by the Greeks as Cronus or Kronos) was the Roman Deity of Time and an ancient Italian Corn God known as the Sower. Male ruler of the Roman Gods prior to Jupiter, Saturn's weapon was a scythe or sickle. The Romans honored Saturn at a MidWinter festival called Saturnalia, which lasted several days and at which there was much feasting and making merry. All business was suspended and schools were closed. Parents gave toys to their children and there was a public banquet. Saturn may have been worshiped by the pre-Hellenic population of the country but probably not widely revered by the Greeks themselves. His functions were concerned with agriculture and his festival, held in Attica and known as Kronia, resembled the Roman Saturnalia in that it was a celebration of the harvest. In art, Saturn has always been depicted as a old man holding an implement which has often been interpreted as a harpe or curved sword, but which appears likely to have actually represented a scythe or a sickle.

Since ancient history, time has been identified with Saturn. In mythology, he was the son of Uranus (Heaven or Sky-Father) and Gaea (Earth-Mother) and the youngest of the Twelve Titans. Upon the advice of Gaea (who understood the changes of life and knew that Uranus would never, of his own accord, yield to the younger generation), Saturn castrated his father and thus separated Heaven from Earth. Gaea created out of flint...a mineral of her own substance...a sickle with which to complete the deed. It was the tool by which life was cut down at the time of harvest and was crescent-shaped like the moon, symbolic of cyclic rise and fall. It was believed that the spilled blood of Uranus formed such creatures as the Giants and the Furies, and that his genitals (which were tossed into the sea eventually produced the beautiful Venus/Aphrodite). Saturn's emasculation of Uranus now made Saturn King of the Titans and the rotation of the generations was thereby effected. Consequently, the sickle (and later, the scythe) became representative of the cruel and unrelenting flow of time which, in the end, cuts down all things.

After the demise of Uranus, Saturn took his sister, Rhea (Goddess of Necessity), as consort and together they ruled. She bore him five children: Vesta, Ceres, Juno, Pluto and Neptune...all of whom he swallowed because it had been foretold that he would be overthrown by his own child. When Jupiter was born, however, Rhea hid the baby in Crete and tricked Saturn into swallowing a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes instead. When Jupiter reached adulthood, he forced Saturn to disgorge his three sisters and two brothers. United, the siblings waged war and defeated their father. According to variations in the legend, Saturn was then either imprisoned in Tartarus or banished to Latium in Italy where he took refuge. According to some folktales, Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto were representative of Air, Water and Death...the three things that time itself cannot kill...and the overthrow of Saturn symbolized the demise of the old culture which worshiped this ancient God.

Alternative legends maintain that Saturn became King of the Lost Golden Age and turned his attention to gardening, thus applying his sickle to less violent ends. A statue of Saturn holding his sickle once stood in the temple erected to the God on the road leading the Roman Capitol. This much wiser Saturn was an incorruptible deity and reigned supreme during a time when there were no wars or hardships. He depicted fertility in its most exalted sense. Having learned his lesson, Saturn is said to have eventually stepped down in favor of his son, Picus (also known as Woodpecker) and retired altogether from human company. Some say that he now rules Elysium, the Isle of the Blest...others say he lies in a magic sleep, tended by nymphs, on an island near Britain and that he will one day return, bringing yet another Golden Age.

Saturn symbolizes the inexorable flow of time in both its destructive and constructive effects. His decrepit body is a reminder that time is the devourer of all things and that, like the substance in the hourglass he often carries, his physical vitality will run out until it is totally exhausted. However, just as the hourglass can be inverted, so a new generation restores the font of physical vitality. Nonetheless, time is not wholly destructive, for the gift of time is the serenity and wisdom that are attainable only through the experiences of a long life. In addition, the white beard with which Saturn is frequently depicted indicates that age has given him a new purity and innocence.

The downward flow of the contents in the hourglass is balanced by an upward flow of spirit. Thus, the loss of vitality in the body is balanced by the increasing spiritualization of the mind, which gradually becomes filled less with earthly matters than those of the spirit. Saturn's flint sickle represents the harvest... cruel destruction for last year's crop, but nevertheless necessary to make room for the new crop in order to reap the fruits of the current harvest. In a similar fashion does the old crescent moon bring to finality the old cycle while being harbinger of a new one.

A modern notion of the relationship of time with Saturn or Kronos is that the association may have originated due to the confusion created by similar-sounding words ("Kronos" and "Chronos"). The image of the Grim Reaper bearing a scythe is believed to have derived directly from Kronos. Both of these modern figures...Father Time and the Grim Reaper...are sometimes accompanied by a crow and there is speculation that the word "Chronos" and the subsequent associated God may have actually been representative of this bird, which was symbolic of both fertility and death. However, this hypothesis could again be as a result of confusion concerning similar-sounding words since the Latin for crow is "cornix." By the Middle Ages there were many engravings of the Grim Reaper which depict a skeletal figure holding a scythe and hourglass with a crow nearby.

Later, three Greek words added to the confusion of symbolic time: Chronus, which meant "time" itself; Kronos, the ancient Roman God of the Harvest; and Corone, the Greek word for crow. Whether these three were connected due to similar roots, or whether they were connected simply due to their similarity in sound is something which has yet to be proven. As with most mythological lore, the concepts tend to reach so far back into history that the origins cannot be reliably traced to any definitive conclusion.