Chronos was imagined as a god, serpentine shape in form, with three heads—those of a man, a bull, and a lion. He and his consort, serpentine Ananke (Inevitability), circled the primal world egg in their coils and split it apart to form the ordered universe of earth, sea and sky.
Chronos was confused with, or perhaps consciously identified with, due to the similarity in name, the Titan Cronus already in antiquity, the identification becoming more widespread during the Renaissance, giving rise to the allegory of "Father Time" wielding the harvesting scythe.
Chronos is usually portrayed through an old, wise man with a long, grey beard, similar to Father Time. Some of the current English words whose etymological root is khronos/chronos include chronology, chronometer, chronic, anachronism, and chronicle.
In the Orphic cosmogony, the unaging Chronos produced Aether and Chaos, and made a silvery egg in the divine Aether. It produced the hermaphroditic god Phanes, who gave birth to the first generation of gods and is the ultimate creator of the cosmos.
Pherecydes of Syros in his lost Heptamychos (the seven recesses), around 6th century BC, claimed that there were three eternal principles: Chronos, Zas (Zeus) and Chthonie (the chthonic). The semen of Chronos was placed in the recesses and produced the first generation of gods.
Name and etymology
During antiquity, Chronus was occasionally interpreted as Cronus, according to Plutarch the Greeks believed that Cronus was an allegorical name for Chronos. In addition to the name, the story of Cronus eating his children was also interpreted as an allegory to a specific aspect of time held within Cronus' sphere of influence. As the theory went, Cronus represented the destructive ravages of time which consumed all things, a concept that was definitely illustrated when the Titan king devoured the Olympian gods — the past consuming the future, the older generation suppressing the next generation. During the Renaissance, the identification of Cronus and Chronos gave rise to "Father Time" wielding the harvesting scythe.
The original meaning and etymology of the word chronos are uncertain.
- LSJ entry: Κρόνος
- Doro Levi, "Aion," Hesperia 13.4 (1944), p. 274.
- G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield (1983). The Presocratic Philosophers. Cambridge University Press. pp. 24, 56. ISBN 9780521274555.
- LSJ entry: Κρόνος
- Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris, 32
- R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, pp. 1651–2.