Friday, December 31, 2010

Father Time

Here's to the bright New Year
And a fond farewell to the old;
Here's to the things that are yet to come
And to the memories that we hold.

- Anonymous

A happy new year to all.

What better way to start the new year than with some history, trivia, myth, murder, incest and intrigue.  A lengthy Bytes but hopefully you will find it interesting.

Father Time, aka Old Man Time, is usually depicted as an elderly bearded man, dressed in a robe, carrying a scythe and an hourglass or other timekeeping device. Sometimes he is pictured with an infant or young child, the symbol of the coming new year…

But have you noticed who he resembles…
The Grim Reaper is synonymous with death, which is sometimes depicted as a figure in its own right…

So how is it that Father Time, Old Man Time, The Grim Reaper and Death look so similar, if not  the same?

The character and image of Father Time originates from Greek mythology.

The Greeks had 2 gods with similar names:


Cronus was one of the descendants of Gaia, the earth, and Uranus, the sky. With his siblings, they made up a collection of deities known as the Titans, Cronus being the youngest and also their leader. Cronus envied the power of his father, Uranus, and, with the connivance of his mother, Gaia, he ambushed Uranus. Using a sickle made and provided by Gaia, he castrated Uranus and threw his testicles into the sea. Thereafter Cronus ruled with his sister Rhea as king and queen,.  Appropriately, he was and is usually depicted with a sickle in his hand. The period of his rule is known as the Golden Age.  The festival of Kronia was held in his honour and to celebrate the harvest, suggesting that he was also the patron saint of the harvest.

Cronus had been told by Gaia and Uranus that he would be overcome by his own son. To stop this happening, as soon as Rhea gave birth to a child, Cronus pre-empted the prophecy by swallowing it. By the time she was due to give birth to child number 6, Rhea had had enough. She enlisted the aid of her mother in law, Gaia, and together they hid the sixth child in a cave, where he was raised either by a goat or by Gaia, depending upon which version you wish to believe. Cronus was given a stone disguised as the baby and swallowed that in the belief that it was his son.

The baby became the god Zeus. When grown, Zeus used an emetic to force Cronus to disgorge all the babies he had eaten, who had remained alive. The war that followed saw Zeus victorious, with Cronus being imprisoned for eternity.


Chronos was a different entity to that all round good guy, Cronus.

Long before Cronus, before Gaia and before Uranus, the universe was unformed, a mass in the shape of an egg. In addition to the cosmic egg, there were also the primordial hods Ananke and Chronos, sometimes written as Khronos. Ananke was the primeval goddess of inevitability and necessity and had emerged fully formed at the beginning of time. She had a serpent’s form. Chronos was the time god, also serpentine in form but with three heads, that of a man, a bull and a lion. Chronos and Ananke wrapped the egg in their coils and squeezed, shattering the egg and thereby creating the earth, sea and air. Chronos and Ananke remain forever entwined within the universe so created, being the forces of fate and time. The younger gods then created are said to be controlled by them.

An alternative version holds that Chronos impregnated Ananke who then laid the cosmic egg. Eros hatched from the egg and created Chaos from which came Gaia, Uranus, Tartarus (the abyss) and so on.

Whereas Cronus, the evil guy, was considered by the Greeks to be a tempestuous force of chaos and disorder, Chronos, the god of time, controls the past, present and future of everything. Although most frequently depicted as a young man, Chronos was sometimes pictured as an old wise man with a long beard. His name in modern Greek means "year" and his name has given rise to such words as chronometer, chronology, chronic, anachronism and chronicle.


The Roman equivalent of the Greek badass Cronus was Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest. According to Roman mythology, Terra (Mother Earth) and Caelus (Father Sky) created huge ugly children, some with one hundred hands and fifty heads, some with only one central eye (cyclops). There is no truth in the suggestion that they were Tasmanians. Other children included the Titans. Caelus hated the children with the fifty heads and imprisoned them under the earth. Terra had the leader of the Titans, Saturn, fight his father and Caelus was castrated by Saturn’s sickle. Saturn became the ruler of the universe and ruled with his sister/wife, Ops.

As with Cronus, Saturn had been told that he would be deposed by his son, so he also kept swallowing his newborns. When her sixth, Jupiter, was born, Ops had him spirited to Crete and raised there. Saturn was given a disguised stone to swallow instead.

As an adult, Jupiter gave Saturn an emetic that caused him to disgorge the swallowed children, who included Neptune and Pluto. In the immense war that followed, Jupiter was victorious and Saturn was castrated by his own sickle. Those who had opposed Jupiter were condemned to Tartarus, except Atlas, who was the strongest Titan and who was given the job of holding up the sky.

According to Roman mythology, when Jupiter ascended the throne of the Gods, Saturn fled to Rome, where he became the god of agriculture and used his sickle for harvesting. Here he established the Golden Age, a time of peace and harmony, which lasted as long as he reigned. In memory of the Golden Age, the Feast of Saturnalia was held every year in the winter at the Winter Solstice. During this time no war could be declared, slaves and masters ate at the same table, executions were postponed, and it was a season for giving gifts. Early Christianity incorporated many aspects of the Saturnalia into the Christmas tradition.  It was easier to incorporate existing traditions than to abolish and replace them.

Father Time:

The similarity of the names Cronus and Chronos is believed to have resulted in a blurring of the distinction between the two, the confusion causing the time god to become depicted as an old man with a scythe.

The sickle, used by Cronus and Saturn, has became symbolic not of the castration of one’s own father but of the unrelenting flow of time. It was the sickle, or scythe, which had emasculated Uranus/Saturn, thereby enabling the next generation to rule, thereby continuing the cycle of birth-life-death. 
Sometimes Father Time is depicted with an hour glass, symbolising the flow of time. Time’s elderly body and long, white beard are reminders that time itself is a devourer of all things. Nothing can escape time. Nonetheless time also gives serenity, experience and wisdom. The downward flow of the sand in the hour glass, and the loss of the body’s vitality, is balanced by the upward flow of the spirit, the increase of wisdom of the spirit and the mind. The young bull and the old bull.

From the Renaissance period, Cronus and his equivalent Saturn, and Cronus have become merged and depicted in works of art as one figure.

The Grim Reaper:

From the 15th century onwards, Death has been depicted as a skeletal figure carrying a large scythe and clothed in a black cloak with a hood.

He has also been termed the Angel of Death, stemming from the Bible.

The image of The Grim Reaper, aka Death, comes directly from the combined image of Chronos and Cronus.


The Grim Reaper is sometimes depicted as accompanied by a crow.

It may be that in ancient Greek culture the crow was somehow associated with death, perhaps because crows pecked at the corpses on battle fields.  It is also true that the Greek word for crow, “corone”, sounds much like Cronus and Chronos. 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.

So there you have it.

Happy New Year. 


  1. Jolly Interesting!.....Excellent Many Thanks for this...Very Useful...

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.