Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Differences between Cronus and Saturn

This issue has been bugging me for some time. Technically, the Greek Cronus should be one and the same with the Roman Saturn. I mean, if you look at their family tree, it becomes quite clear:

Cronus is the son of Uranus and Gaia; he married Rhea and together they had six children: Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia, Poseidon and Zeus

Saturn is the son of Caelus and Terra; he married Ops and together they had six children: Ceres, Juno, Pluto, Vesta, Neptune and Jupiter

But when you take a closer look at Cronus and Saturn, they couldn't be more different. Cronus is hectic, cruel, primitive and downright evil, while Saturn is actually quite a nice guy. Well, sure, he castrated his father and ate his children, but he also presided over Saturnalia, the coolest festival in Rome, and the Romans had the coolest festivals the world has ever seen anyway.

In Athens, the similar festival was called Kronia – and the same stuff happened, the normal social rules were dissolved, slaves were allowed to eat together with their masters and so on – but it took place in summer, and let's face it, summer festivals are not nearly as much fun as winter ones. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that you cannot drink as much as summer as you can during cold winter days. Plus, bear in mind that decent women were not allowed to attend – how boring is that?

Cronus and his life-threatening sickle
Cronus and his life-threatening sickle 

The sickle Cronus has in his hand is the weapon he used to castrate his father. In the representations of Saturn, he usually has a sickle in one hand and a bundle of wheat in the other, which makes the blade far less threatening; it's just an agrarian tool like any other. By the way, the symbolism of the sickle is quite funny – the sons of Cronus/Saturn cut him into a thousand pieces with the same sickle when they became all-powerful, so it's sort of cruel to represent the Titan with it in his hand all the time. Oh, and in general, the sickle used in representations of agrarian gods (Saturn, but also Demeter/Ceres) was made of gold, the one used to castrate Uranus was made of stone. Ouch.

There's one more thing I don't get: the time when Cronus ruled the world was considered the Golden Age. Lies and deceit did not exist during that period, immorality had not yet been invented, everybody was pure, all humans spoke the same language and understood each other – in fact, even animals spoke the same language as humans. So... this means that castrating your father and eating your children is not immoral?

Saturn eating his children - such a misunderstood character!

In Roman mythology, on the other hand, the Golden Age began after Saturn was overthrown by his children. The Titan, now jobless, settled for a smaller task than ruling the world, moved to the Italian peninsula and created the perfect society there. Until he got bored with it, I guess – but still, it makes more sense than the Greek version of the story. That's why I like Romans more than Greeks – they make sense.