Chronos, Hours, and Kairos (overthrow time's kingdom!)

"Chronos (time) eats his children, as he is jealous of their power and afraid that one of them would overthrow HIM"

 F. Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819-1823

F. Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819-1823


At this point the narration goes back to the origins, and to Greek mythology in particular.

From the very first pages of Hesiod’s Theogony, the poem about the genealogy of the birth of the gods, we meet Chronos. Chronos  is the personification of Time in Greek mythology (the equivalent of Saturn in Latin mythology), from which words like Chronological come from today.

With Chronos, Hesiod introduces the topic of time.


But afterwards Earth lay with Heaven and bare deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys.
After them was born Chronos, of her children the wily, youngest and most terrible, and he hated his sire father.
— Hesiod, Theogony, 700 BC

Chronos, Time,  is thus born from Earth and Heaven, and it is considered the most terrible of all of their children. The tale of Chronos is about destruction, and death. The Chronos-Time leads us, his children, to death. Every birth’s destiny lies in death: Chronos eats his children as soon as they are born, according to the Myth.

In the Theogony Time is Cosmic, linked to the gods of the Olympus: Chronos is a primitive creature, with frightening strength. While Time is Cosmic, it lays the ground to explain the Human Time, the irreversible escape of the human being from death. Cosmic time is both destruction and reconstruction: time is dilated nearly to the infinite, it is not continuous, and not predictable either. Chronos eats his children, as he is jealous of their power and afraid that one of them would overthrow him.

The idea of ‘becoming’ unifies the concepts of destruction and reconstruction. Within the idea of 'becoming' is the idea of transformation, of death and re-birth. At this point, though, Human Time does not lead to re-birth: this perspective will be developed by religions and faith. The human perspective, in this case, will lead to the idea of Carpe Diem, not to avoid death but to alleviate the atrocities of the escaping Time.

According to Hesiod, the first human activity is exactly the clash with Time, to slow down its destructive power: Zeus’ attempt to neutralize Chronos has a positive outcome. Chronos is in fact a primitive creature, and the great obstacle to the kingdom of Zeus (his son), which is the peaceful human world. Chronos will be isolated by Zeus, but not eliminated.

 G. Previati, The dance of the hours, 1899

G. Previati, The dance of the hours, 1899

In opposition to the destructive power of Chronos Zeus, the king of the gods, generates among his first godly offsprings the hours, maidens that dance in circle. Connected to them is the first idea of Time as cyclicality, linked to the seasons and nature. To draw a parallel to modern watches, we can see the two views represented in digital (Chronos) and analog (Hours) watches.

From the Greek world we thus see multiple perspectives in the interpretation of time: the time that escapes without coming back, and the time that returns, cyclical; the time that leads to death, and the time that brings back, at each cycle, the moment of life.

  • Cosmic time thus emerges as discontinuity
  • Nature time takes a cyclical shape with the personification of the hours
  • Human time remains linear, hindered by death

Zeus managed to overthrow the evil Chronos from the throne. We like to think that, metaphorically, each man can overthrow Time from its power, dilating each moment.

The ancient Greek then adopted two words for Time: while Chronos signifies the chronological, sequential time, the other word, Kairos, refers to the ideal, opportune time for something to occur. Kairos has a qualitative and positive nature, it represents “a passing instant when an opening in time appears which must be driven through with action if success is to be achieved."

Again, Carpe Diem is always there to provide the answer. Take action, overthrow Time from its power.



Take your time.



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LiteratureJohanna Bülling