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Chronos
Χρόνος

"Time does not efface what noble men leave behind, and their prowess shines forth even when they are dead." (Euripides, Andromache 775).

"To recount the lives of men of the past is a task which presents difficulties to writers and yet is of no little advantage to society as a whole. For such an account which clearly portrays in all frankness their evil as well as their noble deeds renders honour to the good and abases the wicked by means of the censures as well as the praises which appropriately come to each group respectively. And the praise constitutes, one may say, a reward of virtue which entails no cost, and the censure is a punishment of depravity which entails no physical chastisement. And it is an excellent thing for later generations to bear in mind, that whatever is the manner of life a man chooses to live while on this earth, such is the remembrance which he will be thought worthy of after his death; this principle should be followed, in order that later generations may not set their hearts upon the erection of memorials in stone which are limited to a single spot and subject to quick decay, but upon reason and the virtues in general which range everywhere upon the lips of Fame. Time, which withers all else, preserves for these virtues an immortality, and the further it may itself advance in age, the fresher the youth it imparts to them." (Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History 10.2.1ff.).

"Pythagoras, when he was asked what time was, answered that it was the soul of the heavens. For time is not an attribute or accident of any chance motion but cause and potency and principle of that which holds together all the things that come to be ..." (Plutarch, Moralia: Platonic Questions 1007b).

"What, then, is time? I know well enough what it is, provided that nobody asks me; but if I am asked what it is and try to explain, I am baffled." (Saint Agustine, AD 354-430, Confessions 11.14).

........
We are not sure of sorrow,
And joy was never sure;
Today will die tomorrow;
Time stoops to no man's lure;

........ (Algernon Charles Swinburne 1837-1909, The Garden of Proserpine).

"Only time (whatever that may be) will tell." (Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time).


0628: Allegory of transience. Painting by Antonio de Pereda 1611-1678. Künsthistorische Museum, Wien.

Chronos is Time.

Chronos and Cronos

The name Chronos appears on occasion, but he is not seldom identified with Cronos, who once ruled the universe but now is said to rule Elysium. Chronos (but not Cronos) is called the father of the HORAE (regarded as Hours instead of Seasons), of Aether (Upper Sky), and of Eros.

Time rules perception

Chronos is Time, a god who has never been underrated. For all-consuming Time, who for the human mind increases endlessly, cannot in any way be separated from the orderly experience of life, which is not conceivable without him. Therein lies the power of this god, who rules, not only the appearance of things—making them look newer or older—but also the Soul, who would not be capable of apprehending anything without his gifts. That is why it has been said:

"Ever-ageing Time teaches all things." (Prometheus 1 to Hermes. Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 982).

Time plants in the human mind the basic sequence of Past, Present and Future, without which there would neither be "before" nor "after", nor anything depending on these, such as "causes" and "effects". Without them, all things would be perceived at once, and the human mind would fall into confusion. The greatness of Time is such that nothing can be done about him, except to take him for granted just in the way he pleases to appear. For if he shortened the length of the day, no one would notice anything, since there is no way of checking Time by means of comparison. Similarly, if he reversed his course, the whole physical world would be altered, since causes and effects are dependent on Time's direction; and then Death would come before birth, and Old Age would precede youth and childhood (see also AUTOCHTHONOUS).

The first to exist

The immensity of the power of Time is such that there have been those—as Orpheus (if the Argonautica were his)—who have asserted that Time was the first to exist. For they could not imagine any beginnings without him, apparently reasoning that whatever happens must happen according to Time, and that nothing could ever take place as an event, without the acquiescence of this god, "father of days" (Euripides, Suppliants 786). But Time cannot be found in the physical world, except for the effects of his actions. Effects are perceived always in the segment of Time called "Present", but causes could be either in the past or in the future.

The Fourth Dimension

By reason of this god's greatness, he was once nicknamed "The Fourth Dimension", a pseudomythical expression that attempts to make Time more visible. By associating him to the three space dimensions of length, breadth and thickness (which cannot even be enumerated without the assistance of the fourth), he is expected to appear more tangible, although space itself could be thought to be as elusive as Time. In this simple context, it has been rightly remarked that it is helpful for those wishing to meet, say at Times Square in New York, to think in four coordinates, if the meeting is ever to take place.

Orpheus and the Big Bang

Those who in the 20C AD described the so called "Big Bang" appear to think, almost like Orpheus, that Time was the first to exist, since they seem to associate this pseudomythical-idea-with-the-onomatopoeic-denomination to the birth of Time. But whereas Orpheus says that Time was the first to exist, those narrating the story of the "Big Bang" think rather that something took place, or was, just before the appearance of Time. For the universe, they appear to reason, counts a priori with a singularity, or is itself one, and it is not before this singularity expands that Time comes into being. Furthermore, this event may be thought to have taken place "Nowhere", since not only Time but the other three coordinates needed for every event to occur, are absent. Accordingly, the universe-singularity is described as "infinitesimally small and infinetely dense", a curious condition recalling the idea of "Nothing".

Irregularities of Time

In recent years, scientists, who are unsurpassed in examining the physical nature of the universe, and in opening thereby the way to unprecendented technological achievements, claimed to have caught Time running slower or faster, depending just on physical conditions. This discovery has been considered a milestone. For until then Time had been detected running irregularly only in the realm of the human mind. And this experienced time, although recognized and distinguished from physical time, has often been regarded as an illusion, and therefore its meaning, in regard to human life and experience, is usually discarded. Yet nothing could be said to stand closer to Time than the mind. This nearness is such that some have believed Time to exist just "within", being basically the way in which the mind observes the world. But others believe that Time has his own existence "without", independent of the mind and even independent of events. Yet "within" and "without" could be proved difficult to tear apart.

Time, Memory and events

Time can only be perceived through events, some of which happen before, and some after. Both what took place before (the Past) and what is yet to happen (the Future) are usually regarded as non-existing. Past and Future cannot be retrieved at will, except by Memory, or in the claims of seers and prophets, or in the accounts of descents to the Underworld, or in the "time-machines" of fiction. But since perception has been found, on the ground of physical observation, not to be instantaneous but delayed, some emphasize that it is not the Present that is perceived at any moment, but the Past, even though we perceive it "now". As for the Present, common experience says it vanishes instantly and cannot be grasped, suggesting that Time does not exist. Yet Memory confirms him at every moment, by recalling old events, and thereby re-establishing the certainty that new ones will soon come forth. This is how Memory, sister of Time, cooperates with her brother within the realm of the human mind.

Eternity

Besides the three temporal dimensions of Time—Past, Present and Future—all of which belong to the experience of the human mind, a fourth may be added through reasoning, speculation, intuition, or other means. This is Eternity, and in this form Time ceases to express himself as the agent of the transient; for what is "eternal" is forever. So, what only happens temporarily in our world, in Eternity happens always or just Is. The Eternal is therefore a world in which Becoming has turned into Being, Change into Sameness, Part into All, Perishable Existence into Eternal Life, Somewhere into Everywhere, and so on:

"... 'Was' and 'Shall be' are generated forms of Time, although we apply them wrongly, without noticing, to Eternal Being. For we say that it 'is' or 'was' or 'will be,' whereas, in truth of speech, 'is' alone is the appropriate term; 'was' and 'will be', on the other hand, are terms properly applicable to the Becoming which proceeds in Time, since both of these are motions; but it belongs not to that which is ever changeless in its uniformity to become either older or younger through time, nor ever to have become so, nor to be so now, nor to be about to be so hereafter, nor in general to be subject to any of the conditions which Becoming has attached to the things which move in the world of Sense, these being generated forms of Time, which imitates Eternity ..." (Plato, Timaeus 38a).

And since Eternity is not divided into segments, as the Temporal is (in Past, Present, and Future), there is no need for Memory as such in that world. For she is the necessary giver of knowledge in the Temporal dimension, whereas in Eternity knowledge is absolute. Likewise, the Eternal could be said to be Time's absolute form, whereas the Temporal represents his relative form. The role attributed to Time, "the all-seeing" (Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus 1212), in both the Eternal and the Temporal dimensions, justifies what is said of him:

"Time sees all things forever." (Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1454).

The Past revered

These are some of the reasons why Time has been and still is revered. But of all three temporal categories only the Past is regarded as loaded with Time. For neither in the Present nor in the Future can the footprints of Time be easily perceived. And when anything shows the marks of Time, it may, for that sole reason, be praised and respected. For the human mind may find a merit in age itself, and may cling to ideas such as "tradition", on the ground of the experience and knowledge they may entail. And the longer the tradition the better; for if Time were pushed far enough into the Past, then we would find only the gods; for these came first and humans after. Yet, tradition may sometimes imply a corruption of Memory; and no one comes closer to the gods on the ground of tradition. For they were strange gods, who let themselves be lured (as if they were humans), by displays of earthly power and ancestry. In fact, several among the few being punished in Hades, were close related to the gods. For the ALOADS were sons of Poseidon, or at least his grandsons; Amphion 1 was a son of Zeus, and so were Tantalus 1 and Tityus; Ascalaphus 2 was son of a river god, and Thamyris 1 was the grandson of a god. As for the TITANS they may be said to be gods themselves. So finally, there just remain Ixion and Sisyphus, both farther removed from the gods than any of the others.

Time trusted

Although Time brings Old Age and Death, he is nevertheless revered in yet other ways. There are those who equate him to money, but then they do the same with everything else. Others trust him mainly because "Time purges all things ..." (Aeschylus, Eumenides 285), or because "Time is a god who brings ease ..." (Sophocles, Electra 179), or because he unveils truth:

"Only one thing, they say, competes in value with life, the possession of a heart blameless and good. But as for the base among mortals, they are exposed, late or soon, by Time, who holds up to them, as to a young girl, a mirror." (Phaedra to the women of Troezen. Euripides, Hippolytus 425).

And when someone is in pain, it is often said as consolation: "Time will heal you ..." (Euripides, Alcestis 380), but for those who have lost all hope only Death is seen as bringer of relief:

"Heracles: You have lost a noble wife. Who will deny it?
Admetus: And so I shall have no more joy in life.
Heracles: Time will soften the pain. Now it is still intense.
Admetus: Time, yes, if by time you mean Death." (Euripides, Alcestis 1083).

Time everyday

In the eyes of mortals, Time is primarily the sequence of Past, Present and Future. Time is for them the same as Life; when Time leaves, so does life, and Death arrives in whatever form. For Time and life cannot be put apart. And if Time is feared, or trusted, is mainly not so much because of Time himself but for the events he may bring, many of which are inevitable. The Past is the segment of Time that cannot undergo change, except by the variations of Memory, on which it entirely depends. The Present, which vanishes permanently without ever exhausting itself, is a challenging meeting with Time, on occasions managed by Boredom, Indifference and Forgetfulness, on others by Enthusiasm, Wonder and Engagement. The Future is the segment of Time that is unknown (except for the claims of seers, prophets and the like), and for that reason it may be awaited either with Hope or with Anxiety, or with neither; for it might not arrive. The events brought by Time is what actually happens; that may be, in several instances, called Fate. How Time and the events he brings are met, is the way in which life is lived; this depends completely on the disposition of the Soul.


Family 

Chronos is the father of the HORAE (regarded as Hours instead of Seasons), of Aether (Upper Sky), and of Eros (AO.12; Nonn.12.15). See also Cronos.


Additional Note I
The Vital Countdown

Mr. Desu Emit (a contemporary citizen) used c. 2/3 of his lifetime (75 years) attending "the necessities of life". Some of these were more necessary than others, but Time used him anyway:


Activity

Time used

Years spent

Remaining time

Lifetime

75 years

75.00

75.00

Sleep

8 hours per day

-25.00

50.00

Eating

1.5 hours per day

-4.68

45.32

Housework, shopping, cooking

1.5 hours per day

-4.68

40.64

Work

160 hours per month, 11 months per year
45 years of work (from age 20 to 65)

-9.04

31.60

Travel

1 hour per day

-3.12

28.48

Personal care

1 hour per day

-3.12

25.36


In the table above, sleep consumes 25 years out of 75 whereas the other "necessary" activities detailed exceed 24 years. Thus there is c. 1/3 left for "the enjoyment of life" and the investigation of life itself. Naturally, this is possible only "if circumstances permit." For should illness or accident (not to mention premature death) affect the subject severely, he may then spend much of his time in hospitals, which could make the enjoyment of life and the reflection upon it more difficult still. Similarly (but not identically), he who chooses a perverted career may waste his time in court or in prison conversing with other criminals and liars, as well as with policemen, attorneys, judges and others like them. Such a demanding environment could prove too hard a challenge, preventing the improvement of reflection and understanding, and thereby jeopardizing the enjoyment of life. Yet, in which direction such challenges could affect a given individual cannot be predicted, and therefore it appears that voluntary enslavement or "the prison of one's own making" must still be regarded as the best choice in order to waste the remaining 1/3, be it in hospital, in prison, or in health and freedom.

Example of conversion of the fractions above:

  • 4.68 years
  • Conversion of 0.68 years into months: 0.68 x 12 = 8.16 months
  • Conversion of 0.16 months into days: 0.16 x 30 = 4.8 days
  • Conversion of 0.8 days into hours: 0.8 x 24 = 19.2 hours
  • Conversion of 0.2 hours into minutes: 0.2 x 60 = 12 minutes

 The fraction 4.68 years represents 4 years, 8 months, 4 days, 19 hours, and 12 minutes.


Additional Note II
Three Conceptions of Time: Progressive, Traditionalist, Salvationist

The Progressive view: today is worse than tomorrow but better than yesterday. According to Science, there is more enlightenment waiting in the future, the past being the darkest or "worst" section of time.


The Traditionalist conception: worse than yesterday but better than tomorrow. The future is worst.


The Salvationist view: Revelation in the past and Redemption in the future: the present is worst.


Contemporary science represents a progressive view of the world that relies on the incessant accumulation of data to improve knowledge and reach through it new stages of enlightenment. By virtue of such accumulation, Science knows today more than yesterday and less than tomorrow (the technological applications serving as measure of her knowledge). As a result we sense a forward movement in time which expands the physical powers of humanity. This movement conveys the idea that there is more enlightenment and power farther on the same road, science itself being the vehicle taking us to our destination.

From this progressive perspective, the present appears illuminated if compared to the past, but dark when compared to the future. Accordingly, the present looks like a "twilight zone" from which we perceive the light ahead and the darkness behind. We notice the present's intrisical weakness only as it plunges into the past, being turned into "Darkness"--a metaphor for ignorance, superstition, and inability to develop complex technologies. This idea of time may be sketched thus:

On the other hand, the study of antiquity, and particularly of mythology, invites an opposite posture. "Recent sources" are seldom as respectable as the most ancient, while "later additions" often awake suspicion. It is as if a light were shining in a remote past. The closer to that light an author is, the more "authentic" his testimony will be. For it is assumed that later authors "invented", "filled gaps", "committed errors", or even "lied", thus obscuring the real meaning of their tradition. A typical traditionalist cherishes the past, persuaded that a legacy of wisdom was condensed in it for all times to come. He believes that as Time gradually removes us from the original source of everything, we forget our nature, our identity, and our purpose. One hundred and eighty degrees separate the traditionalist view from the progressive. The sketch is the same, but reversed:

Yet a third conception may be distinguished, generally embraced by religions contemplating salvation. For the salvationist, revelation is the light of the past, and redemption that of the future. In this manner both preceding views are combined: the past enlightens man, and the future redeems him. The Progressive and Salvationist views tend to be linear in their appreciation of Time whereas the Traditionalist conception often implies that light and darkness recur in a circle or cycle.


Related sections

Cronos, Mnemosyne
Chronos in GROUPS: PERSONIFICATIONS

Sources
Abbreviations

Aes.Aga.983; Aes.Pro.982; AO.12; Cic.ND.2.64; Nonn.12.15, 21.162, 24.265; Pin.Oly.2.17; QS.9.109; Soph.OC.618.

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