Chronos and Circe


Marble statue of Chronos in the Knight’s Hall (Warsaw Royal Castle), Copyright Kalinka261015

Chronos, not to be confused with Zeus’s father Cronus (Kronos), is the personification of Time in Greek mythology. Indeed, his very name means “time.”

According to the Orphic tradition, Chronos, who never ages, produced Chaos and Aether, two of the fifteen primordial deities. Chronos himself is also a primordial deity. Aether (i.e., Ether) personifies the pure upper air which the other deities breathe, and Chaos was the first thing to come into existence.

The Orphic tradition goes on to depict Chronos as having created a silvery egg in the Divine Aether. This egg produced Phanes, the hermaphroditic deity of procreation and the generation of new life. Phanes birthed the first generation of official deities, and thus became the ultimate creator of the cosmos.

Pherecydes of Syros believed Chronos to be one of the three eternal principles, the others being Zeus and Chthonie (who ruled the subterranean realm). In this version of events, Chronos’s semen was put in recesses, from whence it produced the first official generation of deities.

Painted by Beatrice Offor, 1911

Circe is a goddess of magic, and alternately depicted as a witch, sorcerer, enchanter, or nymph. Most sources name her as the daughter of sun god Helios and Oceanid Perse, though a few sources say her mother was Hecate, goddess of witchcraft.

Circe was known far and wide for her most extensive knowledge of herbs and potions. With her potions, herbs, and magic wand, she transformed her enemies, and those who offended her, into animals. Perhaps most famously, she transformed Odysseus’s men into pigs in Homer’s Odyssey.

Some traditions say Helios and her subjects exiled her to the mythological island of Aeaea (a.k.a. Eëa or Aiaía) for killing her husband, the prince of Colchis. Aeaea is the setting of the Circe episode in The Odyssey. Later traditions depict Circe leaving or destroying the island and moving to Italy.

The Wine of Circe, by Edward Burne-Jones

When Odysseus and his men arrived on Aeaea, they found Circe in a mansion in the middle of a clearing in a dense forest. They were very taken aback at how docile the wolves and lions wandering around were, not suspecting they were Circe’s victims.

By supper, Circe laced the food with one of her magical potions and served from an enchanted cup. After Odysseus’s men made figurative pigs of themselves, Circe turned them into literal pigs with her magic wand. Eurylochus, the second-in-command of the ship going home to Ithaca, suspected a trick, and escaped.

When he went back to the ship to warn Odysseus and the others who’d stayed behind, Odysseus went to rescue his men. On his way to Circe’s mansion, Athena sent the messenger god Hermes with special instructions. Odysseus was to use the holy herb moly to protect himself from Circe’s spells, and then to draw his sword and make as if he were going to attack her.

Odysseus chasing Circe. Lower tier of an Attic red-figure calyx-krater, Copyright Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011)

Odysseus managed to free his men, but he couldn’t resist the temptations of the flesh. He stayed on Aeaea for a year, with Circe as his mistress. He wasn’t exactly as faithful as Penelope during his 10-year voyage home, even if he was true to her in his heart while he was boinking all these other women.

Some traditions say Circe and Odysseus had three sons, given various names. Circe has also been a very popular subject for artists, writers, musicians, and dancers over the centuries.

Circe is the Latinized form of Kirke, which may possibly mean “bird.”


6 thoughts on “Chronos and Circe

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