1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Saturn (god)

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23348741911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 24 — Saturn (god)James George Frazer and an anonymous author

SATURN [Saturnus], a god of ancient Italy, whom the Romans, and till recently the moderns, identified with the Greek god Cronus.

1. Cronus was the youngest of the Titans, the children of Sky (Uranus) and Earth (Gaea). Besides the Titans, Sky and Earth had other children, the Cyclopes and the Hundred-handers. When the Cyclopes and the Hundred-handers proved troublesome, Sky thrust them back into the bosom of Earth. This vexed Earth, and she called on her sons to avenge her on their father Sky. They all shrank from the deed save Cronus, who waylaid and mutilated his father with a sickle or curved sword. From the drops of blood which fell to the earth sprang the Furies and the Giants. Cronus now reigned in room of Sky. His wife was Rhea, who was also his sister, being a daughter of Sky and Earth. Sky and Earth had foretold to Cronus that he would be deposed by one of his own children, so he swallowed them one after another as soon as they were born. Thus he devoured Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. But when Rhea had brought forth Zeus, the youngest[1] she wrapped up a stone in swaddling clothes and gave it to Cronus, who swallowed it instead of the babe. When Zeus, who had been hidden in Crete, grew up, he gave his father a dose which compelled him to disgorge first the stone and then the children whom he had swallowed. The stone was preserved at Delphi; every day it was anointed and on festivals it was crowned with wool. Zeus and his brothers now rebelled against Cronus, and after a ten years’ struggle they were victorious. Cronus and the Titans were thrust down to Tartarus, where they were guarded by the Hundred-handers. According to others, Cronus was removed to the Islands of the Blest, where he ruled over the departed heroes, judging them in conjunction with Rhadamanthus. Plutarch (De Def. Orac. 18) mentions a story that the dethroned monarch of the gods slept on an island of the northern seas guarded by Briareus and surrounded by a train of attendant divinities. The reign of Cronus was supposed to have been the golden age, when men lived like gods, free from toil and grief and the weakness of old age (for death was like sleep); and the earth brought forth abundantly without cultivation. There are few traces of the worship of Cronus in Greece. Pausanias, in his description of Greece, mentions only one temple of Cronus; it stood at the foot of the Acropolis at Athens and was sacred to Cronus and Rhea jointly. The Athenians celebrated an annual festival in his honour on the 12th of Hecatombaeon. A mountain at Olympia was called after him, and on its top annual sacrifices were offered to him at the spring equinox.

The idea that Cronus was the god of time seems to have arisen from a simple confusion between the words Cronus and Chronus (“time”). Curtius derives Cronus from the root kra, meaning “to accomplish.” Cronus may have been a god of some aboriginal half-savage tribe which the Greeks conquered. Hence the savage traits in his legend, his conquest by Zeus and the scanty traces of his worship in Greece. The myth of the mutilation of Sky by Cronus may be a particular form of the widespread story of the violent separation of Sky and Earth by one of their children. Other forms of this myth are found in New Zealand, India and China. Parallels to the swallowing and disgorging incident are to be found in the folklore of Bushmen, Kalires, Basutos, Indians of Guiana and Eskimo.

2. Saturn and his wife Ops were amongst the oldest deities of ancient Italy. He is said to have had an altar at the foot of the Capitol before Rome was founded. Saturn was a god of agriculture, his name being derived from serere, “to sow.”[2] The identification of Saturn with Cronus[3] gave rise to the legend that after his deposition by Zeus (Jupiter) Saturn wandered to Italy, where he ruled as king in the golden age and gave the name Saturnia to the country.[4] Janus, another of the most ancient gods of Italy, is said to have welcomed him to Rome, and here he settled at the foot of the Capitol, which was called after him the Saturnian Hill. His temple stood at the ascent from the Forum to the Capitol and was one of the oldest buildings in Rome, but the eight remaining columns of the temple probably formed a portion of a new temple built in the imperial times. The image of Saturn in this temple had woollen bands fastened round its feet all the year through, except at the festival of the Saturnalia; the object of the bands was probably to detain the deity. Similarly there was a fettered image of Enyalius (the War God) at Sparta, and at Athens the image of Victory had no wings, lest she might fly away. The mode of sacrifice at this temple was so far peculiar that the head of the sacrifice was bare as in the Greek ritual, instead of being covered, as was the usual Roman practice. Legend said that the Greek ritual was introduced by Hercules, who at the same time abolished the human sacrifices previously offered to Saturn. Others said that the rule had been observed by the Pelasgians before. Under or behind the temple was the Roman treasury, in which the archives as well as the treasures of the state were preserved. Dionysius Halicarnassensis (Ant. Rom. i. 34) tells that there were many sanctuaries of Saturn in Italy and that many towns and places, especially mountains, were called after him. The oldest national form of verse was known as the Saturnian. Like many other figures in Roman mythology, Saturn is said to have vanished at last from earth. His emblem was a sickle. The substitution of a great scythe for the sickle, and the addition of wings and an hour-glass, are modern.[5] Ops (“plenty”), wife of Saturn, was an earth-goddess, as appears from the custom observed by her suppliants of sitting and carefully touching the earth while they, made their vows to her. As goddess of crops and the harvest she was called Consiva, and under this name hadia sanctuary at Rome, to which only the Vestals and the priest were admitted. As Saturn was identified in later times with Cronus, so was Ops with Rhea. Another goddess mentioned as wife of Saturn was Lua, a goddess of barrenness. She was one of the deities to whom after a victory the spoils of the enemy were sometimes dedicated and burned.

Saturnalia.—This, the great festival of Saturn, was celebrated on the 19th, but after Caesar’s reform of the calendar on the 17th, of December. Augustus decreed that the 17th should be sacred to Saturn and the 19th to Ops.[6] Henceforward it appears that the 17th and 18th were devoted to the Saturnalia, and the 19th and 20th to the Opalia, a festival of Ops.[7] Caligula added a fifth day, “the day of youth” (dies juveniles), devoted no doubt to the sports of the young. But in popular usage the festival lasted seven days. The woollen fetters were taken from the feet of the image of Saturn, and each man offered a pig. During the festival schools were closed; no war was declared or battle fought; no punishment was indicted. In place of the toga an undress garment (synthesis) was worn. Distinctions of rank were laid aside: slaves sat at table with their masters or were waited on by them, and the utmost freedom of speech was allowed them. Gambling with dice, at other times illegal, was now permitted.[8] All classes exchanged gifts, the commonest being wax tapers and clay dolls. These dolls were especially given to children, and the makers of them held a regular fair at this time. Varro thought these dolls represented original sacrifices of human beings to the infernal god. There was, as we have seen, a tradition that human sacrifices were once offered to Saturn, and the Greeks and Romans gave the name of Cronus and Saturn to a cruel Phoenician Baal, to whom, e.g. children were sacrificed at Carthage. The Cronus to whom human sacrifices are said to have been offered in Rhodes was probably a Baal, for there are traces of Phoenician worship in Rhodes. It may be conjectured that the Saturnalia was originally a celebration of the winter solstice. Hence the legend that it was instituted by Romulus under the name of the Brumalia (bruma=winter solstice). The prominence given to candles at the festival points to the custom of making a new fire at this time. The custom of solemnly kindling fires at the summer solstice (Eve of St John) has prevailed in most parts of Europe, notably in Germany, and there are traces (of which the yule-log is one) of the observance of a similar custom at the winter solstice. In ancient Mexico a new fire was kindled, amid great rejoicings, at the end of every period of fifty-two years.

The designation of the planets by the names of gods is at least as old as the 4th century B.C. The first certain mention of the star of Cronus (Saturn) is in Aristotle (Metaphysics, p. 1073 b. 35). The name also occurs in the Epinomus (p. 987 b), a dialogue of uncertain date, wrongly ascribed to Plato. In Latin, Cicero (1st century B.C.) is the first author who speaks of the planet Saturn. The application of the name Saturn to a day of the week (Saturni dies, Saturday) is first found in Tibullus (i. 3, 18). (J. G. Fr.; X.) 

  1. So Hesiod. But, according to Homer, Zeus was the eldest of the children of Cronus and Rhea.
  2. He was also known by the epithet of Stercutus or Sterculius, the god of fertilizing manure.
  3. Cronus himself was a harvest god under one of his aspects.
  4. He is said to have taught the inhabitants of Latium agriculture, the art of navigation and the use of stamped pieces of metal for money.
  5. During the first centuries of the Christian era, Saturn was one of the chief popular divinities of northern Africa, representing the Carthaginian Baal under the title of Dominus Saturnus; see Toutain, De Sammi dei in Africa Romana cultu (1894).
  6. There was also a special festival, Opeconsiva, on Aug. 25.
  7. The fourth day of the festival was added by some one unknown.
  8. It is curious to find a similar rule with a similar exception in Nepal. See H. A. Oldfield, Sketches from Nepal, vol. ii. pp. 353 sq.