The ancient Greeks must have been conscious, albeit unconsciously, that time does not equal time. That’s why they had three gods to denote this phenomenon: Chronos, Kairos and Aion. And then there was Kronos, the god who ate his children. But what does all this mean for us today? (Click here for the German version of the article.)
This Sunday, most Europeans will groan as time jumps forward, resulting in an hour of lost sleep. As the European Parliament voted in favor of ending the practice, most EU residents won’t have to moan about switching times in 2021.
The ancient Greeks did not know “daylight saving” time. Our antique ancestors did not know any oil crisis and the need for fuel economy and sustainability. The EU did not exist yet, neither machines, which could dominate and define the course of the day.
Instead, our ancestors followed the course of the sun for millennia. With that, they lived better adapted to their environment and thus healthier than many of us today. Even modern sleep research recommends that the daily routine should not be defined by a chronological time schedule, but by the course of the sun.
But what else can we learn about time from the ancient Greeks?
Chronos or Kronos?
The creator god Chronos (χρόνος) emerged from the dark chaos to bring into life the silver world-egg. He symbolizes the passage of time and our lifetime.
Advances in research and health care have extended live expectancy, and humanity is still trying to delay the effects of time passing, and dreaming of immortality. Today, people are living longer. However, they also suffer more often from chronic illness.
Although we are living longer, we still feel we don’t have enough time. The concept of time management is more and more important in today’s world, where chronometers track every second of our lives, and people mourn that time devours its children.
Why does time (still) “devour its children”?
Since ancient times Chronos is often equated with Kronos (Cronus, Cronos, or Kronos, from Greek κρόνος), the youngest son of Gaia (the earth) and Uranus (the sky) as an example of a folk etymology.
In mythology, Kronos overcame his tyrannical father to become a cannibalistic tyrant himself. In order to avoid dethronement he ate his own children. The roman equivalent of Kronos is Saturn, the god of agriculture. Here, the etymological closeness of Saturn, the god, and Satan, the devil, is striking.
When the French revolutionist Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud was executed early on the morning of 31 October 1793, his last words were:
“Revolution is like Saturn, it devours its own children.”
Later, we find his expression again in Georg Büchner’s “Danton’s Death“ (1835).
To this day, Kronos appears in our lives in the expression when
time or a revolution “devours its children”.
Kairos (καιρός) is the capricious god of opportunity who is still with us when we try to
“take time by the forelock”.
This young god is known for his enormous forelock, whereas the back of his head is bald. Today, this fast runner on winged feet reminds us to seize an opportunity when it arises.
Aion (αἰών) stands for eternity. He is – at the same time – child and man. Aion is generous and happy because he lacks nothing. He inspires us to engage in activities that carry a deeper meaning within itself, strengthening our “sense of coherence” in the concept of “salutogenesis”.
Aion helps us to fulfill our vocation by meaningful actions in the here and now. Kairos helps us to open ourselves to the fleeting moments of serendipity. Teaming up with the two others, Chronos transforms into a benevolent god allowing us to keep pace for the sake of our productivity (in the ever-changing world of temptations).
There is a creole proverb that says teamwork creates team spirit. But that will be another story… The same applies to the end of tyranny of clock changing for daylight saving time.
Have a great weekend and a good “daylight saving” summer time!