The intangible passage of time, challenged only in photographs, is an unstoppable entity with no clearly defined scientific beginning or end. As with grains of sand passing through an hourglass, there is nothing one can do to stop or freeze time itself in order to hold on to one specific moment. This leaves us with only memories. This concept of time, being such a powerful and unforgiving force, is commonly represented by the old and wise figure known as Father Time, which can be traced back to the early Romans and Greeks.
Before the ancient Greeks recognized the brothers Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades as rulers over the world, they worshiped their father Chronus (Khronos) (Latin root Chronus meaning time), the god of time. The Roman equivalent Kronos not only doubled as the Titan god, but also was seen as the god of agriculture (also giving him the name Saturn), often causing him to be portrayed with a scythe. There was also an annual midwinter weeklong harvest celebration called Saturnalia, held to honor, thank, and celebrate Saturn.
Father Time is traditionally depicted as an old, bearded figure, and as previously mentioned, always with a scythe at his side. To stress just how powerful he was, however, some ancient Romans depicted Kronos as the personification of Aion (“eternity”), a masculine and youthful god. Some murals show him against the sky holding a wheel inscribed with the signs of the zodiac. But for the Romans, the traditional portrayal with the scythe represents the sowing and tilling of the land each year, which brought about bountiful harvests. Like the Greeks, the Romans recognized Kronos’s great importance as the god of time. In mythology, the ultimate flaw in any humans attempting to perform heroic feats was their mortality, giving the scythe a symbolic representation of how life is not only short, but also can be quickly and decisively ended at any point. This had been seen, and still is seen, as perhaps an inspiration to take the fulfillment of life’s purposes with urgency.
A similar equivalent character in contemporary society would be the Grim Reaper, as he is also always seen carrying a scythe, and like Kronos is much feared. But awareness of the figure Father Time is not completely removed from current society, and still carries the same messages; he is even mentioned and sung about in popular music. Father Time possibly has another connection to current popular society through his striking resemblance to the figure of Santa Claus. In the year 354 CE, Pope Liberius, originally Peter Valvomeres, declared that the observance of the birth of Christ would be on December 25. It is thought that perhaps this was done in hopes of drawing attention away from the pagan Saturnalia (in which there was also gift giving). Some movies and books portray Father Time as even having a connection with Christmas by stopping or slowing down time, allowing for Santa Claus to have time to travel all over the world in one night. Father Time is also sometimes recognized in popular culture soon after, in the recognition of the New Year. It is seen that with each passing year, at the striking of midnight, Father Time takes the old year and “passes on” the duties of time to the Baby New Year, who will in turn be transformed into Father Time during the months ahead.
Patrick J. Wojcieson
See also Cronus (Kronos); Elixir of Life; Grim Reaper; Hourglass; Shangri-La, Myth of; Youth, Fountain of
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