Saturn Devouring His Own Son

First came the chasm, according to Hesiod, and then Earth.  Earth “bore first of all one equal to herself, starry Heaven”.  With Heaven, she had many offspring, who were the Titans, the youngest of whom was the “crooked-schemer Kronos [Saturn in the Roman tradition], most fearsome of children”.  Most fearsome, perhaps, but all the Titans were gnarly, and their own father loathed them from the beginning, so he locked them all away underground and refused to let them out into the light.

Earth fashioned a reaping hook of adamant, and approached her terrible children.

“Children of mine and of an evil father, I wonder whether you would like to do as I say?  We could get redress for your father’s cruelty.  After all, he began it by his ugly behavior.”

Only Kronos was willing, and he ambushed his father Heaven and castrated him.  Freed from their cave, the Titans had many children of their own.  Kronos lay with Rhea and fathered Hestia, Demeter, Hera, and Hades.

However, Earth and Heaven told Kronos that he was fated to be overthrown by one of his own children, so when each of them was born, he ate them.

This mythic episode inspired two disturbing paintings, one by Rubens, and one by Goya.


Rubens - Saturn Devouring His Own SonSaturn Devouring His Son (1636) – Peter Paul Rubens

Goya - Saturno Devorando a Su HijoSaturno devorando a su hijo (1819 – 1823) – Francisco Goya

Goya’s depiction, the more frightening, was painted between 1819 and 1823, as one his Black Paintings, which he painted on the walls of his house in his old age.  He never named the paintings, and in all likelihood he never meant them to be displayed.

Eventually, Rhea, overcome by grief for her lost children, tricked Kronos.  When she gave birth to Zeus, she wrapped a stone in cloth and gave that to Kronos, who swallowed it whole.  Rhea raised Zeus in secret until he was old enough to battle and defeat his father and free his siblings, who had been trapped, apparently also whole (despite the artistic imagination), in their father’s stomach.

Hesiod’s Theogony.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s