Playing the Indian Card

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Saturn's Children

Saturn spending quality time with the kids.

As we have seen, since ancient times, one standard explanation of depression seems to refer to the issue of child abuse: the idea that the depressed or melancholic are “children of Saturn.”

Klibansky et al, in their study Saturn and Melancholy, write that “Nearly all the writers of the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance considered it an incontestable fact that melancholy, whether morbid or natural, stood in some special relationship to Saturn, and that the latter was really to blame for the melancholic’s unfortunate character and destiny” (Klibansky, R., Panofsky, E. and Saxl, F., Saturn and Melancholy, London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., 1964, p. 127). “For a sixteenth-century artist,” they add, “the task of drawing a melancholic was equivalent to drawing a child of Saturn” (ibid., p. 127).

This explanation bore no apparent relation to the “chemical imbalance” theory of the four humours. There was no association, for example, between Saturn and the spleen, the imagined seat of black bile (ibid., p. 147).

This reference to Saturn or Cronus seems significant, because it places the issue of depression at the apex of Greek mythology: in the very creation myth.

Here is the story of Saturn (Greek Cronus) as told by Hesiod:

But Rhea was subject in love to Cronus and bare splendid children, Hestia, Demeter, and gold-shod Hera and strong Hades, pitiless in heart, who dwells under the earth, and the loud-crashing Earth-Shaker [Poseidon], and wise Zeus, father of gods and men, by whose thunder the wide earth is shaken. These great Cronus swallowed as each came forth from the womb to his mother’s knees with this intent, that no other of the proud sons of Heaven should hold the kingly office amongst the deathless gods. For he learned from Earth and starry Heaven that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, strong though he was, through the contriving of great Zeus. Therefore he kept no blind outlook, but watched and swallowed down his children: and unceasing grief seized Rhea. But when she was about to bear Zeus, the father of gods and men, then she besought her own dear parents, Earth and starry Heaven, to devise some plan with her that the birth of her dear child might be concealed, and that retribution might overtake great, crafty Cronus for his own father and also for the children whom he had swallowed down. And they readily heard and obeyed their dear daughter, and told her all that was destined to happen touching Cronus the king and his stout-hearted son. So they sent her to Lyetus, to the rich land of Crete, when she was ready to bear great Zeus, the youngest of her children. Him did vast Earth receive from Rhea in wide Crete to nourish and to bring up. Thither came Earth carrying him swiftly through the black night to Lyctus first, and took him in her arms and hid him in a remote cave beneath the secret places of the holy earth on thick-wooded Mount Aegeum; but to the mightily ruling son of Heaven, the earlier king of the gods, she gave a great stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. Then he took it in his hands and thrust it down into his belly: wretch! he knew not in his heart that in place of the stone his son was left behind, unconquered and untroubled, and that he was soon to overcome him by force and might and drive him from his honours, himself to reign over the deathless gods (Theogony, ll ll. 453-491).

Here again we see the Dymphna legend. Its two options, absolute ownership or death, are combined in the one image of swallowing the child: destroying the child, on the one hand, and making it oneself, on the other.

Taking the kid to the park.

This is about all that is fixed about the myth of Cronus: that he was the original king and father of the gods, and that he ate his own children. Other stories about him seem vague and variable. So that calling someone a “child of Cronus” would seem to have one, obvious, meaning.

That this was the essential fact about Cronus, that he devoured children, is shown by the readiness of Greek authors to see the Carthaginian god Baal Hammon as the same person. The Carthaginians sacrificed children to him—that made him Cronus. Porphyry, in On Abstinence, claims that the Cretan Greeks too used to offer child sacrifices to Cronus in ancient times (Graves, p. 27). Such sacrifices indeed feature in the Homeric epics.

Diodorus Siculus attests to the Carthaginian custom of child sacrifice to Baal/Cronus:

“Himilcar, ... supplicated the gods after the custom of his people by sacrificing a young boy to Cronus and a multitude of cattle to Poseidon by drowning them in the sea” (Diodorus Siculus, Library, Diod. 13.86; describing a Carthaginian siege of Sicily).

Plutarch also documents the practice:

“... but with full knowledge and understanding they themselves offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan; but should she utter a single moan or let fall a single tear, she had to forfeit the money, and her child was sacrificed nevertheless; and the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums that the cries of wailing should not reach the ears of the people” (De Superstitione 171).
This offended the Greeks—despite their own practice of infanticide.

“Gelon, the despot, after vanquishing the Carthaginians off Himera, forced them, when he made peace with them, to include in the treaty an agreement to stop sacrificing their children to Cronus” (Regum et imperatorum apophthegmata 19).

Cleitarcus writes of Carthage in 146 BC:

“There stands in their midst a bronze statue of Cronus, its hands extended over a bronze brazier, the flames of which engulf the child. When the flames fall upon the body, the limbs contract and the open mouth seems almost to be laughing until the contracted body slips quietly into the brazier. Thus it is that the ‘grin’ is known as ‘sardonic laughter,’ since they die laughing” (Scholia, trans. Paul G. Mosca).”

So Cronus is definitively “the god who devours children.” And melancholics are his children.

Molech or Moloch

This also identifies him with the Biblical figure of Molech. Molech seems to be a generic term for a variety of gods around the Middle East: the Ammonite Milcom, the Tyrian Melqart, and others. Like Cronus, he is a king: the name “Molech” seems to be a variant of Hebrew Malek, “king.” The essential significance of these “Molechs,” again, was the custom of child sacrifice.

Leviticus 18:21 "And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord."
Leviticus 20-5: "Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not. Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people.”
Deuteronomy 12: 31 “Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.”
Micah 6:7 The king of Moab asks, “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?'” This is given as an example of Moabite wickedness. The prophet responds that this is not pleasing to Yahweh, who requires instead a humble, just, and merciful heart.
Psalms 106: 36-8 “But [some of the Hebrews] were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them. Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.”

Archeological evidence confirms that child sacrifice was indeed standard practice among the Carthaginians, the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, and other peoples in the general area of Palestine. The ashes of children have been found in sacrificial vessels mixed with the ashes of sacrificial animals. At an earlier period, it was also practiced in Greece and Rome.

Sacrifices to Molech traditionally took place in the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem—also known as Gehenna. In the New Testament, we sometimes translate the word “Gehenna” as “Hell.”

Jeremiah 32:35 “And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin."

That makes the issue of child sacrifice seem central to the early Judeo-Christian as well as the Greek consciousness. It is one of the reasons why it is considered just for the Hebrews to conquer the lands of the Canaanites and show them no mercy.

Deuteronomy 9: 4-5 “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you...”

Child sacrifice seems to have been widespread in the ancient world—almost the usual thing. In the New World, the Inca practiced capacocha, in which “perfect” children, without blemish or scar, were gutted, strangled, or buried alive on a mountaintop. Females were selected for their beauty. The sacrifice of the children was supposed to extend the life of the king or some other prominent person. The Mayans thought the same. The Aztecs sacrificed their children to the rain god.

Aztec child sacrifice

The Babylonian Enuma Elish, the oldest known creation story, is in this respect like the Greek. Here the goddess Tiamat stands in for Rhea, and Apsu for Cronus. Our surviving fragments read:

And Tiamat roared...
She smote, and their deeds...
Then Apsu, the begetter of the great gods,
Cried unto Mummu, his minister, and said unto him:
“O Mummu, thou minister that rejoicest my spirit,
Come, unto Tiamat let us go!”
So they went and before Tiamat they lay down,
They consulted on a plan with regard to the gods, their sons.
Apsu opened his mouth and spake,
And unto Tiamut, the glistening one, he addressed the word:
...their way...
By day I can not rest, by night I can not lie down in peace.
But I will destroy their way, I will...
Let there be lamentation, and let us lie down again in peace.

… Mummu answered, and gave counsel unto Apsu,
...and hostile to the gods was the counsel Mummu gave:
“Come, their way is strong, but thou shalt destroy it;
Then by day shalt thou have rest, by night shalt thou lie down in peace."
Apsu harkened unto him and his countenance grew bright,
Since he (Mummu) planned evil against the gods his sons.” 
Their way was evil...

Apsu is then, like Cronus, defeated by his children, led by the hero god Ea or Marduk. Tiamat, following the usual pattern of the selfish parent, then forms an incestuous union with her son Kingu.

Again, it is the Dymphna complex.

Other creation stories widely spread both geographically and chronologically reveal the same concern. It seems unlikely, for example, that there could have been any direct influence from Greece or Babylon on an Iroquois creation myth from upstate New York:

“One day one of the Sky Women realized she was going to give birth to twins. She told her husband, who flew into a rage. In the center of the island there was a tree which gave light to the entire island since the sun hadn’t been created yet. He tore up this tree, creating a huge hole in the middle of the island. Curious, the woman peered into the hole. Far below she could see the waters that covered the earth. At that moment her husband pushed her. She fell through the hole, tumbling towards the waters below.” (

Nor are Greeks or Phoenicians likely to have influenced the tale told throughout Polynesia, of the founder-god Maui:

“In New Zealand the hero is declared to have been an abortion, which his mother wrapped up in her apron or topknot, and either abandoned in the bush or threw into the sea. Although thus deserted by his parent, Maui survived, for the unformed child was tended by supernatural beings and reared to manhood, some versions declaring that he was taken up into the sky-world (Roland B, Dixon, Oceanic Mythology, 1916, Ch. 2).

Most versions of the story also seem to feature incest. Cronus fathers his children with Rhea. Rhea is his sister.

One might imagine this was a simple necessary: at the beginning of time, how many other options is a primordial founder god going to have? Zeus too married his sister, Hera. To clear up any such misunderstandings, Diodorus Siculus, for one, reports that Rhea was already married at the time, to Ammon, who some say was the king of Libya, others the Sun (Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride 12). She threw Ammon over for the chance to mate with her sib: “she forsook Ammon and, departing to her brothers, the Titans, married Cronus her brother” (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, Book III. 71. 1-4). Selfish physical desires trumped family duties in one, at least, of the divine parents.

The Semitic Lilith seems to be a female version of the narcissistic parent. When she is not admiring herself in the mirror, her chief occupation is seeking out and strangling infants.

Milton draws on a similar tradition in his poem “Il Penseroso,” making personified Melancholy the incestuous child of Cronus/Saturn and his daughter Vesta/Hestia:

Thee bright-hair'd Vesta long of yore,
To solitary Saturn bore;
His daughter she (in Saturn’s reign,
Such mixture was not held a stain)

It is the same complex that we have seen in the hero legends. Here, the hero is Zeus; we see the Laius/Damon/Claudius figure in Cronus.

The rest of Hesiod’s Creation story is a typical hero legend, with Zeus as the hero.

“Rhea was enraged. She bore Zeus, her third son, at dead of night on Mount Lycaeum in Arcadia, where no creature casts a shadow and, having bathed him in the River Neda, gave him to Mother Earth; by whom he was carried to Lyctos in Crete, and hidden in the cave of Dicte on the Aegean Hill. Mother Earth left him there to be nursed by the Ash-nymph Adrasteia and her sister Io, both daughters of Melisseus, and by the Goat-nymph Amaltheia. His food was honey, and he drank Amaltheia's milk, with Goat-Pan, his foster-brother. Zeus was grateful to these three nymphs for their kindness and, when he became Lord of the Universe, set Amaltheia’s image among the stars, as Capricorn. He also borrowed one of her horns, which resembled a cow’s, and gave it to the daughters of Melisseus; it became the famous Cornucopia, or horn of plenty, which is always filled with whatever food or drink its owner may desire. But some say that Zeus was suckled by a sow, and rode on her back, and that he lost his navel—string at Omphalion near Cnossus… Zeus grew to manhood among the shepherds of Ida.” (Graves, p. 26).

Like other heroes, Zeus is rejected at birth, but protected in a green world, a spiritual realm, a mountain cave. He is raised by tree and goat spirits, the horn of the spiritual goat becoming the cornucopia: an image of the limitless bounty of the imagination.

The cornucopia

Zeus goes on, as hero, to save his brothers through his efforts. Hesiod relates:

“After that, the strength and glorious limbs of the prince increased quickly, and as the years rolled on, great Cronus the wily was beguiled by the deep suggestions of Earth, and brought up again his offspring, vanquished by the arts and might of his own son, and he vomited up first the stone which he had swallowed last. ... And he [Zeus] set free from their deadly bonds the brothers of his father, sons of Heaven whom his father in his foolishness had bound. And they remembered to be grateful to him for his kindness, and gave him thunder and the glowing thunderbolt and lightening: for before that, huge Earth had hidden these. In them he trusts and rules over mortals and immortals” (Theogony, ll. 492-506).

Cronus/Saturn, then, is the personality that causes depression in children.

So what else can we say about him?

Here we have a problem. As Klibansky and his co-authors lament, the attributes assigned to Cronus/Saturn seem contradictory:

“It is true that the other Greek gods, too, nearly all appear under a dual aspect, in the sense that they both chastise and bless, destroy and aid. But in none of them is this dual aspect so real and fundamental as in Kronos. His nature is a dual one not only with regard to his effect on the outer world, but with regard to his own--as it were, personal--destiny, and this dualism is so sharply marked that Kronos might fairly be described as god of opposites” (Klibansky, op. cit., p. 134).

Some of these contradictions can be explained by the story of his change in fortunes: he was king of gods, then dethroned and made a prisoner in Tartarus. So there were two aspects of his experience.

“His association with celibacy and childlessness, widowhood, child-exposure, orphanhood, violence and hidden malice,” Klibansky reasons, “can be explained by the unfortunate experiences of the Greek Cronus in his family life; his association with the sad, the worried, and misused, beggars, chains, captivity, and concealment, derives from his dethronement and imprisonment in Tartarus; the attribution to him of ‘authority,’ ‘guardianship,’ great fame and high rank is due to his original position as ruler of the world and king of the gods” (p. 143 Saturn and Melancholy).

Maybe; this would seem more convincing if his banishment to Tartarus were a more certain element of the legends, rather than one concept among many. But the contradictions might also be explained simply by his being the source of melancholy. To begin with, consider that there are two distinct types who could be described as “children of Saturn” or “under the influence of Saturn”: those who are like Saturn himself, and those who share the situation of his children. And they are opposites: the parent is selfish, and the child has, as they say, “low self esteem.” In the same fashion, by popular convention, the name “Frankenstein” can refer to either the fictional scientist or his fictional monster; and “Orwellian” refers to things George Orwell argued against.

A second consideration: there may be two types of melancholy or depression addressed by the legend. Alice Miller’s work has suggested that there may be two types of depression: that formed by a childhood of abuse, by trauma, and that formed by a spoiled childhood. The latter might well remember their own Cronus, their dominating father, as the lord of the golden wonderland of childhood, now lost. It is the sense that this was once present, and is now lost forever, that causes, in these cases, melancholy. The adult world is painfully disappointing by comparison.

Hesiod describes the Saturnine Golden Age in terms that sound much like nostalgic memories of a happy childhood:

“A golden race of mortal men ... lived in the time of Cronus when he was reigning in heaven. And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil: miserable age rested not on them … The fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint. They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things. ...” (Works and Days, transl. by Evelyn-White, l. 1100).

Notice something else here: the Golden Age was golden to men, not to gods. Even then, somewhere out of sight, the Olympian Gods were presumably being devoured.

This could illustrate the difference jealousy makes: Cronus, the self-absorbed, might delight in lavishing gifts on those he considered his pets, his belongings. But he might just as well be merciless to those he thought might rival him, who might end up his equals or betters. We have seen that depression, and so abuse, is a special problem of the exceptional, the brilliant, the beautiful: those who provoke jealousy. This could be another example.

Carl Jung once wrote that “sentimentality is the superstructure erected upon brutality.” Hitler was a vegetarian who loved dogs. It is entirely possible, and, Jung thinks, the usual case, for brutality and sentimental favouritism to coexist in the same heart. It is a form of symbolic aggression to treat your pet better than you treat people, because it it yours: it is, primarily, putting those other people in their place, and putting their place that much lower than yours.

In either case, however, Cronus is not a model for parenting: either abusing or pampering leads to similar suffering in the end.

And so Cronus may be properly described as Alchandrinus does: “They [the Saturn type] were thieves; they were loquacious; they were persons who said one thing with their mouth but thought another in their heart; they nourished resentment, they were sons of the devil, they were miserly on their own soil, rapacious abroad, and so on” (Klibansky, et al, p. 179).

Note the same matter of dishonest, manipulative speech that troubled Hamlet. Miserliness is one form of selfishness; as, of course, is rapaciousness.

Dante writes that Saturn is “stella damnabilis, furiosa, odiosa, superba, impia, crudelis, malivola, hebes, tarda, multis nociva, sterilis, nutrix paupertatis, conservans malum, vitans bonum, dura, senex et sine misericordia.” [star of condemnation, furious, odious, arrogant, heartless, cruel, malignant, slow, recalcitrant, very harmful, sterile, nurse of poverty, conserving the bad, avoiding the good, hard, old and without pity]. He is “strong and powerful in wickedness, always signifying evil and not good” (Saturn and Melancholy, p. 191). According to Berchorius, Cronus is a “personification of the sin of greed” (Klibansky, p. 177; Metamorphosis Ovidiana, 1515). Bernardus sees him as a “wicked old man, cruel and despicable, constantly watching over women in labour so as mercilessly to devour the new-born infant. ... Saturn is here the reaper, whose sharp sickle destroys all that is lovely and bears blossom: he lets no roses or lilies flower, and cannot bear fructification” (Klibansky, p. 185; E. Gilson, La cosmologie de Berchorius Sinvestris, Archive d‘histoire doctrinale et litteraire du monyen age, vol. III, Paris 1928, pp. 5–24).

The hero in battle will confront his enemy face on; Cronus characteristically uses cunning. Dissembling is apparently part of his nature. Robert Graves describes his deeds as “thieving attacks.” “He lurked to spy upon the pregnant mother” (Graves, pp. 14-5). This suggests Polonius the instinctive spy, hiding behind the drapes.

This, Klibansky et al suggest, is why Cronus conventionally carries a sickle. It is a weapon that attacks backwards. It conveys something of the same sense as “snake in the grass.” (Klibansky, op, cit, p. 177).

And so the harmful, selfish parent is a standard figure in world mythology; it seems to be, by this, one of mankind’s prime issues.

A Russian mother throws her child to the wolves.

Child sacrifice is, of course, only the pinnacle of the pyramid of child abuse: it is only its ritualized form. Virtually all pagan cultures practiced infanticide. Its abolition was one of the important ethical innovations of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Perhaps it was the most important. Infanticide is expressly prohibited in both the Didache, the earliest known Christian writing, and the Qur’an—among other things, this shows how common it was.

Infanticide in China.

Today, too, we have abortion: forty percent of children are currently aborted in the US.

That gives us some measure of how common it is for parents to put their own interests ahead of those of children.

But this in turn is only the icy tip of the berg. For every child that is rejected and destroyed at birth, how many others are kept and raised as something of use to the parent? As a pet or as a punching bag?

It is profoundly naive to accept the popular fiction that every child has loving parents.

And this indeed is a central issue of human existence.

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