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I just read a blog post that talks about the Roman feast of Saturnalia:

During the time of the Republic, gambling was prohibited except during the festival of the Saturnalia which was held in December of each year. The Saturnalia was a celebration in honor of the Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and, according to Roman myth, there existed a time when Saturn reigned over the earth and provided a bounty for mankind, who lived in a state of innocence. The festival was an attempt to relive that time by turning convention on its head.

(Mike Anderson, Gambling in Ancient Rome)

I'm confused by this, because the Greeks portrayed Saturn as an evil character who presumably shouldn't be worshiped (Cronos ate children, and was killed by Zeus). Could someone please give me some information about how and why the portrayal of Cronos changed from Greek to Roman mythology, specifically focusing on why the Romans began to worship a god who had previously been ignored by the Greeks?

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    Why does anyone worship anyone? Why narrow the question to Romans? – Chenmunka Oct 14 '15 at 14:55
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    It's, perhaps, not a good idea to read too much into the equivalence of Saturn to Cronus. They occupy the same genealogical space, I'm not sure how much further it's safe to take the parallel. The Roman tendency to interpret every god in every religion as a parallel of one of their own doesn't mean you should necessarily take their equivalence at face value. – femtoRgon Oct 14 '15 at 15:43
  • @Chenmunka I may have gone too far with my edit, but I read the question as being confused about the different portrayals of Saturn in greek and roman mythology, and asking why that was the case. I think we should leave this question open, because the question the OP is trying to ask is (in my mind) a genuine and legitimate question, even if the underlying premises are incorrect (see femtoRgon's comment). Besides, people have expressed disagreement with how often we close things, and I think this is a case where we should edit not close. – user62 Oct 14 '15 at 17:44
  • @femtoRgon Not only the Romans, but most Mediterranean and Near Eastern peoples found equivalences in their people. The parallels are actually there (as will be shown when I finish the post). – C. M. Weimer Oct 14 '15 at 20:41
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This is a more fascinating question than many might think at first glance.

Kronos is the Greek god and probably comes from Proto-Indo-European * gern- which meant germ or seed and yields the modern English words germ, grain, corn and kernel. This is likely because Kronos 'begat' the Olympian generation, and therefore was the 'seed'.

Saying the Greeks viewed Kronos as evil is something of a simplification, and it's important to recognize it as such because the difference in Greek and Roman religious worldviews goes to the heart of your question. For the Greeks, the gods showed supernatural virtue and supernatural vice. As can be deduced from his name, Kronos was originally an agricultural deity and the connection of seeds to planting and harvesting crops led to an association with seasons. Kronos wasn't necessarily evil, it rather might be more diplomatic to say that because he feared one of his children would overthrow him (a well-founded fear, it turns out) he was doing 'what he had to do' by eating them.

Saturn's etymology is a bit trickier, but is probably PIE * sewH(r)- which would have meant 'seed, bring forth' and is cognate with modern English seed, son, semen, serum, sow (meaning what you do with seeds in a field). This means Saturn for the oldest of the Romans had an agricultural character (like Kronos for the Greeks) and it is apparent the two entities come from a single concept in an earlier PIE society.

The big difference is for the Romans the gods were paragons of virtue or vice. They were individuals much more to be beheld from afar with a sense of fear or awe; the Greek gods were extraordinarily relatable by comparison. The Roman association of agrarian wealth with Saturn was therefore the chief issue for people, while the conflict between himself and Jupiter was a matter amongst the gods. The Greeks didn't view the behavior of Kronos and Zeus quite so distantly but rather as a plausible human circumstance, and therefore may have been more reluctant to worship not only someone who ate his children, but who lost the war that came after. All fathers worry that their sons will outgrow and eventually overpower them, and the Titanomachy is a mythical reflection of this universal human process.

  • Add to that that Kronos also was worshiped, albeit in a limited manner, and had his own festival. – C. M. Weimer Oct 17 '15 at 15:44
  • Welcome to the site! I just want to say that this is a great answer, and we hope that you stick around. – user62 Oct 17 '15 at 17:38
  • @C.M.Weimer: decent link there. Does this mean that the Greeks considered the first of spring to be the beginning of the new year? It would make some sort of sense to me, but I don't really know much of anything about classical Greek time reckoning. – Travis Smith of Bexar Oct 17 '15 at 18:52
  • @Hamlet: Thanks for the welcome, I got kinda lucky with this as the first question I answered in the mythology section. I hope I can be a tenth as informative as the folks who have set down roots here already. – Travis Smith of Bexar Oct 17 '15 at 18:57
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    Spring/early summer, yes! Ours used to be that way, too, or rather, the ancient Roman calendar, on which ours is based. At some point January became the first of the year for military-political reasons, but it used to be March. That's why September, October, November, and December are misnomers: septem, octo, novem, and decem mean seven, eight, nine, and ten in Latin. – C. M. Weimer Oct 18 '15 at 0:39
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Saturn was a native Italian god; Kronos was a Greek god. Their early 'biographies' (i.e, mythologies and cult practices) developed quite independently of each in the earliest periods. It was only when elite Romans became enamored of all things Greek that they tried to establish identifications between the two pantheons. But from a cultic standpoint, Saturn was more important to Italians than Kronos ever was to Greeks.

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