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What Was the Relationship Between Cronus and Rhea?

Cronus and Rhea were the parents of the gods, but how did they relate to each other? Keep reading to find out!

The Titan gods Cronus and Rhea were the parents of Zeus and his five siblings. As the king of the Titans, however, Cronus was determined that none of his children would ever come to power.

Although they were married, Cronus and Rhea represented opposing interests in the story of the birth of the gods. While Cronus acted selfishly to keep power for himself, Rhea saved one of her children so he could grow to save the others.

Because of his wife’s actions, Cronus eventually lost power and was imprisoned in Tartarus. The Titan’s hold on power was destroyed.

Cronus and Rhea were in opposition in their most well-known story, but historians believe that a more symbolic clash of powers may have been represented in their marriage.

The Marriage of Cronus and Rhea

According to Greek sources, Cronus and Rhea were the parents of the Olympian gods.

They were also brother and sister. As Titans, they were both children of Gaia and Uranus, the primordial deities of the earth and the heavens.

Although they had several children together, the relationship between Cronus and Rhea is usually not depicted as a happy one.

Like their parents, Cronus and Rhea appear to have had little affection for one another. In fact, both Rhea and Gaia were instrumental in seeing their husbands toppled from the throne.

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Cronus was usually portrayed as a tyrannical ruler who cared more for his own power than anything else. When he took power, he was told that one of his children would someday depose him just as he had his own father.

He and Rhea still had six children, but Cronus attempted to ensure that none would ever be able to challenge him. When each baby was born, he had Rhea deliver it to him and he swallowed it whole.

Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Poseidon, and Hades were all swallowed by their father so that he could keep power forever.

According to the legends, Rhea was distraught at the loss of her children. Unable to stop her husband on her own, she turned to Gaia for advice when she was pregnant with her sixth child.

The earth goddess had similarly seen her children imprisoned by their father. The Hecatoncheires and Cyclopes were locked in Tartarus because Uranus believed they were monsters.

Gaia also had her own quarrel with Cronus. Although her son had promised to free his siblings after taking power, Gaia’s children remained locked away.

So Gaia advised her daughter to trick her husband. When Rhea went into labor, Gaia hid her in a mountain so Cronus would be unaware of the child’s location.

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Guards were set to keep the baby, Zeus, safe. They banged on their shields to cover the sound of his cries.

Gaia also gave Rhea a stone that she wrapped in blankets and presented to Cronus. He swallowed it without taking a closer look, believing it to be his newborn son.

Raised in secret, Zeus fulfilled the prophecy by returning to challenge his father. Freeing his siblings, he won a ten-year long war against the Titans and imprisoned them in Tartarus.

While Cronus was imprisoned, Rhea remained a well-loved maternal figure. As the mother of six of the Olympians, and the grandmother of many more, she was revered as the mother of the gods.

Rhea was present at many events in mythology, including the birth of Apollo and Artemis, the return of Demeter following Persephone’s abduction, and many of the gods’ feasts. She was typically depicted as a loving, nurturing mother goddess who continued to show care for her children.

My Modern Interpretation

The strained relationship between Cronus and Rhea is evident in more than just the narrative of Zeus’s birth. A linguistic interpretation of their symbolic roles paints them as opposing forces.

Surviving Greek legends give few details about the lives, powers, and domains of the Titans. While Rhea and Cronus are written about more than most other Titans, their story is largely concerned with how their children came to power.

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To decipher what the domains of the Titans as gods were, historians have looked at context clues from the few written sources available. One of the most helpful tools in interpreting the Titans is linguistics.

Most of the Titans have names that are easily translated into archaic Greek. When their domains are not specified in the stories, these translations can give insight into what their roles were.

Cronus’s name is closely related to the word chronos, or “time.” While some modern linguists have questioned whether this translation is accurate, the link between the Titan king and the idea of time was made by many Greek writers and philosophers.

Cronus was more specifically viewed as a destructive force. Greek sources often mention his temperamental, unkind nature.

Based on this, historians generally see Cronus as specifically representing the way in which things are worn down or destroyed over time. His was a power of erosion, weathering, and loss.

Rhea’s name, on the other hand, is traditionally linked to words for both “earth” and “flow.” As an embodiment of flowing powers, she was specifically linked to the flowing of menstrual blood, birth waters, and milk as part of her role as a mother.

Together, the two represented the flow of time. Like most Titan couples, their domains complimented one another.

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They were also in opposition, however. While Cronus’s nature was destructive, Rhea’s was nurturing.

One modern interpretation of their relationship related to the flow of bloodlines through family generations. Their names and powers literally represented their roles in the succession of the gods.

Cronus attempted to destroy the lineage by swallowing his own children. Rhea, however, ensured the continuing flow of the generations by hiding Zeus so he could grow to adulthood.

The domains of Cronus and Rhea, as shown by their names, fit their actions in the Greek legend of the gods’ succession. While Cronus attempted to stop the natural progression of events, Rhea made sure that the flow of time continued.

In Summary

Cronus and Rhea, both of whom were children of Gaia and Uranus, were the king and queen of the Titan gods. Their relationship as both siblings and a married couple, however, did not mean that they were allies.

Rhea and Cronus came into conflict with one another when he began to swallow his children rather than allow any of them to grow strong enough to challenge him. After losing five children this way, Rhea was distraught when she became pregnant with her sixth baby.

With the help of Gaia, Rhea hid her son from his father and tricked Cronus into swallowing a stone instead. Zeus grew into adulthood and eventually freed his siblings and ended their father’s tyrannical reign.

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Rhea’s actions ensured that power passed on to the next generation and the family line continued. Linguistic interpretations of Cronus and Rhea support the idea that this was one of her main symbolic functions.

Connected to the idea of time, Cronus represented a force of destruction. Rhea, however, was associated with the flow of live-giving liquids.

As a destructive force, Cronus attempted to end his own family line. His wife went behind his back to ensure the continued flow of time through the continuation of the bloodline and the succession of later generations.

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Mike Greenberg, PhD

My name is Mike and for as long as I can remember (too long!) I have been in love with all things related to Mythology. I am the owner and chief researcher at this site. My work has also been published on Buzzfeed and most recently in Time magazine. Please like and share this article if you found it useful.

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