The figure of Kronos is crucial in the ancient sacred games and does not arise suddenly in the Greek world. Ancient Akkadian ideographic writing sheds light on a symbolic aspect we have taken for granted for too long and explains the connections between symbols, writing systems, and physical realities. Can we call it the story of the asterisk symbol?
So, we have to go back to very ancient times. In the Paleo-Babylonian era, and still among the Akkadians, the terrestrial world was considered the projection of the sky. Indeed, all large cities had an archaic counterpart in a celestial star or constellation.
On earth, the four cardinal points were placed towards the four extremes of a map which placed north in the region of Subartu, south in that of Akkad, east in Elam, and west in Amurru. To each of these points on the earth corresponded a planet, such as, for example, Nibiru (= Jupiter) in Akkad, Mars in Amurru, and so on, or a star, a constellation such as the Plèiades, Orion, Orsa, Bootes, Libra, or stars like Sirius, Pegasus, Regulus. This chart of the sky would appear to precede the one that will then be structured on the zodiacal band and, therefore, on the relative positions of the sun. The solar orientation to which we are accustomed today was, therefore, after the stellar orientation. Already Hesiod, in the Erga, mentions a stellar calendar used by the peasants of archaic Hellas, marked by the appearance of Sirius, Arcturus, Orion, and the Pleiades, all points of reference relative to a celestial map in which the locations of the stars appear decisive fixed.
Diodorus Siculus (I, 30, 3) reports some Chaldean doctrines relating to the planets’ “interpreters” of the divine will with their movements. He says, “the star which the Greeks call Kronos, they [the Chaldeans] call the star of the Sun because it is the most prominent and gives the most important and numerous predictions.” The identification of the planet Kronos/Saturnus with the “star of the Sun” is also present in the Platonic Epinomis, where (ivi, 987 c) we are told that the slowest planet “has the name, precisely, Helios, so it is also called paívov, “the brilliant star”. This astronomical doctrine which gives Saturn the same attributes as the Sun, the “conductor” of the stars, bears the stamp of an epoch in which the series of seven wandering stars had not yet been established and in which the five remaining planets to the two luminaries.
The whole mythology concerning Saturn/Kronos makes him the god of agriculture par excellence, the ruler of an agricultural world in which the seasonal rhythms linked to the celestial cycles and the apparitions of certain stars determine the different phases of the life of the fields, the plowing, sowing, planting, harvesting. The regular appearance of fixed stars marks these moments of human life. For example, the rising of the Plèiades seems to have played a fundamental role in Hesiod’s determination of an archaic beginning of the year in summer. At the same time, the appearance of the star Sirius marks the conclusion of this annual cycle divided into two seasons.
The Babylonians observe the celestial bodies and their movements not on a level of mere speculative research, but on a sacred level, of research and rediscovery of archetypes that hide behind the regular and orderly unfolding of the celestial rhythms. The cosmos then becomes alive and is conceived, as the Greeks would later say, as “the body of Zeus”, according to the Orphic terminology. For the Greeks of Hesiod’s time, the cosmos is a kind of liber naturalis that suggests which activities to undertake in correspondence with well-defined celestial cycles, teaches which attitude to adopt towards the gods, obliges one to perform rituals that open or close each sacred year.
According to C. Bezold, the same cuneiform writing derives from a series of signs that indicate the stars, according to an adaptation process from an original linear. Ideographic writing depicting the celestial signs, such as example, ✱ for “god”, has gradually led to a process of abstraction, which gave it the derivative meaning of “star” or “constellation”. In other words, one gets the impression that from an archaic system of transcription of the meaning of the stars and of cosmic life, the signs used for measuring the celestial cycles and for the notation of time were derived. This process perhaps became the basis of a sacred root system that embodied a cosmic symbolism rhythmic on the movement of the firmament. The stars, sun, moon, planets, solstices, equinoxes, cardinal points, etc., constituted the archetype of a calendrical system based on a theophanic experience of cosmic life. Theophany, as we have already seen, involves “making deities” (of course, it remains to understand what divinity means).
It also appears clear the symbolism at the base of the lunar nodes – where the two points of intersection between the lunar orbit and the ecliptic are designated as “Head” and “Tail of the Dragon”, and whose elevations coincide more or less with the two equinoctial points – is the derivation of an archaic calendar.
It is well known that the time which elapses between the two equinoxes, from the vernal to the autumnal one, is precisely that which corresponds to the diurnal side of the year to the “day of the gods”, while the passage of the sun in the southern hemisphere, from autumnal to vernal equinox, designates the “night of the gods”, the dark side of the year.
To this celestial symbolism, Homer adds a necessary notation: describing the shield of Achilles ( XVII, 482-486), he places the sun in a point where it “does not set”, between the Hyades and the Plèiades, the Chariot of the Bear and the Pole, “among the stars the only one that does not immerse itself in the ocean”. The celestial chart presented here seems to develop around the Pole and many polar constellations. The planets remain absent, and all the subsequent calendrical notation systems centered on the moon and its phases.
A cosmic dial oriented on the north pole indicates that the notation system included the four directions of space regulated on the solstice and equinoctial points, placed on the extremes of a horizontal cross for the celestial equator.
If we then consider this equatorial plane cut by a vertical axis that joins the north-south poles, we will obtain another cross which, together with the first, will form a three-dimensional cross whose geometric projection is, i.e., the very symbol of the structure of the cosmic dial.
Which, not by chance, is identical to the Paleo-Babylonian sign to indicate the word “god”:
From: Nuccio D’Anna, Il Gioco Cosmico, Ed. Mediterranee, 2006.