Aion (deity)

Aion (Greek: Αἰών) is a Hellenistic deity associated with time, the orb or circle encompassing the universe, and the zodiac. The "time" represented by Aion is unbounded, in contrast to Chronos as empirical time divided into past, present, and future.[1] He is thus a god of the ages, associated with mystery religions concerned with the afterlife, such as the mysteries of Cybele, Dionysus, Orpheus, and Mithras. In Latin the concept of the deity may appear as Aevum or Saeculum.[2] He is typically in the company of an earth or mother goddess such as Tellus or Cybele, as on the Parabiago plate.[3]

Aion or Aeon
God of Time, Eternity and Zodiac
Member of the Primordial Gods
Aion mosaic Glyptothek Munich W504
Aion, god of the ages, in a celestial sphere decorated with zodiacal signs, between a green and a dismantled tree (summer and winter). Before him is the mother-earth Tellus (Roman Gaia) with four children, the four seasons personified
Roman equivalentAeternitas

Iconography and symbolism

Patera di Parabiago - MI - Museo archeologico - Zodiaco - 25-7-2003 - Foto Giovanni Dall'Orto - 25-7-2003
Detail from the Parabiago plate depicting Aion; Tellus (not shown) appears at the bottom of the plate, which centers on the chariot of Cybele

Aion is usually identified as the nude or seminude young man within a circle representing the zodiac, or eternal and cyclical time. Examples include two Roman mosaics from Sentinum (modern–day Sassoferrato) and Hippo Regius in Roman Africa, and the Parabiago plate. But because he represents time as a cycle, he may also be imagined as an old man. In the Dionysiaca, Nonnus associates Aion with the Horae and says that he:

changes the burden of old age like a snake who sloughs off the coils of the useless old scales, rejuvenescing while washing in the swells of the laws [of time].[4]

Drawing of the leontocephaline figure found at the mithraeum of C. Valerius Heracles and sons, dedicated 190 AD at Ostia Antica, Italy (CIMRM 312)

The imagery of the twining serpent is connected to the hoop or wheel through the ouroboros, a ring formed by a snake holding the tip of its tail in its mouth. The 4th-century AD Latin commentator Servius notes that the image of a snake biting its tail represents the cyclical nature of the year.[5] In his 5th-century work on hieroglyphics, Horapollo makes a further distinction between a serpent that hides its tail under the rest of its body, which represents Aion, and the ouroboros that represents the kosmos, which is the serpent devouring its tail.[6]


Martianus Capella (5th century AD) identified Aion with Cronus (Latin Saturnus), whose name caused him to be theologically conflated with Chronos ("Time"), in the way that the Greek ruler of the underworld Plouton (Pluto) was conflated with Ploutos (Plutus, "Wealth"). Martianus presents Cronus-Aion as the consort of Rhea (Latin Ops) as identified with Physis.[7]

In his highly speculative reconstruction of Mithraic cosmogony, Franz Cumont positioned Aion as Unlimited Time (sometimes represented as Saeculum, Cronus, or Saturn) as the god who emerged from primordial Chaos, and who in turn generated Heaven and Earth. This deity is represented as the leontocephaline, the winged lion-headed male figure whose nude torso is entwined by a serpent. He typically holds a sceptre, keys, or a thunderbolt.[8] The figure of Time "played a considerable, though to us completely obscure, role" in Mithraic theology.[9]

Aion is identified with Dionysus in Christian and Neoplatonic writers, but there are no references to Dionysus as Aion before the Christian era.[10] Euripides, however, calls Aion the son of Zeus.[11]

The Suda identifies Aion with Osiris. In Ptolemaic Alexandria, at the site of a dream oracle, the Hellenistic syncretic god Serapis was identified as Aion Plutonius.[12] The epithet Plutonius marks functional aspects shared with Pluto, consort of Persephone and ruler of the underworld in the Eleusinian tradition. Epiphanius says that at Alexandria Aion's birth from Kore the Virgin was celebrated January 6:[13] "On this day and at this hour the Virgin gave birth to Aion." The date, which coincides with Epiphany, brought new year's celebrations to a close, completing the cycle of time that Aion embodies.[14] The Alexandrian Aion may be a form of Osiris-Dionysus, reborn annually.[15] His image was marked with crosses on his hands, knees, and forehead.[16] Gilles Quispel conjectured that the figure resulted from integrating the Orphic Phanes, who like Aion is associated with a coiling serpent, into Mithraic religion at Alexandria, and that he "assures the eternity of the city."[17]

Roman Empire

This syncretic Aion became a symbol and guarantor of the perpetuity of Roman rule, and emperors such as Antoninus Pius issued coins with the legend Aion,[18] whose female Roman counterpart was Aeternitas.[19] Roman coins associate both Aion and Aeternitas with the phoenix as a symbol of rebirth and cyclical renewal.[20]

Aion was among the virtues and divine personifications that were part of late Hellenic discourse, in which they figure as "creative agents in grand cosmological schemes."[21] The significance of Aion lies in his malleability: he is a "fluid conception" through which various ideas about time and divinity converge in the Hellenistic era, in the context of monotheistic tendencies.[22]


  1. ^ Doro Levi, "Aion," Hesperia 13.4 (1944), p. 274.
  2. ^ Levi, "Aion," p. 274.
  3. ^ Levi, "Aion," p.
  4. ^ Nonnus, Dionysiaca 41.180ff., as cited by Levi, "Aion," p. 306.
  5. ^ Servius, note to Aeneid 5.85, says that "according to the Egyptians, before the invention of the alphabet the year was symbolized by a picture, a serpent biting its own tail, because it recurs on itself" (annus secundum Aegyptios indicabatur ante inventas litteras picto dracone caudam suam mordente, quia in se recurrit), as cited by Danuta Shanzer, A Philosophical and Literary Commentary on Martianus Capella's De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii Book 1 (University of California Press, 1986), p. 159.
  6. ^ Horapollo, Hieroglyphica 1.1 and 1.2 in the 1940 edition of Sbordone, as cited by Shanzer, A Philosophical and Literary Commentary on Martianus Capella, p. 154.
  7. ^ Schanzer, A Philosophical and Literary Commentary on Martianus Capella, p. 137.
  8. ^ Summarized by Jaime Alvar Ezquerra, Romanising Oriental Gods: Myth, Salvation, and Ethics in the Cults of Cybele (Brill, 2008), p. 78.
  9. ^ Ezquerra, Romanising Oriental Gods, p. 128.
  10. ^ Guthrie, W.K.C. (1979). A history of Greek philosophy: The earlier presocratics and the Pythagoreans. Cambridge University Press. p. 478. ISBN 978-0-521-29420-1.
  11. ^ Euripides, Heracleidae 899f.
  12. ^ Pseudo-Callisthenes, I.30–33, as cited by Jarl Fossum, "The Myth of the Eternal Rebirth: Critical Notes on G.W. Bowersock, Hellenism in Late Antiquity," Vigiliae Christianae 53.3 (1999), p. 309, note 15. On the oracle and for the passage in which Aion Plutonius is named, see Irad Malkin, Religion and Colonization in Ancient Greece (Brill, 1987), p. 107, especially note 87.
  13. ^ Fossum, "The Myth of the Eternal Rebirth," pp. 306–307.
  14. ^ Gilles Quispel, "Hermann Hesse and Gnosis," in Gnostica, Judaica, Catholica: Collected Essays (Brill, 2008), p. 258; Gary Forsythe, Time in Roman Religion: One Thousand Years of Religious History (Routledge, 2012), p. 122.
  15. ^ Fossum, "The Myth of the Eternal Rebirth," p. 309.
  16. ^ Fossum, "The Myth of the Eternal Rebirth," pp. 306–307, 311.
  17. ^ Quispel, "Hermann Hesse and Gnosis," p. 258.
  18. ^ Fossum, "The Myth of the Eternal Rebirth," p. 314.
  19. ^ Ittai Gradel, Emperor Worship and Roman Religion (Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 310–311.
  20. ^ Levi, "Aion," pp. 307–308.
  21. ^ J. Rufus Fears, "The Cult of Virtues and Roman Imperial Ideology," Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.17.2 (1981), p. 939.
  22. ^ Levi, "Aion," pp. 307–308 et passim.

Further reading

  • Kákosy, László (1964). "Osiris-Aion". Oriens Antiquus 3.
  • Nock, Arthur Darby (Jan 1934). "A Vision of Mandulis Aion". The Harvard Theological Review 27 (1).
  • Zuntz, Günther (1989). Aion, Gott des Römerreichs (in German). Carl Winter Universitatsverlag. ISBN 3533041700.
  • Zuntz, Günther (1992). AIΩN in der Literatur der Kaiserzeit (in German). Verlag der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. ISBN 3700119666.

External links


The word aeon , also spelled eon (in American English) and æon, originally meant "life", "vital force" or "being", "generation" or "a period of time", though it tended to be translated as "age" in the sense of "ages", "forever", "timeless" or "for eternity". It is a Latin transliteration from the koine Greek word ὁ αἰών (ho aion), from the archaic αἰϝών (aiwon). In Homer it typically refers to life or lifespan. Its latest meaning is more or less similar to the Sanskrit word kalpa and Hebrew word olam. A cognate Latin word aevum or aeuum (cf. αἰϝών) for "age" is present in words such as longevity and mediaeval.Although the term aeon may be used in reference to a period of a billion years (especially in geology, cosmology or astronomy), its more common usage is for any long, indefinite, period. Aeon can also refer to the four aeons on the Geologic Time Scale that make up the Earth's history, the Hadean, Archean, Proterozoic, and the current aeon Phanerozoic.

Aeon (Gnosticism)

In many Gnostic systems, various emanations of "God" are known by such names as One, Monad, Aion teleos (αἰών τέλεος "The Broadest Aeon"), Bythos ("depth or profundity", βυθός), Proarkhe ("before the beginning", προαρχή), Arkhe ("the beginning", ἀρχή), and Aeons. In different systems these emanations are differently named, classified, and described, but emanation theory is common to all forms of Gnosticism. In Basilidian Gnosis they are called sonships (υἱότητες huiotetes; sing.: υἱότης huiotes); according to Marcus, they are numbers and sounds; in Valentinianism they form male/female pairs called syzygies (Greek συζυγίαι, from σύζυγοι syzygoi, lit. "yokings together").

This source of all being is an Aeon, in which an inner being dwells, known as Ennoea ("thought, intent", Greek ἔννοια), Charis ("grace", Greek χάρις), or Sige ("silence", Greek σιγή). The split perfect being conceives the second Aeon, Nous ("mind", Greek Νους), within itself. Complex hierarchies of Aeons are thus produced, sometimes to the number of thirty. These Aeons belong to a purely ideal, noumenal, intelligible, or supersensible world; they are immaterial, they are hypostatic ideas. Together with the source from which they emanate, they form Pleroma ("region of light", Greek πλήρωμα). The lowest regions of Pleroma are closest to darkness—that is, the physical world.

The transition from immaterial to material, from noumenal to sensible, is created by a flaw, passion, or sin in an Aeon. According to Basilides, it is a flaw in the last sonship; according to others the sin of the Great Archon, or Aeon-Creator, of the Universe; according to others it is the passion of the female Aeon Sophia, who emanates without her partner Aeon, resulting in the Demiurge (Greek Δημιουργός), a creature that should never have been. This creature does not belong to Pleroma, and the One emanates two savior Aeons, Christ and the Holy Spirit, to save humanity from the Demiurge. Christ then took a human form (Jesus), to teach humanity how to achieve Gnosis. The ultimate end of all Gnosis is μετάνοια metanoia, or repentance—undoing the sin of material existence and returning to Pleroma.

Aeons bear a number of similarities to Judaeo-Christian angels, including roles as servants and emanations of God, and existing as beings of light. In fact, certain Gnostic Angels, such as Armozel, are also Aeons. The Gnostic Gospel of Judas, recently found, purchased, held, and translated by the National Geographic Society, also mentions Aeons and speaks of Jesus' teachings about them.


Aion may refer to:


Greek αἰών "time, eternity; age"; see Aeon

Aion (deity), "Aeon" personified in Hellenistic religion

Aeon (Gnosticism), one of the Gnostic terms for "emanations of God"

Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, a book by Carl JungMusicAion (Japanese band), a Japanese metal band

Aion (Aion album), their 1992 album

Aion (Polish band), a Polish gothic metal band

Aion (CMX album), a 2003 album

Aion (Dead Can Dance album), a 1990 album by Dead Can DancePopular cultureAion (Chrono Crusade), the main villain of the anime series

Aion (manga), a manga by Yuna Kagesaki

Aion (video game), a Korean multiplayer online game by NCsoftAION

Anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (AION), a medical condition involving loss of vision

AION Linguistica, a linguistic journal

Cleverpath AION Business Rules Expert, a programming language, originally AION

Interpretatio graeca

Interpretatio graeca (Latin, "Greek translation" or "interpretation by means of Greek [models]") is a discourse in which ancient Greek religious concepts and practices, deities, and myths are used to interpret or attempt to understand the mythology and religion of other cultures. It is thus a comparative methodology that looks for equivalencies and shared characteristics. The phrase may describe Greek efforts to explain others' beliefs and myths, as when Herodotus describes Egyptian religion in terms of perceived Greek analogues, or when Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Plutarch document Roman cults, temples, and practices under the names of equivalent Greek deities. Interpretatio graeca may also describe non-Greeks' interpretation of their own belief systems by comparison or assimilation with Greek models, as when Romans adapt Greek myths and iconography under the names of their own gods.

Interpretatio romana is comparative discourse in reference to ancient Roman religion and myth, as in the formation of a distinctive Gallo-Roman religion. Both the Romans and the Gauls reinterpreted Gallic religious traditions in relation to Roman models, particularly Imperial cult.

Jan Assmann considers the polytheistic approach to internationalizing gods as a form of "intercultural translation":

The great achievement of polytheism is the articulation of a common semantic universe. ... The meaning of a deity is his or her specific character as it unfolded in myths, hymns, rites, and so on. This character makes a deity comparable to other deities with similar traits. The similarity of gods makes their names mutually translatable. … The practice of translating the names of the gods created a concept of similarity and produced the idea or conviction that the gods are international.

Pliny the Elder expressed the "translatability" of deities as "different names to different peoples" (nomina alia aliis gentibus). This capacity made possible the religious syncretism of the Hellenistic era and the pre-Christian Roman Empire.

Jaime Alvar Ezquerra

Jaime Alvar Ezquerra (born April 20, 1955) is a Spanish historian, author and professor at the Charles III University of Madrid, specializing in ancient history.

He was born in Granada, studied Geography and History at the Complutense University of Madrid, and later continued his studies at the University of Cologne (1980-1981). He taught at the Complutense University between 1977 and 1996, the year in which he became professor in Huelva. He was a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge in 1999-2000. He has been a professor at the Charles III University of Madrid since 2000. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Tor Vergata (Rome, Italy), Franche-Comté (France) and Potsdam (Germany). He is the older brother of Alfredo Alvar Ezquerra of the Spanish National Research Council and the younger brother of Carlos Alvar Ezquerra, Romanic philologist. Their father was Manuel Alvar Ezquerra, prominent Spanish philologist.

Zurvan (disambiguation)

Zurvan is the primordial creator deity in Zurvanism, a now-extinct branch of the Zoroastrianism religion.

Zurvan may also refer to:

Time in Avestan Middle Persian

Zurvan (زروان), a village in Larestan County, Fars, Iran.In popular culture:

Zarvan (زَروان), the personification of time in Shahnameh

Zurvan, an alien intelligence in the Palladium Books RPG games that sometimes creates gods as an experiment

Zurvan, the primary antagonist of Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones

Zur-van, a superhero in Grant Morrison's The Filth (comics)

Zurvan, the name of one of the Four Gods of Runepunk in Savage Worlds

Zurvan, a minor antagonist in StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Zurvan, the name of one of the Amp Stations in Planetside 2

Ancient Greek deities by affiliation
Other deities

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.