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Kairos (καιρός) is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment. The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time in between, a moment of undetermined period of time in which something special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative nature.
In Existential psychologyEdit
In existential psychology kairos is a critical moment of decision, a personal turning point in which ones values are clarified or transformed and in which personality development can occur, as in the resolution of an existential crisis or a moment of personal insight in existential therapy
Kairos was central to the Sophists, who stressed the rhetor's ability to adapt to and take advantage of changing, contingent circumstances. In Panathenaicus, Isocrates writes that educated people are those “who manage well the circumstances which they encounter day by day, and who possess a judgment which is accurate in meeting occasions as they arise and rarely misses the expedient course of action”.
Kairos is also very important in Aristotle's scheme of rhetoric. Kairos is, for Aristotle, the time and space context in which the proof will be delivered. Kairos stands alongside other contextual elements of rhetoric: The Audience, which is the psychological and emotional makeup of those who will receive the proof; and To Prepon, which is the style with which the orator clothes their proof.
Καιρος - kairos (pronounced keros) means weather in both ancient and modern Greek. In plural it is καιροι -kairoi (keri) and it means "the times".
According to ancient Greeks, Kairos was the god of the “fleeting moment,” “a favorable opportunity opposing the fate of man.” Such a moment must be grasped (by the tuft of hair on the personified forehead of the fleeting opportunity); otherwise the moment is gone and can not be re-captured (personified by the back of head being bald).
A bronze statue of Kairos is known in literature, made by the famous Greek sculptor Lysippos. It stood at his home, in the Agora of Hellenistic Sikyon. The following epigram by Poseidippos was carved on the statue:
"Who and whence was the sculptor? From Sikyon.
And his name? Lysippos.
And who are you? Time who subdues all things.
Why do you stand on tip-toe? I am ever running.
And why you have a pair of wings on your feet? I fly with the wind.
And why do you hold a razor in your right hand? As a sign to men that I am sharper than any sharp edge.
And why does your hair hang over your face? For him who meets me to take me by the forelock. And why, in Heaven's name, is the back of your head bald? Because none whom I have once raced by on my winged feet will now, though he wishes it sore, take hold of me from behind.
Why did the artist fashion you? For your sake, stranger, and he set me up in the porch as a lesson."
This statue was the original model for the various representations of Kairos made in ancient times and Middle Ages as well. John Tzetzes wrote about it, as well as Himerius. The image of hair hanging on the forehead and a bald nucha was associated in Roman times to the goddess Fortuna, the personification of good and bad luck. Several authors referred to this. For instance Disticha Catonis II, 26 refer to the Latin concept of Occasio (a female word which can be considered as a literal translation of the Greek Kairos; see also Caerus) in these terms: "Rem tibi quam scieris aptam dimittere noli: fronte capillata, post haec occasio calva", which means "Don't let that what you consider good for you escapes by; chance has hair over her forehead, but behind she's bald". Phaedrus (V,8) has a similar writing and he himself admits that the theme was not his own but more ancient. Callistratus (Descriptions, 6) has a long text describing the statue by Lysippos.
In Trogir (the ancient Roman Tragurium), Croatia, in the Convent of the Benedictine Nuns, was displayed a marble bas-relief of Kairos from the 3rd century B.C., as a young man, running. The bas-relief is now kept at the Municipal Museum of Trogir.
The theme of Kairos was felt as extremely important during the Middle Ages. Carmina Burana 16, a famous poem about Fortune, mentions Kairos in this way: "verum est quod legitur, fronte capillata, sed plerumque sequitur occasio calvata"; which means "it is true what is read, that Occasio has the forehead with hair, but that almost always she passes being bald". Several representations of Kairos survive; a relief (about 160 C.E.) is kept at the Museum of Antiquities of Turin (Italy); another relief was kept (now lost) at Palazzo Medici in Florence; an onyx gem (originally from the collection of the Duc de Blacas, I-II century C.E.) with an incision of the god Tempus (see Caerus) with attributes of Kairos is kept now at the British Museum; a marble relief showing Kairos, Bios (the Life), and Metanoia (Afterthought, the female Latin Paenitentia) is in the cathedral of Torcello (XI century C.E.); a monochrome fresco by Mantegna at Palazzo Ducale in Mantua (about 1510 C.E.) shows a female Kairos (most probably Occasio) with a young man trying to catch her and a woman representing Paenitentia.
A concept similar to Kairos is that behind the famous motto "Carpe Diem" and a sort of recurrence in the idea of Kairos is linked with the theme of The Wheel of Fortune which continuously rotates; in fact the Greek words used by Poseidippos to describe the Kairos (in the verse "I am ever running") are "aeì trochào" which literally mean "I always rotate", and the verb itself is the same used by the poet and astronomer Aratus (Phaenomena, 227, 309) to pinpoint the eternal motion of the celestial spheres. It is not by chance that in Carmina Burana 17 the Fortune is associated to an ever-rotating wheel (Tibullus himself described the Fortune with a wheel: "Versatur celeri Fors levis orbe rotae", (I, 5, 70).
- R. B. Onians, The Origins of European Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951), pp 343-49
- E. C. White Kaironomia: on the will to invent (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1987)
- Leonard Sweet Missed Moments (Rev. Magazine Jan/Feb 2005), pp. 36
- Paolo Moreno, L'attimo fuggente in Archeo magazine (XXII, 10, 260), October 2006, pp 114-117.
- Mick Doherty "Kairos: Layers of Meaning" (Dept of English, Texas Tech University)
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