“Running swiftly, balancing on the razor’s edge, bald but with a lock of hair on his forehead, He wears no clothes; if you grasp him from the front, you might be able to hold him, but once He has moved on not even Zeus Himself can pull him back: this is a symbol of Kairós, the brief moment in which things are possible.”
10) Know opportunity (Καιρον γνωθι)
“Kairós” is a very important and interesting word, that has a plurality of meanings. First, it means “the right measure, what is convenient, what is suitable and right”, as in the expression “kairós charitos”, right measure in honoring. It has also a strong temporal value, and as such, it means often “the right/appropriate moment, the good occasion, the propitious moment”. Thus the expression “kairòn echei” is “it is the propitious time/moment”, “kairoŷ tycheîn” means “meet the favorable occasion, to succeed at the right time”. In a extensive way, it means generally the occasion, the circumstance, as in “ho paròn kairós”, present time or present occasion- “hoi kairoí” are the present circumstances. It has a positive character, because it can indicate all that is useful, helpful and convenient. The two Hellenic words to indicate time are chronos and kairós: the first has a quantitative nature, while the second has a qualitative nature and is employed when something special happens. Kairós is indeed a God, the youngest child of Zeus, and He brings about what is convenient, appropriate, and comes in the right moment. He is represented as a young and beautiful God; there was a bronze statue of Him in Sikyon on which a epigram was carved:
“Who and whence was the sculptor? From Sikyon.
And his name? Lysippo.
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.”
About this statue, here follows the description of Callistratus, Descriptions 6:
“Kairos was represented in a statue of bronze, in which art vied with nature. Kairos was a youth, from head to foot resplendent with the bloom of youth. He was beautiful to look upon as he waved his downy beard and left his hair unconfined for the south wind to toss wherever it would; and he had a blooming complexion, showing by its brilliancy the bloom of his body. He closely resembled Dionysos; for his forehead glistened with graces and his cheeks, reddening to youthful bloom, were radiantly beautiful, conveying to the beholder’s eye a delicate blush. And he stood poised on the tips of his toes on a sphere, and his feet were winged. His hair did not grow in the customary way, but its locks, creeping down over the eyebrows, let the curl fall upon his cheeks, while the back of the head of Kairos was without tresses, showing only the first indications of sprouting hair.
We stood speechless at the sight when we saw the bronze accomplishing the deeds of nature and departing from its own proper province. For though it was bronze it blushed; and though it was hard by nature, it melted into softness, yielding to all the purposes of art; and though it was void of living sensation, it inspired the belief that it had sensation dwelling within it; and it really was stationary, resting its foot firmly on the ground, but though it was standing, it nevertheless gave evidence of possessing the power of rapid motion; and it deceived your eyes into thinking that it not only was capable of advancing forward, but that it had received from the artist even the power to cleave with its winged, if it so wished, the aerial domain.
Such was the marvel, as it seemed to us; but a man who was skilled in the arts and who, with a deeper perception of art, knew how to track down the marvels of craftsmen, applied reasoning to the artist’s creation, explaining the significance of Kairos as faithfully portrayed in the statue: the wings on his feet, he told us, suggested his swiftness, and that, borne by the seasons, he goes rolling on through all eternity; and as to his youthful beauty, that beauty is always opportune and that Kairos is the only artificer of beauty, whereas that of which the beauty has withered has no part in the nature of Kairos; he also explained that the lock of hair on his forehead indicated that while he is easy to catch as he approaches, yet, when he has passed by, the moment of action has likewise expired, and that, if opportunity is neglected, it cannot be recovered.”