The Chronophage: Time Eater in Cambridge, England

I always had a nagging suspicion that there was some little goblin out there somewhere who was eating up all my time. Whenever I would think I had plenty of time to do something, the time would just disappear.

As it turns out, my suspicions were correct – and I found the little time-eating critter in Cambridge, England. 

The Chronophage

If you would like to see what this little pest looks like, you can find him at the corner of Bene’t Street and Trumpington Street. He’s perched atop an amazing piece of art that also functions as a clock. It’s known as the Corpus Clock because it’s on the Corpus Christi College building. You can get a good look at the little monster, because unlike most clocks, this one is at street level. 

This scary-looking creature is called a Chronophage and looks a lot like an evil, mechanical grasshopper. The word Chronophage comes from two Ancient Greek words “chronos” and “phage” and means “time eater.” And this minute-munching monster lives up to his name. With every minute that passes, his jaw snaps and he gulps it down, never to be seen again.

The Artist/Clockmaker

The time eater is the brainchild of Dr. John C. Taylor, a former student at Corpus Christi College. Dr. Taylor is an inventor who is best known for the cordless kettle, but he’s passionate about clocks.

I think the invention which changed mankind most of all is the clock. The wheel is the servant of mankind, but clocks control us.”

Dr. John C. Taylor
By looking at the blue lights, we can see that it’s 2:17 and 7 seconds (I think).

The Clock

Dr. Taylor wanted to represent time in a different way, and this clock is unlike any other. The round, gold plated clock face is about 4 ft across and seems to ripple out from the center. These ripples represent the Big Bang Theory which could be considered the beginning of time. 

You won’t find any hour or minute hands pointing out the time on this clock. It has three rings of blue LED lights, the inner ones are hours, the middle ones, minutes, and the outer ones, seconds. Small slits open and close to reveal the lights at the appropriate time. And the whole clock swings like a pendulum.

This clock has another attribute that’s odd for a timepiece: It’s designed to be accurate only once every 5 minutes. This echoes our perception of time. Now and then, time seems to pass slowly. At other times it seems to go fast. But it always catches up to the correct time. It’s a lovely allegory of our movement through life.

I like the way the buildings across the street have a ghostly reflection in the glass. It adds to the idea of time passing.

Inscription

If all the symbolism of disappearing time wasn’t enough, Dr. Taylor has put a Latin inscription at the base of the clock: mundus transit et concupiscentia eius, which means “the world and its desires pass away,” a quote from the Bible -1 John 2:17 

The magnificent Corpus Chronophage clock was unveiled in 2008 by Stephen Hawking, renowned physicist and author of A Brief History of Time. Since then Dr. Taylor has created two more Chronophage, each with a different minute muncher on the top: The Midsummer Chronophage features a huge fly-like creature, and the Dragon Chronophage, as the name suggests, is topped by a dragon. Unlike the Corpus Chronophage in Cambridge, the other two pieces don’t have permanent homes, but are shown occasionally at galleries, special events, etc.

So, the next time you are wondering, “Where did the time go?” You’ll know the answer… The Chronophage ate it!

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Margo Lestz

Margo has authored four books about France. She has a BA in Liberal Studies with International Emphasis and enjoys travel, languages, history, writing, and experiencing other cultures.

2 comments

  1. Fantastic, as always, Margo. You do find the most interesting things.
    Best Wishes
    Paula

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