The ancient Greeks used two terms to denote time: kronos (linear/sequential time) and kairos (spatial/momentary time). In classical mythology, kairos (in Latin, ‘Caerus’ or Opportunity) was a minor god, the youngest son of Zeus, with his own shrine at Olympia. He was depicted as a naked, winged male with winged boots carrying a pair of scales that balance on a shaving knife. His pronounced forelock of hair was for those who knew how to seize him at the right time, to grab opportunity when it presented itself. Although Plato, Isocrates and Aristotle all regarded kairos as an important concept, it was perhaps the Sophists who utilized it the most, especially Gorgias and Protagoras.
KAIROS is the new UCR humanities research centre for the study of rhetoric in all its forms, founded by Prof. dr. Michael Burke, together with colleagues Dr. Ernestine Lahey, Dr. Olivia Fialho, Dr. Helle K. Hochscheid, within the framework of his recent Chair of Rhetoric at the Humanities Faculty of Utrecht University. The centre officially came into being on November 1st, 2013, ten months after the creation of the chair, with an informal launch. It held its first official event in that same week on November 6, 2013 with a guest lecture at UCR by internationally renowned rhetoric and communication scholar and former President of the Rhetoric Society of America, Professor David Zarefsky (North Western University, Illinois).
In terms of the classical art of communication, kairos represents the most opportune moment for a discourse act to take place in order to achieve a maximally persuasive effect. The context of such a discourse act is crucial, and can both facilitate and constrain an utterance’s effectiveness. The elements that go into this context include the time and place of an utterance, the speaker, the audience, the message, the medium, the audience’s attitude towards the speaker and his/her message, etc. In order for a discourse act to achieve its maximum persuasive potential, a rhetor must consider the production-based elements of appropriateness and decorum and the reception-based phenomena of audience and culture. In many ways kairos can be seen as an ancient precursor to social constructivism, postmodernism and pragmatics.