Friday, December 17, 2010

Who is Charon?

In the tradition of Greek mythology, Charon is a man who lives in the underworld. He is the son of Erebus and Nyx, and it is his responsibility to ferry the dead between the world of the living and the underworld, across the river Styx. In some myths, he carries the dead over the river Acheron, the “river of woe” which supposedly leads to the underworld. Charon appears in numerous stories, plays, and myths, and a version of Charon lives on in Greek folklore as an angel of death.Charon's services do not come gratis with death. Although Hermes may have taken the souls of the dead to the banks of the river for free, Charon demands a fee. People who were unable to pay the fee were doomed to wander the shores of the river for 100 years. Since most Greeks, understandably, did not want to wander in the mists and marshes, they buried their dead with coins to pay the ferryman; this tradition is still retained in many parts of Greece.
Depictions of Charon vary. In some cases, he is said to be an old man with a twisted body and a bitter attitude. In other instances, he is a horned demon with a formidable hammer. The portrayal of Charon as a skeleton in a robe is primarily a modern invention. In many myths he also hurls insults or makes sour statements about the deceased. Many religions include a figure like Charon, a representative of death and the underworld, suggesting to followers that there is life after death, and that people require proper preparations for death.
Living people who want to visit Hades must also pay the ferryman. Given the fact that they need two trips, Charon charges significantly more, and several myths and stories indicate that visitors to Hades pay with a golden branch to cross the river with Charon and return. Several Greek and Roman authors wrote about traveling to the Underworld, usually with the assistance of an experienced guide. Dante, for example, wrote The Inferno, and the Aeneid by Virgil also features a trip to the Underworld. Incidentally, if you are concerned about paying the ferryman, his going rate in Ancient Greece was an obolus, a silver coin worth a sixth of a drachma. Since Greece has now switched over to the Euro, along with other members of the European Union, Charon would probably accept a Euro coin, and he may be open to other currencies as well.

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