Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Charon

motorferryCharon, in Greek mytology, is the son of Erebus (darkness) and Nyx (night).  With parents like that, you can guess that his existence isn’t going to be one devoted to sunlight.   Charon was tasked with ferrying the dead who’d recieved the rites of burial over the river Styx (or Acheron, depending on who you’re asking) and into the underworld.  He also charges a fee—because of this, a practice started of laying a coin on the dead’s tongue, so that they could pay for the toll.

It’s presumed that the idea of taxiing the dead actually derives from Egyptian mythology, and it’s possible that the entymology of the name is Egyptian as well.  He is also something of an executor of force in some legends, associated with Mars in battle.  But really, the facts and figures have changed over time.

Probably if you hear the name Charon you think skeletal form in a big black hooded cloak… am I right? That’s how I always pictured him.  Apparently this is a fairly modern interpretation, though. It may be a bit hard to believe, but the original Charon was more of a greasy sailor-type.  Descriptions of him range all over, though.  In early Greek mythology, he was a gentlemanly sort, then in Dante’s Inferno, he’s an angry soul who beats resistant spirits into his boat with his oar.

One modern use of Charon that you might be interested in checking out (okay, so modern use of many of the Greek gods) is in Percy Jackson’s The Lightning Thief, where he appears as a handsome, energetic man, then turns to a skeleton in the underworld.


About Lisa Asanuma

Lisa is a professional freelance writer and editor, along with a bookbinder and knitting obsessee. Lisa has a passion for YA literature (inside her passion for literature in general) and is currently working on her first novel. View all posts by Lisa Asanuma

4 responses to “Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Charon

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