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A mother (maybe she is pregnant) gives her dead child to Charon , Lekythos painting

A man with an obolos ready to pay Charon

In Greek mythology, Charon (Χάρων) (fierce brightness) was the ferryman of Hades. (Etruscan equivalent: Charun) He took the newly dead from one side of the river Acheron to the other if they had an obolus (coin) to pay for the ride. Corpses in ancient Greece were always buried with a coin underneath their tongue to pay Charon. Those who could not pay had to wander the banks of the Acheron for one hundred years.

According to Virgil's Aeneid (book 6), the Cumaean Sibyl directs Aeneas to the golden bough necessary to cross the river while still alive and return to the world. Orpheus also made the trip to the underworld and returned back alive.

Charon receives the obolus (gr. obolos) price from a dead. Right: Hermes psychopompos. Charon is not mentioned by Homer, probably unknown, the obolus was introduced later.

Charon was the son of Erebus and Nyx.

He was depicted as a cranky, skinny old man or a winged demon with a double hammer.

It is often said that he ferried souls across the river Styx. This is suggested by Virgil in his Aeneid (book 6, line 369). However, by most accounts, including Pausanias (x.28) and, later, Dante's Inferno, the river was Acheron.

Charon on the Styx. Painting by Joachim Patinier, 1515-24.

Michelangelo: Charon, Fresco, Vatican, 1536-41.

Aeneas with the Sybil & Charon, 1700-05, Giuseppe Maria Crespi ("Lo Spagnolo", 1665-1747) Art History Museum, Vienna.

Psyche & Charon, detail, Stanhope, Spencer (1829-1908)

Dante Alighieri incorperated Charon into Christian mythology in his Divine Comedy. He is the same as his Greek counterpart, being paid an obolus to cross Acheron. He is the first named character Dante meets in hell, in the third Canto of Inferno.

Charon Ferrying Dead Souls Across the Styx", Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749) Musée du Louvre , Paris

See also

Dante's The Divine Comedy

Charon, Werner van den Valckert, c. 1620

Pluto and Charon

Charon (Pluto's moon)

R.H. Terpening, Charon and the Crossing: Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Transformations of a Myth, Lewisburg/Pa. 1985.


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