Mythical Monday: Hitching a Ride with the Ferryman, by Mae Clair

mysterious worldLet me start by saying this is not a gent I’d want to take a boat ride with!

Charon is the ferryman who provides transport on the mythical rivers of Styx and Acheron, bodies of water that separate the plane of the living from the underworld. It’s Charon’s job to gather the souls bound for hades and ferry them across the river (they’re delivered to him by Hermes, but that’s material for another post. :))

Why anyone would want to pay for a ride like that is beyond me, but Charon wasn’t above profiting from the assignment. A shrewd or greedy guide (depending on your viewpoint) he required an obol for passage – – a silver coin placed in the mouth of the dead.

For this reason, family members would often bury their loved ones with a coin placed under the tongue, ensuring they carried the required payment for a journey to the netherworld. Those unable to produce the proper fee were turned away and forced to wander the banks of the river Acheron for a span of one hundred years. Ugh! Given the limited appeal of the place, I’m sure that got old quickly. Especially with Charon lurking around waiting for the next tour group to show up.

bigstock-Halloween-Background-38739022The son of Erebus (darkness) and Nix (night) in Greek Mythology, this was not a guy with a pleasant disposition. He’s often depicted as an ugly bearded man with a crooked nose. Let’s face it – – ferrymen in mythology, literature, and fantasy, generally do not fit the Good Samaritan variety.  They’re sinister, creepy, and skulk about in raggedy cloaks of black or gray, perpetual mourners shrouded in tomb colors.

On a cool side note, Charon is also the name of Pluto’s largest moon (another is called Nix). In mythology, Pluto was the ruler of the underworld.

Bonus cool side note: the HMS Erebus was the name of the ship Sir John Franklin commanded on his expedition to discover the Northwest Passage in 1845. The other vessel was the HMS Terror commanded by Captain Francis Crozier.  Both ships were lost after becoming trapped in the ice. The truth about what happened to the expedition and the crews remains one of the greatest unsolved nautical mysteries in history. Neither ship has ever been found.

Can you think of other examples where a mythological name has been applied to something in modern times or history – – such as Disney’s cartoon character, Pluto, the brand Nike, or the investment fund, Janus?

Or have you ever taken a ride on a ferry that you’d like to share? Believe it or not, I can’t recall ever ferrying across water. Apparently, I’ve been woefully deprived!

18 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: Hitching a Ride with the Ferryman, by Mae Clair

  1. I’ve always been fascinated by the ferryman. Right now I’m hearing the Chris de Burgh song in my head – “don’t pay the ferryman, until he gets you to the other side.”

    I took the slow night ferry from Dubrovnik across to Bari, Italy years and years ago. I couldn’t afford any other transport and slept huddled under all my clothes on the open deck. Not something I ever want to do again.


    • Chris De Burgh is awesome! I’d forgotten about that song. Perfect for this post. Thanks, Emma 🙂

      A slow night ferry sounds cold. I can just imagine what it must have been like huddled on deck. Brrr!


  2. I ride the Seattle to Bainbridge ferry once in a while. A far cry from a wooden raft, the Seattle ferry boats are four decks (two for cars, two for passengers). They have cafeterias, newsstands, plenty of restrooms, and lots of outdoor areas to stand in and take pictures of the city skyline and the looming Olympic Mountains. I love to take my kids on the ferry. Sometimes we’ll head over with the car just to go play at a playground on Bainbridge Island. My only complaint is that the ferry ride is TOO SHORT at only 25 minutes. I wish it were at least an hour;-) Though, i’m sure people who use it every day to commute are happy for the brief sojurn.


    • Jessi, THAT ferry ride sounds like a lot of fun. It also sounds huge!! Even as a daily commute, it’s probably a lot better than fighting traffic.

      I bet your kids love it! Thanks for sharing!


  3. When I was in Ireland after high school, I took a ride on a ferry while visiting various parts of the Irish countryside. It was kind of cool because it was a new experience, but it was far from as creepy or exciting as one of the ferry rides of legend. I’d say the most spectacular part was the view of the gorgeous green country and the sweeping mountains beside the deep blue waters.


    • Oooh, how picturesque! I’ve always wanted to see Ireland, Laura. Your description of the countryside sounds beautiful. What a great way to experience the views–from a ferry!


  4. Well, the cleaner “Ajax” leaps into mind…as does the “Olympus” camera and the “Midas” muffler… And of course, we should probably mention the manufacturer that creates the um… “Trojan” products…

    And no, I’ve never had the pleasure of taking a ferry ride, but now that you bring up Charon, perhaps that’s a very good thing…


    • Good brand calls, Debbie. I’d forgotten most of those (and had a good chuckle over the Trojan products). Mythology really worked it’s way into a VARIETY of commercial products, LOL.

      Nice to know I’m not the only one who’s never been on a ferry. And I agree with you about Charon *shudder*


  5. I guess I’m drawn to the sea… lived six miles from it most of my life. My first ferry ride was when I was six – from Battery Park out to the Statue of Liberty. My second was leaving WA. State – they took the car across – first I ever did an auto ferry – we also took one in Michigan. Took two to get from CT to Oyster Bay, LI to East Hampton. Also went from San Diego to Coronado Island and from Big Pinr Island, FL out to get the Cheeseburger in Paradise for lunch. It was delicious. 🙂



    • I am so envious how close you live/have lived to the sea, Diane, but then you already know that 🙂 And then all those very rides – – WOW! – – I really am deprived. So many great excursions. I’m particularly jealous of the Cheeseburger in Paradise jaunt for lunch!!!


      • Well, that close to the ocean is both a blessing (nice breeze) and a curse (hurricanes). I’ll find the Pine Island ferry and post a link. It’s a great place to eat!


  6. You’ve never ridden on a ferry?? We have to take a ferry to the Island airport in Toronto, taken them in Texas and got a pic of an awesome sunset, taken them in canada and in Europe. Really how can you not take a ferry? On the other hand I love where customs come from like the coin on the tongue


    • Those ferry rides sound great, Sue! I live in a landlocked state. Lots of rivers with bridges, but no ferries. There is one nearby that I’ve been meaning to do – – Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, NJ, but I always hit it at the wrong times of year with crappy weather. Consider it on my bucket list.

      I love learning about the old customs too, even when they’re on the creepy side!


  7. I was just reading about these fascinatinating mythological characters not long ago when I was planning a novel about Greek Gods. I can think of all kinds of books with them in, and movies too, of course, bug other than that I can only think of constellations. LOL


    • Constellations! Love them! I remember you were working on a Greek Gods novel before being distracted by DIVINE WARRIOR (a great distraction!). You probably have material for all kinds of Mythical Monday posts, LOL! 😀


  8. Being in the UK I’ve taken the ferry to Europe many times. The first was in 1985 from Felixstowe to Zeebrugge on an evening so warm I slept in the open on the top deck. Even though there’s now the Channel Tunnel as an alternative I still prefer to take the ferry; living on an island there’s something symbolic about crossing water to leave it which is a fundamental part of doing so.
    In terms of mythical names used in the present day, there’s Pandora jewellery, the investment house Jupiter, Atlas for maps, the Hercules transport aircraft, the Vulcan fighter-bomber and Ganymede has been used by a number of gay men’s groups and societies.


    • That ferry ride sleeping in the open on the top deck sounds lovely. There’s something definitely enchanting about a ferry ride…perhaps because it’s an echo remaining from another time. Or maybe that’s just the romantic in me! 🙂

      Great call on a the mythical names used in present day. I’d forgotten about many of them.

      Thanks for dropping by my blog and sharing. It’s great to meet you! 🙂


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