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.
The 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!