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Creatures of Death

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In Greek mythology, Charon (Greek 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. No soul is ever ferried the other way, the sole exception being Persephone.

The Barque of Charon, Sleep, Night and Morpheus, by Luca Giordano
The Barque of Charon, Sleep, Night and Morpheus, by Luca Giordano

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 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.

Dante Alighieri incorporated 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.

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