Charon, the ferryman who takes us to the realm of the dead

Meet Charon, the ferryman who will take us to the world of the dead, where we will find rest. An iconic figure of Greek mythology.


Who is Charon?

In Greek mythology, Charon was the ferryman of the river Styx, which separated the world of the living from the world of the dead. He was in charge of transporting the souls of the dead across the river to the underworld, where they would be judged by the god Hades.

It was said that he demanded payment for his service, so coins were placed in the mouths or eyes of the dead as a tribute to cross the river. Those who could not pay were condemned to wander eternally on the riverbank as wandering spirits.

He was mostly depicted as a grim-looking, bearded old man with a long cloak and an oar with which he steered his boat across the river Styx. His name has been used in popular culture to refer to anyone who charges for a service similar to the one he provided in Greek mythology.

Styx river
Charon on the River Styx

Charon and his relationships with other Greek gods

As we can see Charon did not have many relationships with other Greek gods, since his work led him to have contact mainly with the souls of the deceased. However, he is mentioned in some mythological stories in which his interactions with other characters are described, such as:

  • Hades: as the god of the underworld, Hades was the chief of Charon and the one in charge of judging the souls of the dead who came to his realm. Although no mention is made of a close relationship between the two, it is known that Charon was at his service and had to follow his orders.
  • Hermes: in some versions of Greek mythology, it is said that Hermes, the messenger of the gods, accompanied the souls of the dead on their journey to the underworld and helped negotiate the payment they had to make to Charon to cross the river Styx.
  • Orpheus: according to legend, the musician Orpheus tried to rescue his beloved Eurydice from the underworld by convincing Charon to take him across the river Styx without charging him. This story shows Orpheus’ ability to convince others and his capacity to seduce even the darkest beings of the underworld.
Charon ship
Charon ship

Charon depicted in art

This myth has been depicted in art throughout history, especially in the Classical Greek and Roman eras. Some of the best known depictions include:

  • Greek pottery: in Greek pottery he was often depicted in the scene of entering the underworld, driving his boat and collecting tribute from the souls of the departed. These representations were usually in black or red on a white background.
  • Sculpture: in sculpture, he was represented as a bearded and somber old man, with a long cloak and an oar in his hand. He was often shown in the company of the souls of the departed, and sometimes with the help of Hermes.
  • Painting: in painting, he was depicted in works such as “The Judgment of Paris” by Peter Paul Rubens, “The Boat of Charon” by Joachim Patinir, and “The Inferno” by Hieronymus Bosch.
  • Literature: in literature, he is mentioned in Homer’s “Odyssey” and in Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy”, where he is described as the ferryman of the river Acheron in the Christian underworld.
    The myth of Charon in today’s culture

The myth of Charon in today’s culture

Charon has appeared in several modern-day movies and video games with mythological or fantastic themes. Some of the most notable appearances are the following:

  • Video games: He can be seen in Sony Santa Monica’s “God of War” video game saga, in which he is shown as the ferryman of the river Styx, in charge of taking Kratos, the saga’s protagonist, to the realm of the dead. He also appears in the game “Hades” by Supergiant Games, in which he is shown as a main character who helps the player in his journey through the underworld.
  • Movies: He appears in the movie “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” (2010), based on the novel of the same name by Rick Riordan, in which he is shown as the ferryman of the River Styx. He also appears in the film “Wonder Woman” (2017), in which he is shown as the boatman who takes the protagonist, Diana, to the realm of the dead.
  • TV Shows: He can be found in the Netflix television series “Blood of Zeus”, in which he is shown as the boatman of the river Styx. He also appears in Starz’s “American Gods” series, in which he is shown as a supporting character who helps the protagonist on his journey through the underworld.
Charon in Hades
Charon in Hades Videogame

Where is Charon’s river Styx located?

The physical location of the river Styx was never clearly established in mythology, but it was said to be somewhere in the depths of the earth. In some versions, the river was said to flow in circles around the underworld, while in others it was said to be the most important river of those surrounding the underworld.

In popular culture, the term “Styx” has been used to refer to something that is symbolic or representative of the underworld or death, and has been depicted in mythological or fantasy-themed movies, series and video games.

The Greek river most similar in reality to the Styx of the myth of Charon is the Acheron, a name that as we can see has similarities. This river, located in northern Greece, passes through Glyki and is a tourist attraction for its crystal clear waters, waterfalls and cliffs.

Acheron river

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