Charon (mythology)

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Joachim Patinir : Crossing into the Underworld
(1515–1524; Museo del Prado , Madrid)
Luca Giordano : The Barque of Charon , fresco in the gallery of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi , Florence (1684–1686)
Charon drives the damned out of his boat into hell, detail from Michelangelo's Last Judgment (1536–1541), fresco in the Sistine Chapel , Vatican
Gustave Doré : Illustration of Charon from Dante's Divine Comedy (1861)

Charon ( ancient Greek Χάρων , short for χαροπός charopós "with sparkling eyes") is the gloomy, aged ferryman in Greek and Roman mythology who often takes the dead for an obolus (coin) in a boat across the Dead River - usually the Acheron also called the rivers Lethe and Styx - brings them to the realm of Hades , ruler of the underworld . The places of worship dedicated to the ferryman, mostly located in caves or rock openings, are called Charoneia .


Charon, son of Erebos and Nyx , brings the dead across the River of the Dead to the entrance of Hades . Only those who have received the funeral rites and whose crossing has been paid for with a coin , the so-called “ Charonspfennig ” ( obolus ), are allowed on the ferry of this incorruptible ferryman . The dead put these coins under their tongues. According to myth, Charon denied access to the unburied dead, so that they would have to wander around the banks of the river as shadows for a hundred years before he would allow them to cross.

The first mention of Charon in Greek literature is an epic poem called Minyas, passed down as a fragment by Pausanias .


Greeks and Romans thought of Charon as a sinister and miserable old man, clad in a dark sailor's smock, as he did for example. B. was seen on the painting of Polygnot in the Lesche der Knidier in Delphi and is often depicted on Attic grave vases. On Etruscan tomb paintings, however, Charon is depicted as a hideous death demon.

Charon among the Etruscans

The Etruscans knew the god Charun , a kind of strangler with a half-animal appearance and armed with a large hammer. He was a warrior as well as a guard at the entrance to the grave gate and was the guide of the deceased into the underworld, like the Greek Hermes .



Web links

Commons : Charon  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Hans von Geisau : Charon 1. In: Der Kleine Pauly (KlP). Volume 1, Stuttgart 1964, column 1138 f.
  2. In a poem from the younger epic called Minyas, quoted in Pausanias , Description of Greece 10.28.2, the great age of Charon is emphasized; also Euripides , Alkestis 441, and Aristophanes , Die Fösche 139 f., aim at the old age of Charon.
  3. Michael Grant, John Hazel: Lexicon of ancient myths and shapes . 13th edition. dtv, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-423-32508-9 , p. 99 .
  4. Virgil , Aeneid 6,324-330.
  5. Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.28.2.
  6. Euripides, Alkestis 441.
  7. Aristophanes, The Frogs 139 f.
  8. Virgil, Aeneid 6,298-304 ( online ).
  9. Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.73 ("portitor")
  10. Seneca, Hercules furens 762-777.
  11. Lukian, Dialogues of the Dead 4 and 10.
  12. ^ Georg Friedrich Daumer : Hafis. A collection of Persian poems. Along with poetic additions from different peoples and countries. Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1846, p. 317.