Did You Know?
Modern Greek equivalent of Charon is Haros.
When we talk about Greek mythology, we tend to think of the various Greek gods and goddesses, their lifestyle, and immense power. But there are many Greek mythical characters who have had to work like the mortals.
Charon was the son of Erebus (God of darkness) and Nyx (Goddess of night). He appears in many plays and stories. As per Greek folklore, he is angel of death. Though he was child of Erebus, he lived a very hard life transporting souls to the underworld. The story about his birth is not ascertained, the only important factor is that he worked for king Hades.
Charon in Greek Mythology
According to old sources Charon is considered to be a spirit of the underworld or a daemon. As said earlier, he was an offspring of first born gods Erebus and Nyx. Nyx and Erebus were believed to be siblings and their union gave birth to other deities such as Aether, Hemera, the Hesperides, Hypnos, the Moirai, Geras, Styx, and Thanatos.
The name Charon means 'fierce brightness' in the Greek language. Some claim that Charon was born right when Ouranos came into existence or maybe later when the first generation of Titans appeared. It also means that Charon predates the popular gods of Mount Olympus.
Often, Charon was depicted as an old man carrying a skiff pole or a double-headed hammer in his hand. He was believed to be powerful, he used his strength to prevent any deceased on his board without payment. He was believed to be an old man with a twisted body and a rude attitude. Some stories say that he was a horned demon.
Charon remained unmarried his entire life. He never had an affair with any goddess or mortal. Greek mythological stories claim that Charon became famous during the time of the Olympians, when he was entrusted with the responsibility of being a ferryman to the dead. This was decided by the Underworld god Hades.
Both his parents were dwellers of the underworld realm, so the underworld was his home. His job was to carry souls of dead people across the two rivers after Hermes or Psychopomp delivered them to the river banks.
He didn't do this for free. He charged the souls, the deceased had to pay him an Obol. Those unable to pay the amount were cursed to wander banks of the river for 100 years. To prevent that, most people buried their dead ones with coins. The funeral rights insisted on placing a coin in the mouth of deceased, which is still practiced in many parts of Greece.
Those who could pay the amount were allowed on Charon's boat and were carried across the Acheron river to determine where they would be spending their afterlife. Though only the deceased were allowed to be transported, there are many instances where he transported mortals too. Psyche who was still a mortal, paid his way to cross Acheron to search for Eros.
Similarly, even Pirithous and Theseus paid Charon as they searched for Persephone. There were others who tricked Charon to give them a ride without paying. The ferryman was mesmerized by the music played by Orpheus, so he let him cross the river once.
Heracles used his strength by wrestling him to the ground. This way he forced Charon to cross the river. Aeneas also managed to get across by not paying because he had the Golden Bough.
Like other Greek gods, Charon also had symbols of his own. He was often seen with an oar or a pole of a boatman, double-headed hammer, and a mallet. When Hades got to know that Charon took Heracles across the river, enraged he chained him for a year. It is not mentioned who took the responsibility of carrying dead souls to the underworld during that time.