Charon: The Boatman of the Rivers Estige and Aqueronte


     Charon is, in Greek Mythology, the Boatman of the Underworld and it was this deity responsible for separating men from the world of the living to that of the dead.

Charon in Greek Mythology:

     Charon, in Greek Mythology, is the boatman of Hades, who carries the souls of the newly dead over the waters of the River Styx and Aqueronte, which divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. A coin to pay for the journey, usually an obola or dancaca, was sometimes placed inside or over the mouths of corpses, according to the ancient Greek funerary tradition. According to some authors, those who were unable to pay the amount, or those whose bodies had not been buried, had to roam the margins for a hundred years.

     Charon was son of Nyx (the Night) and Erebus (the Darkness). He was also the brother of Hipnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death). In the myth of catabasis, or descent into the world of the dead, some heroes, such as Hercules, Orpheus, Enéas, Dionysus and Psyche manage to travel to the underworld and return still alive, brought by Charon's boat.

Charon and Hades:

     When he reached Hades, the dead man should offer the ooble to boatman Charon. Those who did not have the coin would wander sadly on the banks of the River Styx. That done, Charon guided the boat to the palace of Hades, crossing five main rivers:

  • Cocyte (river of groans and lamentations);
  • Estige (the cold river of horrors, in which the gods took their oaths, thus considered the river of hate);
  • Flegetonte or Piriflegetonte (river of inextinguishable flames);
  • Lete (river of oblivion, in which souls drank from its waters, to return to Earth).
  • Aqueronte (river of pain and afflictions);

These rivers connected the various planes of the Hades. The palace of Hadesera was guarded by Cerberus, a large multi-headed dog that prevented souls from escaping and prevented intruders. When souls arrived, they disembarked and presented themselves to the great court to be judged.