1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charon

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CHARON, in Greek mythology, the son of Erebus and Nyx (Night). It was his duty to ferry over the Styx (or Acheron) those souls of the deceased who had duly received the rites of burial, in payment for which service he received an obol, which was placed in the mouth of the corpse. It was only exceptionally that he carried living passengers (Aeneid, vi. 295 ff). As ferryman of the dead he is not mentioned in Homer or Hesiod, and in this character is probably of Egyptian origin. He is represented as a morose and grisly old man in a black sailor’s cape. By the Etruscans he was also supposed to be a kind of executioner of the powers of the nether world, who, armed with an enormous hammer, was associated with Mars in the slaughter of battle. Finally he came to be regarded as the image of death and the world below. As such he survives in the Charos or Charontas of the modern Greeks—a black bird which darts down upon its prey, or a winged horseman who fastens his victims to the saddle and bears them away to the realms of the dead.

See J. A. Ambrosch, De Charonte Etrusco (1837), a learned and exhaustive monograph; B. Schmidt, Volksleben der Neugriechen (1871), i. 222-251; O. Waser, Charon, Charun, Charos, mythologisch-archaologische Monographie (1898); S. Rocco, “Sull’ origine del Mito di Caronte,” in Rivista di storia antica, ii. (1897), who considers Charon to be an old name for the sun-god Helios embarking during the night for the East.