Charon Greeting Mercury

The ferryman Charon carries the souls of the dead across the River Styx to the Underworld in his black boat. His fee for portage was either one obol, which was placed in the corpse's mouth, or coins placed on the eyes of the dead. Those who had not been given burial rites could not enter Charon's boat until they had wandered over the earth for 100 years. Live mortals could not cross unless they showed him the golden bough, which was obtained from the Cumaean Sibyl (see Vergil, Aeneid 6). Herakles is the only living person who managed to cross without the bough.

In Aristophanes' Frogs Charon allows Dionysus passage, but forces him to row the boat across himself. Vergil describes the ferryman as a vigorous old man with a grey beard, fiery eyes and muddy clothing (Aeneid 6.298-315), whom Aeneas watches grimly turning away the unburied.


Charon Accepts a Soul from Mercury