Charon’s task was to take the newly dead from one side of the river Acheron to the other if they had an obolus (coin) to pay for the ride. Corpses in ancient Greece were always buried with a coin underneath their tongue to pay Charon. Those who could not pay had to wander the banks of the Acheron for one hundred years. No soul is ever ferried the other way, the sole exceptions being Persephone, Orpheus, and Psyche.
Charon means fierce brightness.
He was depicted as a cranky, skinny old man. Aristophanes, in The Frogs, had him spewing insults regarding people's girth.
It is often said that he ferried souls across the river Styx. This is suggested by Virgil in his Aeneid (book 6, line 369). However, by most accounts, including Pausanias (x.28) and, later, Dante's Inferno (book 3, line 78), the river was Acheron.
Some authors claim the price to be 2 coins, placed over each eye of the deceased.
Charon in the Aeneid
According to Virgil's Aeneid (book 6), the Cumaean Sibyl directs Aeneas to the golden bough necessary to cross the river while still alive and return to the world. Orpheus also made the trip to the underworld and returned back alive.
Charon in Dante’s Inferno
Dante Alighieri incorporated Charon into Christian mythology in his Divine Comedy. He is the same as his Greek counterpart, being paid an obolus to cross Acheron. He is the first named character Dante meets in hell, in the third Canto of Inferno.
- Charon appeared as a cloaked skeleton in Clash of the Titans.
- Charon again appeared as a cloaked skeleton in the videogame Shadowgate. Here, he carries the hero across a rapidly flowing river (Noted as the River Styx) after accepting one gold coin. Like in Clash of the Titans he must first be called, and in Shadowgate one must bang a gong to summon him, whereas a horn was blown in Clash of the Titans.
- Also in videogame Zork Grand Inquisitor, wearing nother but a red hat, and rowing the player across to the gates of Hades after being paid 2 gold coins.
- He appeared in an episode of The Real Ghostbusters, accepting a sandwich from Ray Stantz, but disappointed that all he is ever offered is white bread. As the Ghostbusters continue on the other side of the river, Charon continues to list other varieties of bread he would prefer.
- Charon is the name of a Finnish heavy metal band.
- Charon is Monster in My Pocket #42. He is associated with the evil monsters (though he has little or no dialogue) and has greenish skin, apparently interpreting Vergil literally. He is cloaked in the head of a dog or wolf and clad in nothing else more than a loin cloth. In the 2006 revival, he wears a full purple-blue cloak and his head is a horned skull, bearing no resemblance to his earlier likeness.
- Charon is referred to in the song “Planet Hell” (referred to as "the ferryman", not by name) by the Finnish metal band Nightwish.
- Charon is also referred to in a song by the German rock band Scorpions, entitled “The Sails of Charon”; the song was remade years later by the metal band, Testament
- Charon is a hidden summon in "Golden Sun: The Lost Age"
- In a ”Justice League Unlimited” episode, Batman and Zatanna call on the spirit of Justice, seeking help to find Circe (who earlier turned Wonder Woman into a pig. They summon Medusa to help, and she is brought out of Tartarus by Charon. Humorously, before they depart the cloaked Charon holds his hand out, prompting Justice to inform the two heroes that there is a small service charge. Batman quickly hands Charon a coin (a cue to the ancient Greek practice).
- In the Disney movie “Hercules” he briefly appears (though not named) as a tall skeleton with a punting pole, ferrying Hades down the river Styx (which is never referred to by name either).