In Greek mythology, Charon was the ferryman of the dead. The son of Erebus and Nyx (Night), he ferried the souls of the dead over the river Acheron, or in some myths the Styx River, to the underworld.

Charon took only those souls whose bodies had received the rites of burial and carried the proper fee. This fee was a coin, called an obol, which was placed in the mouth of the corpse during burial. Those unfortunate souls who did not have proper payment never crossed to the underworld but were left to wander forlornly and eternally on the river’s bank.

Charon is usually portrayed as a grim, taciturn old man wearing a black, hooded cloak or a sailor’s cape. His ancestry is open to question, as he is not mentioned in the earliest mythologies.

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It is possible that the name Charon is actually a corruption of the Etruscan Charun, the name ofthe demonic guardian to the underworld. Charun, however, has wings, which might have been misinterpreted by the Greeks as a cloak. Charun also has a beaked nose, like that of a vulture, and carries a weapon.

Whether or not Charon and Charun are one and the same, Charon survives in modern Greek folklore as the Charos. This dangerous black figure, bird, or winged being carries his prey to the underworld.