The Greeks held elaborate
funerals to help the soul of the departed find his or her way to the
afterworld. The underworld was sometimes called Hades in honor of the
god of the underworld – Hades.
But it was not Hades who
helped you reach the afterworld. They believed that the god Hermes - the
messenger - acted rather like a host. Hermes led the soul to the shores
of the mythical River Styx.
The River Styx supposedly
separated the world of the living from the world of the dead. The deal was
you had to cross the River Styx to reach life after death. The Greeks,
true to form, created many a story about the perils of crossing the River
Styx. (The Greeks did so love a good story!)
The ancient Greeks did not
expect souls to swim across. Instead, they believed a ferryman named
Charon would give you a ride on his boat.
The ferry to the Underworld
was not free. The ferry ride cost one Greek coin. The dead person’s
family usually placed a coin on the corpse so that he or she would be able
to pay for the trip. Sometimes they hid the coin under his tongue so
that no one would steal it.
Once souls arrived on the
other side of the River Styx, they joined other souls, who were waiting
around until they were reborn into a new body.
While waiting for their
turn to be reborn, a soul depended on his or her living family to take
care of them by offering food and wine at special times of the year.
Families were glad to do this. They wanted to make sure the deceased was
comfortable during the wait to be reborn, just as they counted on their
family someday to make them just as comfortable.
And that's all there was to
it. Unless they were punished by one of the gods to spend eternity in the
afterworld, no one in ancient Greece expected to hang around very long,
only long enough to be reborn. So there was no sense in packing anything
except a coin to pay for the ferry ride across the River Styx.
King of Corinth & the River Styx