Posted by & filed under Cerberus, Charon, Dante, Death, greek mythology, Hades, meaning of life, Myth, River Styx, Tartarus, Virgil.


After death, according to Greek Mythology, souls descend down a cavernous path where the River Acheron, the river of woe, flows into the River Styx, the river of lamentation. The souls are then ferried across the Styx by a somber boatman, Charon. But Charon must be paid, so the Greeks placed a coin in the mouths of the deceased, and he will only ferry souls whose bodies have been properly buried: the others must wander aimlessly on the shore for a hundred years.

When the souls reach the opposite shore there is a great gate, guarded by a three-headed dog, Cerberus, who permits all to enter but none to leave. Within the gate, the souls are judged. The blessed are sent to reside blissfully in the Elysian Fields. The wicked are sent for punishment to Tartarus, a shadowy place full of ghosts and shades, like a nightmarish dream.

But Tartarus is not really the afterworld. Like Plato’s ‘cave’, Tartarus is a symbol of this world, the level of Being in which we accept things uncritically at face value, and react passively and automatically to the stream of changing images (‘ghosts’) that the world presents to us. ‘Sleep’ the Bible calls it. Tartarus is at the bottom of the scale of consciousness that exists within the soul – it is where we spend most of our lives. 

To say that Charon will not transport a soul until the body is buried, means until any remaining desire for actual physical reality (or anything higher) has been completely abandoned, and only the wish for superficiality and illusion remains. Giving up these residual desires is his real ‘payment’. Once the payment is made our request is granted: we ‘Fall’ into illusion because we want to.

Both Virgil and Dante will later describe souls on this shore as frantically pushing and shoving, desperate and eager to get onto Charon’s boat. This image portrays the great horror of our existence: our overwhelming desire to be spiritually asleep and dead.


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Marja says:

Very interesting. The Elysian Fields and Tartarus sounds like heaven and hell which I do believe are here on earth