Those Two Pennies (for Charon?)

In my post about Herbert Hoover (see here) I said that when he was only two years old he nearly suffocated from a croup attack (a severe breathing difficulty caused by acute obstruction of the larynx and trachea).
His aunt Agnes wrote: “ We all thought he was dead. … The eyes of the infant were pressed closed with pennies; and a sheet was drawn over his body; but after resuscitation by his uncle, John Minthorn, Herbert stirred to life.”

Why did they put those pennies on his eyes?

The practice of placing pennies or silver coins on the eyes of the dead was common in the past and still is today in some parts of the world, but it is not necessarily for the same reason as in ancient Greece.
The purpose was not religious but purely aesthetic, so as to keep the eyes of the deceased closed and prevent them from springing open due to muscle contractions.
Many cultures put different things on the eyelids, typically small objects heavy enough to keep the eyes closed, such as rocks, seashells, and coins.
In some areas, there was the belief that one could see one’s own death foretold in the eyes of the deceased person.

The use of coins could also fit mythological reminiscences. That custom had its origins in the burial practices and beliefs about the afterlife of the peoples of ancient Greece, and other cultures as well.
A coin, known as Charon’s obol, was placed into the mouth or on the eyes of the dead so that the soul of the departed could pay the boatman Charon to ferry them safely into the underworld, across the river (Acheron or Styx) which divided the land of the living from that of the dead .
If the souls were unable to pay the ferryman, then they were left stranded between the two worlds, belonging to neither, and would wander along the banks of the river restlessly for many and many years.

This kind of bribe became part of ancient Greek funerals and was widespread in the Greco-Roman world; archaeologists have even discovered such coins in the remains of some Jewish graves of the period.

Nel post su Herbert Hoover (qui) ho scritto che quando aveva solo due anni era quasi morto soffocato per un grave attacco di croup (una grave difficoltà respiratoria causata dall’ostruzione acuta della laringe e della trachea).
Sua zia Agnes aveva scritto : “Pensavamo tutti che fosse morto … Gli occhi del bambino vennero chiusi con dei penny e un lenzuolo gli fu tirato sul corpo, però dopo essere stato rianimato da suo zio, John Minthorn, Herbert tornò in vita”.

Perché gli avevano messo del denaro sugli occhi?

La pratica di mettere penny o monete d’argento sugli occhi dei morti era comune in passato e lo è ancora oggi in alcune parti del mondo, ma non è necessariamente per lo stesso motivo per cui questo rituale veniva osservato nell’antica Grecia.
Lo scopo infatti non era religioso ma puramente estetico: tenere chiusi gli occhi del defunto e impedire che si aprissero all’improvviso per delle contrazioni muscolari.
Molte culture mettevano cose diverse sulle palpebre, in genere piccoli oggetti abbastanza pesanti da tenere gli occhi chiusi, come sassi, conchiglie e monete.
In alcune zone si credeva addirittura che si potesse vedere la propria morte prefigurata negli occhi della persona defunta,

L’uso delle monete poteva anche adattarsi a reminiscenze mitologiche. Questa usanza ebbe le sue origini nelle pratiche di sepoltura e nelle credenze sull’aldilà dei popoli dell’antica Grecia o anche di altre regioni.
Una moneta, nota come l’obolo per Caronte, veniva posta nella bocca o sugli occhi dei morti in modo che l’anima dei defunti potesse pagare il barcaiolo Caronte per traghettarli direttamente negli inferi, attraverso il fiume (Acheronte o Stige) che divideva la terra dei vivi da quella dei morti.
Se però le anime non fossero state in grado di pagare il traghettatore, sarebbero rimaste bloccate tra i due mondi, senza appartenere a nessuno dei due, e avrebbero vagato irrequiete lungo le rive del fiume per molti e molti anni..

Questa specie di tangente entrò a far parte dei funerali dell’antica Grecia ed era molto diffusa nel mondo greco-romano; gli archeologi hanno persino scoperto tali monete nei resti di alcune tombe ebraiche dell’epoca.

Image: Charon – Illustration by Gustave Doré of Dante’s Divina Commedia

48 thoughts on “Those Two Pennies (for Charon?)

    1. My dearest sweet Luisa, this is one of the most interesting blogs I have read for the day. Wow! Wow! And a double vow! The practice of placing coins on the eyes or mouth of the dead had me completely intrigued. Thanks for presenting a very interesting legend behind these customs. Here, In India, in some communities, they place a coin on the forehead of the dead. Excellent, hats off to you dear, for a brilliant presentation.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Luisa ! Everywhere in the world appears to be almost same practices as such . In India , eyelids of dead are generally tried to be closed at the time of death or even after . Because it is considered as inauspicious . Similarly , in both the nostrils some cottons are put . Exactly I can’t say what is the purpose of that . But I think that might be done to protect the people around the dead body from some virus coming out of the nose of the dead body . After death , when the dead body is is taken to the place of crematorium , on the way some coins are sprinkled and those coins are considered as very pious as such . Anyway your story about the child Herbert Hoover is very interesting and provides cross-cultural information about traditions as such . Thanks !

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am really happy to know that you enjoyed this post and I thank you, as always, for your generous words.
      The information you provided on the practices in India is really interesting, so I thank you once again🙏🙏🙏

      Like

  2. Una pratica che mi ha sempre incuriosito e di cui mi sono informato anch’io. Decisamente un concetto molto interessate e fa anche capire l’enorme differenza presente in queste antiche religioni rispetto a quelle monoteiste più moderne.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Si dice che parecchie pratiche cristiane derivino dal Libro dei Morti, o “Libro del ritorno nel giorno”, degli Egizi, contenente le pratiche necessarie per accompagnare i defunti nel viaggio che, dalla vita terrena, li avrebbe “traghettati” nell’Aldilà 🖤

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  3. The real reason why they were placing pennies upon the eyelids, was to keep the eyelids closed. Sometimes muscle and nerves reflexes open the eyelids of death people, scaring everyone present.

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    1. Grazie per essere passata da me, Shera carissima. Contraccambio l’augurio di un buon ferragosto e ti aspetto, quando avrai voglia di tornare in questo salotto virtuale.
      Un forte abbraccio 🤗🥰🤗

      Like

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