STELNIK E.V. Charon or Charos? Language Groups and Cultural Levels in the Byzantine Society of the 9th – 12th Centuries


Evgeny V. Stelnik

Candidate of Sciences (History), Associate Professor,

Department of Service and Tourism, Volgograd State University,

Prosp. Universitetsky, 100, 400062 Volgograd, Russian Federation

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Abstract. Introduction. In Byzantine culture (as in “popular” and elitist) the image of Charon/Charos did not have one name taken by all social groups. Sources (both folklore and rhetorical) simultaneously use several variants of the name of this image from the other world. Charon in Byzantine folklore and Byzantine literary tradition is represented by different images with different names. That is, socially dispersed groups had their own ideas about Charon/Charos, but they called him in their own way. Interestingly, the variability of the name of Charos in Byzantine folklore is not associated with a variety of ideas about Charon/Charos. The same character has a series of similar names. The gap in ideas about Charon/Charos appears along with rhetoric, classical education and social privilege.

Methods. The problematics of our research makes the structuralist methodology the most optimal for the correct reconstruction of medieval chthonic representations in different Byzantine social groups. The extent to which such a methodology can be productive is clearly demonstrated by the works of K. Levi-Strauss, R. Barth, M. Foucault, V.Ya. Propp. On the foundation of the structuralist approach, specific historical methods were used: the comparative, genetic, historical, retrospective ones.

Analysis and Results. The fact that the Byzantine sources (rhetoric and folklore) record the parallel distribution of several variants of the name, and with them different versions of ideas about Charon/Charos, indicates that formally the Orthodox Byzantine society in the 9th – 12th centuries was a complex set of different social groups and layers with their original chthonic religious settings. In Byzantine culture, due to a series of reasons, there was no single and universal image of Charon/Charos, and hence the image of Hades, and with it all the ideas about afterlife and its inhabitants. Various social groups had their own ideas on these fundamental issues for a medieval man. This chronic variability is indicative of the precarious social links between social strata and groups.

Key words: Charon, Charos, rhetoric, folklore, structure of society, levels of culture.

Citation. Stelnik E.V. Charon or Charos? Language Groups and Cultural Levels in the Byzantine Society of the 9 th – 12th Centuries. Vestnik Volgogradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Seriya 4. Istoriya. Regionovedenie. Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya [Science Journal of Volgograd State University. History. Area Studies. International Relations], 2019, vol. 24, no. 6, pp. 331-337. (in Russian). DOI:

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Charon or Charos? Language Groups and Cultural Levels in the Byzantine Society of the 9th – 12th Centuries by Stelnik E.V. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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