Charun

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In Etruscan mythology, Charun (also spelled Charu, or Karun) acted as one of the psychopompoi of the underworld, not to be confused with the lord of the underworld, known to the Etruscans as Aita. He is often portrayed with the goddess Vanth, a winged goddess also associated with the underworld.

Contents

Origins

His name was imported from Greek Charon,[1] although it is uncertain whether Etruscans had a native name for a god of the underworld before this. As suggested by alternations in the Etruscan language such as θu "one" changing to θunśna "first", lev "lion" (from Greek leōn) and Apulu (from Greek Apóllōn), words ending in -n after u were disappearing from the language which is why we see his name spelled Хarun and later Хaru.

Appearance

The Etruscan Charun was fundamentally different from his Greek counterpart. Guarding the entry to the underworld he is depicted with a hammer, his religious symbol, and is shown with pointed ears, snakes around his arms, and a blueish coloration symbolizing the decay of death. In some images he has enormous wings. He is also depicted as a large creature with snake-like hair,[2] a vulture's hooked-nose, large tusks like a boar[3], heavy brow ridges,[4] large lips, fiery eyes,[5] pointed ears[6] a black beard, enormous wings,[7] discolored (pale cream, bluish or greyish)[8] skin, and snakes around his arm.[9]

Function

Larissa Bonfante and Judith Swaddling have this to say about Charun: "Many scenes feature the two purely Etruscan underworld demons, Vanth and Charu, whose job is not to punish the dead but rather to escort them to their final destination."[10] However, there are at least two examples, on the sarcophagus of Laris Pulenas as well as a red figure stamnos from Orbetello, that do illustrate Charun in a menacing fashion.[11] Each depicts Charun threatening a male figure with his hammer.

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