Author: Ilya Fonyakov
Translated by Dmitri Manin
WHAT USE IS AN OBOL TO CHARON?
They had a custom in Ancient Greece
To put a copper coin, an obol,
In the deceased’s mouth
So he could pay his fare to Charon,
The ferryman across
The river Styx
In the kingdom of the dead.
Greek myths are,
As a rule, detailed and logical:
Everything falls into place there,
A tight knot
Of causes and effects.
But in this particular case
The Greeks held something back.
I was always curious:
What use is an obol to Charon?
What did he do with his proceeds?
An answer suggests itself: bought booze.
Does that mean they had
A pub in Hades?
But then, what did the publican
Do with his proceeds?
Or was Charon a hoarder
Who collected obol after obol
And savored the sight of his treasures
By the light of a funerary torch?
He must have amassed a vast wealth that way —
Just think how many souls
Rode his boat in thousands of years!
Perhaps the hidden treasures
People find from time to time in the ground
Are his forgotten stashes?
But then, where did he invest
His main assets?
Into real estate or into securities?
Maybe there were banking houses
Or what if Charon
Was secretly dealing with the world of the living
And conducted business there
A friend of mine,
A devotee of market economy,
Once said, “At the very least,
It’s not all as hopeless as it would seem!
Where there’s money involved, even if small change,
Then he paused and added:
“Suppose you pay Charon a little extra —
And buy him off?
Or the other way around, refuse to pay,
Plead destitution, bankruptcy, default,
Turn your pockets inside out as a proof?
What will he do?
Will he say, ‘to hell with you’, and give you a free ride,
Or will he simply send you away,
That is, back to earth?”