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Re: Pennies on a dead man's eyes

Posted by Brian from Shawnee on August 20, 2008 at 14:44

In Reply to: Re: Pennies on a dead man's eyes posted by ESC on August 20, 2008 at 10:09:

: : : Where does the phrase "pennies on a dead man's eyes" come from?

: : I know only that the practice, if it ever was a practice in the English-speaking world, derives from the payment to Charon, the ferryman of the underworld, to ferry the deceased across the River Styx (or Acheron), to his destination in the underworld. (One destination was the Elysian Fields, but Greek mythology is full of complexities and variations.) To pay the ferryman, the deceased person's relatives place an obol on each eye of the deceased (or on or in the mouth). Even so, Charon would not deliver the person across the Styx unless the body had had a proper burial.

: : There are a lot of variations in the story, but the "pennies on a dead man's eyes" were to pay the ferryman. Someone else will have to explain why there is an English phrase for this.
: : SS

: He'd steal the pennies off a dead man's eyes. My understanding of the phrase is that pennies would be placed on the eyes to keep them closed. And a really bad person would steal those pennies.

Perhaps an equally bad person would tax them, as George Harrison noted in his song "Taxman".

"And my advice for those who've died:
Declare the pennies on your eyes,
Cause I'm the taxman.
Yeah, I'm the taxman."