The Grim Reaper

The monument marking the SENG -EICHER family graves in the Cave Hill Cemetery at Louisville, Kentucky, is not only a sundial, but the dial itself also displays another motif—the image of the grim reaper.  As the old Doublemint Gum commercial blared to TV audiences, “Two, Two Mints in one.”  Only in this case—it is two symbols in one.

The sundial, in this case, marks the passage of time and in funerary art symbolizes the passage of time.

The other motif—the grim reaper—is characterized by a long beard and a scythe.  The scythe is his tool for cutting down and harvesting souls.  Some believe that the origin of the reaper is from the Greek myth of Charon, the ferryman.

Since ancient times, the imagery of the soul crossing a river was created to explain how the soul went from one realm to the other.  This vivid imagery has long been a part of the symbolism of death in iconography and word.

In Greek mythology, the River Styx wrapped its way around Hades (the Underworld) nine times.  To cross from this life to the next, the dead had to pay with a coin to be ferried from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead.  The toll was placed in the mouth of the deceased to pay Charon, the ferryman.  It was said that if the dead person did not have the coin, he was destined to wander the shores of the River Styx for a century.

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