I am really pleased to come across your question, so thank you for
I saw Dirty Pretty Things about an hour before answering this
question. When Guo Yi gave the book to Okwe I noticed that it said
Robert Graves on the cover, so was dying to see if it would be shown
again. It was, at the end, and it was a copy of The Greek Myths by
Robert Graves. I have a copy of this book at home. Ive browsed Amazon
and the particular edition does no longer seem to be printed, but the
book is still available, here if you reside in the US:
- The Greek Myths, by Robert Graves, at Amazon.com
Or here if you reside in the UK:
- The Greek Myths, by Robert Graves, at Amazon.co.uk
If you live elsewhere, or the links dont work, or you dont want to
buy online, then the book should be available by order at most
bookshops (the ISBN is 0140171991). I certainly can recommend it,
Graves tells the Greek Myths without much embellishment or drama, but
they are comprehensive, and still compelling reading. I dont
unfortunately have the book with me at the moment, but for some reason
I have a section stored on my computer about a different story:
Echo and Narcissus
Anyone might excusably have fallen in with Narcissus, even as a child,
and when he reached the age of sixteen, his path was strewn with
heartlessly rejected lovers of both sexes; for he had a stubborn pride
in his own beauty.
Among these was the nymph Echo, who could no longer use her voice,
except in foolish repetition of anothers: a punishment for having
kept Hera entertained with long stories while Zeuss concubines made
good their escape. One day when Narcissus went out to net stags, Echo
stealthily followed him, longing to address him, but unable to speak
first. At last Narcissus, finding that he had strayed from his
companions, shouted, Is anyone here?
Here! Echo answered, which surprised Narcissus, since no one was in
Why do you avoid me?
Why do you avoid me?
Let us come together here!
Let us come together here! repeated Echo, and joyfully rushed from
her hiding place to embrace Narcissus. Yet he shook her off roughly,
and ran away. I will die before you ever lie with me! he cried.
Lie with me! Echo pleaded.
But Narcissus had gone, and she spent the rest of her life pining away
for love and mortification, until only her voice remained.
- Echo and Narcissus, from The Greek Myths, by Robert Graves
This quote is simply provided to give you a taste of the book, and as
you may have guessed I really do hope you buy it. You can see here how
fascinating reading the stories can be. From that particular tale we
get the word narcissistic.
The choice of that book links with Guo Yis comment to Ivan outside
the hotel. He talks of the boatman of the River Styx, who is usually
called Charon, but is also known as Phlegyas, which is how (I think)
he was referred to in the film. There is one school of thought however
that says Phlegyas was a different character altogether, so Ive
referred to him hereafter as Charon. Charon ferried souls to the
underworld, Hades. As Guo Yi said, unless the dead man had a gold
coin, he could not find passage to the afterlife. In Ancient Greece,
the dead always had a gold coin put under their tongue to pay their
passage. You can see paintings of Charon here:
- Charon crossing the River Styx, by Joachim Patenier (Museo del
- "Charon Ferrying Dead Souls Across the Styx", by Pierre Subleyras
(Musée Louvre, Paris)
Charon used to be a godlike figure, but when Apollo raped his daughter
he, in his rage, stormed Apollos temples with fire. This crime could
not be overlooked by the gods, who instead of banishing or executing
Charon, gave him the job of the ferryman on the Styx, the river
separating the Earth and the Underworld.
You can see more details of Dirty Pretty things here:
- Dirty Pretty Things at The Internet Movie Database
You can find out more about Charon at these links:
- Encyclopaedia Mythica
- Dictionary of Mythology
- The River Styx
... but the best details are given by Graves.
I love reading Greek Myths, and hope that you, like me, Guo Yi and
Okwe, find entertainment and lesson in them. Clearly, with its
subjects of paying the price of an internal organ to pass over to the
other side (New York), there are parallels between the story of Charon
and the film.
Thanks again, and I hope you enjoyed the film as much as I did.
PS Just before submitting this answer I found a poem by Louis MacNeice
He looked at us coldly
And his eyes were dead and his hands on the oar
Were black with obols and varicose veins
Marbled his hands and he said to us coldly:
If you want to die you will have to pay for it.