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A Ghost of Ancient Athens
A Ghost Story from the Past
Ghosts have been around a long time and there are many Ghost Stories passed down through the ages. Some of these tales are extremely old.
Pliny the Younger, a magistrate of Ancient Rome, is known for his hundreds of surviving letters, an invaluable historical source on Rome in the first century of our era.
In one letter to the Emperor Trajan, Pliny wrote of a haunting in Athens. The story is placed somewhere about the time that Vesuvius erupted. The year 79
Let's listen as Pliny tells the story.
Bust, Zeno of Citium, Musei Vaticani
A House in Athens with a bad name
There was at Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad name, so that no one could live there.
In the dead of the night a noise, resembling the clashing of iron, was frequently heard, which, if you listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of chains, distant at first, but approaching nearer by degrees. Immediately afterwards a spectre appeared in the form of an old man, of extremely emaciated and squalid appearance, with a long beard and dishevelled, hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands.
The distressed occupants meanwhile passed their wakeful nights under the most dreadful terrors imaginable.
Even in the daytime, though the spirit did not appear, yet the impression remained so strong upon their imaginations that it still seemed before their eyes, and kept them in perpetual alarm
The House gets a new tenant
Consequently the house was at length deserted, as being deemed absolutely uninhabitable; so that it was now entirely abandoned to the ghost.
However, in hopes that some tenant might be found who was ignorant of this very alarming circumstance, a bill was put up, giving notice that it was either to be let or sold.
It happened that Athenodorus the philosopher came to Athens at this time, and, reading the bill, enquired the price.
The extraordinary cheapness raised his suspicion; nevertheless, when he heard the whole story, he was so far from being discouraged that he was more strongly inclined to hire it, and, in short, actually did so.
When it grew towards evening, he ordered a couch to be prepared for him in the front part of the house, and, after calling for a light, together with his pencil and tablets, directed all his people to retire. But that his mind might not, for want of employment, be open to the vain terrors of imaginary noises and spirits, he applied himself to writing with the utmost attention.
The Spectre appears
The first part of the night passed in entire silence,as usual, but at length a clanking of iron and rattling of chains was heard.
However, he neither lifted up his eyes nor laid down his pen, but, in order to keep calm and collected, tried to pass the sounds off to himself as something else.
The noise increased and advanced nearer, till it seemed at the door, and at last in the chamber.....
Athenodorus summons up his courage
He looked up, saw, and recognized the ghost exactly as it had been described to him: it stood before him, beckoning with the finger, like a person who calls another.
Athenodorus in reply made a sign with his hand that it should wait a little, and threw his eyes again upon his papers; the ghost then rattled its chains over the head of the philosopher, who looked up upon this, and seeing it beckoning as before, arose, and, light in hand, followed it.
The ghost slowly stalked along, as if encumbered with its chains, and, turning into the area of the house, suddenly vanished.
Athenodorus, being thus deserted, made a mark with some grass and leaves on the spot where the spirit left him.
A grisly find
The next day Athenodorus gave information to the magistrates, and advised them to order that spot to be dug up.
This was accordingly done, and the skeleton of a man in chains was found there; for the body, having lain a considerable time in the ground, was mouldered away from the fetters.
The bones, being collected together, were publicly buried, and thus after the ghost was appeased by the proper ceremonies, the house was haunted no more.
© 2010 Susanna Duffy