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Roman story about ghost from letters of Pliny the Younger

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Pliny the Younger – Roman writer and politician from the first and second century CE – in one of his letters, describes an amazing story about the ghost to a man named Licinius Sura. This is an amazing antique story from the Halloween topic.

In Athens there was a large and spacious house, which in the region had poor fame – it was thought to be haunted. Supposedly, strange noises could be heard at night, like iron striking against each other; with a greater concentration it sounded like rattling chains. The sound seemed to be far away, but it gradually came closer and closer. Then there would appear the ghost in the form of an elderly, emaciated and disgusting man with long hair and beard. As the ghost moved, he made the sound of rattling chains, which were on his hands and feet.

The residents of the house could not bear the terrifying sounds and the mysterious nightmare; therefore, finally, the house was abandoned and left to the ghost. With time, the owners decided to put up the object for sale, but with a much lower price than in reality, the house was worth it.

Once, Athenodorus Cananites – a stoic philosopher1 – visited Athens. During his visit, he accidentally encountered an announcement about the sale of a house, which in no case corresponded to the actual value of the property. Intrigued, he learned from the local residents about the mystery of the possessed home. Information only encouraged the intelligent man to buy possession.

When the night came, Athenodorus asked to set the couch in front of the house, put writing materials, an oil lamp and leave him alone at home for the night.

Part of the night was exceptionally quiet. At one point, however, Athenodorus heard the chains rattling. Instead of looking towards the sound, he focused on writing, pretending to be not interested. However, the sound did not stop and seemed to be getting closer. In the end, the sound was already so clear and close enough that Athenodorus looked up and saw the ghost. The ghost looked at him and raised his hand and began to sway his finger at him. The philosopher, while maintaining the “stoic” peace, raised his hand, ordering the ghost to wait and returned his eyes to his notes. The impatient ghost rattled his chains again and nodded toward Athenodorus.

The man finally got up, picked up an oil lamp and followed the ghost that moved slowly due to the chains, that were constraining his movement. Athenodorus followed the ghost into the yard, where the ghost suddenly disappeared. The philosopher marked the place where he last saw the ghost with leaves and grass.

On the next day, Athenodorus asked the local authorities to make excerpts in the market place. To everyone’s surprise, there was a buried skeleton of a man in the ground, who was bound by chains and certainly tortured before death. The remnants of the unfortunate were removed from the earth, and the local authorities – at public expense – set up a dignified burial. Thanks to this, the mortified soul of the deceased could go away in peace, and the house in Athens was never again haunted.

Footnotes
  1. Teacher of Gaius Octavius, future Emperor Augustus.
Sources
  • Pliny the Youger, Letters VII.27

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