Stoic Philosopher vs Ancient Specter
We all have them, many of us even have our own. Ghost stories are ingrained in culture so thoroughly that it is not an exclusive concept to any one area of the world. We all share in having them. At it’s root, this ancient concept is that a living person has a spirit inhabiting them. Once that person dies, the spirit may continue to exist. It was with this in mind that societies started the practice of funeral rituals, as a means of fending off a person’s spirit from lingering in the living realm.
The idea of the ‘afterlife’ varies from culture to culture, often depending on different factors, like the kind of life the person lead, or how their remains were treated after death. The people of the ancient world held no doubts about the existence of a human soul, or it's ability to linger. It was as real to them as the internet being a tangible thing is to our modern world.
So how far back can history account for ghost stories? The great Roman author, Pliny the Younger wrote a letter in the first century A.D. which told the story of an old man, with a long white beard, and complete with rattling chains that was haunting an Athens home.
In the perfect setting for the story, the house was a large and spacious home. It was settled in a region of poor fame and was not selling. The locals talked of strange noises, like iron striking itself from afar, but grew in volume as if nearing the listener. They all reported the sight of the old man, elderly and emaciated. It was this apparition that drove away every resident who tried to live in the home.
Then a ‘stoic philosopher’, Athenodorus Cananites visits Athens and learns of the house for sale. Intrigued by the very low price, he questioned the locals and was presented the mystery around the old man who haunted the property.
Athenodorus then waited until nightfall, setup a couch and writing materials and sat in front of the house. At first, he only reports about the exceptional stillness. The he heard the rattle of chains.
He pretends to ignore the sound, focused on his writing, luring it closer.
When the sound was close enough to be perfectly clear, the philosopher looked up. There before him, was the ghost. The elderly spirit looked him in the eye and raised his hand, beckoning a finger for him to follow. Athenodorus held his ‘stoic’ demeanor, raised his own hand, and told the ghost to wait. He returned to his notes.
The angered specter rattled his chains at him, and continued to beckon him to follow.
After some time, Athenodorus stood, picking up his oil lamp, and agreed to follow. The walk was slow, the ghost seemingly weighed down by his chains. They moved in the back yard, the old man turned to him, then disappeared. The philosopher marked the place on the ground where the ghost vanished.
The next day, he returns with locals and the authorities – to bear official witness – and they begin to dig where the ghost had vanished the night before. To everyone’s shock, they uncovered a very old skeleton of a man, bound in chains. The locals then removed the remains from the property and gave them a public funeral and reburied them.
The tortured soul of the old man was then released from the living world, and the house was never haunted again.
What’s you favorite ghost story? Or do you have an experience of your own with the supernatural? Share them with us! Better yet, use it as inspiration to write your own ghost story like Pliny did!