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When I was a young man I set out from Miletus to see the Olympic Games. Since I also wanted to visit
this part of the famous province, I travelled through the whole of Thessaly and then reached Larissa.
And, while wandering around the city, I looked for a remedy for my poverty, for my travelling
allowance was nearly used up. In the middle of the forum I caught sight of an old man. He was
standing on a stone and proclaiming, in a loud voice, that there was a big reward that someone who
would guard a dead body could receive. I said to someone passing by, " What's this I hear? Do dead
men usually run away round here?"
" Quiet," he replied. " For you are a boy and a mere foreigner. And, naturally, you don't realise that
you are in Thessaly where witches are always biting pieces out of the faces of dead bodies; they use
these bitten off pieces as extra ingredients in their magical art."
I said back to him, "What sort of guarding is needed?" He replied, "First of all, you must stay
perfectly awake throughout the whole night with your open, sleepless eyes always focussed on the
corpse', your glance must not look away in any direction, for those terrible creatures creep up
unseen, having changed their appearance to that of any kind of animal. Indeed, they disguise
themselves as birds, dogs, mice, even flies."
After I heard these things, I plucked up my courage and immediately went up to the old man. I said to
him, "Stop your loud announcements now. Your guard is here and ready." I had scarcely finished
when he led me at once to the house in question; there, he showed me a weeping woman wrapped
in dark clothes. She got up and led me to a bedroom in shiny white sheets. She anxiously pointed out
to me its individual features and then she left.
And so, left on my own to console a corpse, I rubbed my eyes and got them ready for guard duty; all
the while, as I stayed awake until the middle of the night, I soothed my spirit with songs. But then, as
my fear was building up, suddenly a weasel crept in, stopped in front of me and fixed its eyes on me.
So much self-confidence in such a small animal disturbed my mind. So, in the end, I said to it, "Go
away, wicked beast, before you experience my lightning quick strength. Go away!"
The weasel turned its back and left the bedroom at once. Sleep overwhelmed me straight away, a
sleep so deep that not even the God of Delphi himself would find it easy to decide which of the two
of us lying there was deader. Finally, at first light, I woke up and ran to the corpse, terrified and
scared; I bought a lamp near to look at his face and I inspected everything carefully. Nothing was
missing. Then his sad weeping wife burst in. She inspected the corpse and paid me my reward
He said, "For the sake of your honour, citizens, as a public duty, help your murdered fellow-citizen
and punish harshly this wicked, criminal woman for her very vile crime. For it was she no one else
who poisoned this poor young man, my sister's son, to please her lover and to profit from the
The woman, in floods of tears, swore by all the gods as piously as she could, denying this terrible
charge. So the old man said, "We should the judgement of the truth in the hands of divine
providence. There is a very famous Egyptian prophet here. His name is Zatchlar and he has promised
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I pushed myself forwards into the crowd and standing on a rock behind the bier I watched the whole
thing with curious eyes. Now the corpse's chest was raised up with a swelling, now his body was
filled with breath.…read more