Do You Believe In Ghosts? By Pliny

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Leisure offers the opportunity for me to learn and you to teach. So I would very much like to know whether you think that ghosts exist, have a proper form and some sort of supernatural power, or are just empty things of no substance, taking their shape from our fears. I believe that they exist from what I hear happened to Curtius Rufus. Still of low rank and unknown, he was seconded to the office of the governor of Africa. In the afternoon he was walking in the colonnade when the figure of a woman, of super human size and beauty appeared before him. He was terrified. She told him she was the spirit of Africa foretelling his future: for he would go to Rome and hold many high offices, before returning to this same province even as governor himself; and there he would die. All this happened. What is more, as he arrived in Carthage and was getting out of the boat, the same figure met him ashore. He fell ill after predicting his future from the past, and setbacks from success, his gave up hope and threw out any chance of recovery though none of his people despaired for his life. 

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Now is not this story, which I shall relate as I heard it both more frightening and no less amazing? There was in Athens a large and roomy house, but with a dangerous reputation. In the silence of the night the sound of clanking irons, and if you were to listen closely, the rattling of chains was echoing. At first they sounded at a distance, but then very close by: soon a ghost appeared, an old man thin and filthy, with long beard and hair on end; he was wearing leg irons and chains on his hands which he was rattling. The miserable and terrible nights were spent awake in fear. Lack of sleep lead to illness, and then to death. For during the day too, although the ghost had left, memory of it drifted before their eyes and fear was more long-lasting than its causes. Then the whole house was deserted and condemned to isolation and given over to the ghost. However it was advertised for sale, in case anyone not knowing its faults wanted to buy or rent it. There came to Athens the philosopher Athenadorus, he read the sign and after asking the price he was suspicious of its cheapness. He investigated and was told everything which made him want to rent it more.

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When it began to grow dark, he ordered a bed to be prepared in the front room of the house, and asked for his writing tablets, a pen and light. He dismissed all his people to the inner quarters. He himself concentrated his mind, eyes and hand on writing, so that his unoccupied mind would not invent the sounds of ghosts and empty fears. At first there was just the silence of the night everywhere; then iron jangled and chains were rattled.He did not raise his eyes; he did not put down his pen, but concentrated his mind and blocked his ears. Then the noise grew louder and closer, and was now heard from the doorway. He looked back and recognised the ghost that was described to him. It stood and beckoned him with its finger as though calling him. Athenadorus in turn made a sign with his hand for it to wait a little and again concentrated on wax tablet and pen. It then rattled its chains over Athenadorus’s head and, without further delay; he picked up his lamp and followed. It proceeded at a slow pace as if weighed down by chains. After turning off into the courtyard of the house, it suddenly vanished and deserted its companion. Left alone he put grass and plucked leaves to mark the spot. The next day he went to the magistrates and advised them to have the place dug up. Bones were found, bound in chains. The body had rotted away with age and the earth, leaving the bones bare and rusted by the chains. They were collected and publicly buried. After that the house was free from spirits, now properly laid to rest.

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I believe those who confirm the truth of these stories; I can confirm the truth of this story to other people. I have a freedman of education. His younger brother used to sleep with him in the same bed. He imagined he saw someone sitting on the couch applying scissors to his hair and even snipping hair from his crown. When it was light, he himself was shaved around his head, and his hair lying around him. A short time, a similar event confirmed the credibility of the first. A boy was sleeping with several others in the slaves’ sleeping quarters. There came through the window (so he said) two men in white tunics and they shaved his hair as he lay there, and left the way they had come. Daylight also revealed him shaven and his hair scattered around. Nothing remarkable followed, except perhaps that I was not brought to trial.  I would have been if Domition (whose reign this happened) had lived any longer. For information laid by Carus against me were found in his desk: From which can be guessed, because it is the custom for accused men to let their hair grow, that the slaves’ shaved hair was a sign that the threatening danger, was removed.

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 And so I ask that you may apply your learned attention. The matter is worthy of your long and full consideration. I hope I am not unworthy recipient of your knowledge. Although you should argue both sides of the question (as you usually do) please settle more strongly on one side, so that you do not leave me in doubt and uncertainty, when my very reason for consulting you was to stop my doubts.



Pliny ***

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Great thanks

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