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The Haunting of Athenodorus


The Haunting of Athenodorus

(The article title is a link that will take you to the original article) 

Ghost stories have been around since the beginning of time.  I think they’re just an integral part of the human condition.  One of the earliest documented ghost stories comes from the experiences of the first century Greek philosopher Athenodorus of Athens.  The tale, as told later by the Roman philosopher Pliny the Younger, is as follows:

There was formerly at Athens a large and handsome house which none the less had acquired a reputation of being badly haunted.  The fold told how at the dead of night horrid noises were heard: the clanking of chains which grew louder and louder until there suddenly appeared the hideous phantom of an old man who seemed the very picture of abject filth and misery.  His beard was long and matted, his white hair disheveled and unkempt.  His thin legs were loaded with a weight of galling fetters that he dragged wearily along with a painful moaning; his wrists were shackled by long cruel links, while ever and anon he raised his arms and shook his shackles in a kind of impotent fury.  Some few mocking skeptics who were once bold enough to watch all night in the house had been well nigh scared from their senses at the sight of the apparition and what was worse, disease and even death itself proved the fate of those who after dusk had ventured within those accursed walls.  The place was shunned.  A placard “To Let” was posted but year succeeded year and the house fell almost to ruin and decay.

Enter the starving artist Athenodorus, who was desperate for a place to crash and decided to rent the place.  Not surprisingly, the first night there he was awoken by the sound of chains rattling.  The sound grew louder and louder until Athenodorus caught sight of the hideous phantom of the old man.  The spirit beckoned with a bony finger and led Athenodorus to the garden where he pointed to the ground and then disappeared.

The next day, Athenodorus had the garden excavated, and he discovered a human skeleton with rusted chains still shackled to the bones.  According to Pliny, on that day the haunting ended and the house was quiet once again.  Who knows how much of this tale was embellishment, but it’s fascinating to me how similar this tale is to accounts of many modern hauntings.  Perhaps it’s simply a timeless theme : tortured souls from beyond the grave who need a little help from the living.

Photo courtesy Kzappaster.

Further reading: Cohen, Daniel.  The Encyclopedia of Ghosts.  New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1984.
The original article can be found at: http://www.praofb.org/prablog/?p=440