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"Concerning Phantoms" by Pliny the Younger

The following is the complete text of "Concerning Phantoms" by Pliny the Younger.

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"Concerning Phantoms" by Pliny the Younger



Our present leisure permits you to teach, and me to learn from you. I would therefore willingly know, if you are of opinion, that phantoms are real figures, and carry in them some kind of divinity; or are empty vain shadows, raised in our imaginations by the effect of fear?

An incident, which happened, as I have been informed, to Curtius Rufus, was my first inducement to credit their reality. At a time, when his fortune was low, and his character in obscurity, he accompanied into Africa the person, who was chosen governor. Towards the evening, while he was walking in a portico, the figure of a woman, fairer and larger than the human size, presented itself to him. He was much frightened. She said, she was Africa, who came to foretell him future events; adding, that he was destined to go to Rome, to enjoy high honours there; to return governor of the province, in which he then resided; and to die in that province. All these facts were fulfilled. It is farther reported, that the fame figure met him upon the shore of Carthage, as he was coming out of a ship. It is certain, that as soon as he found himself ill, he gave up all hopes of recovery, although none of his friends despaired of his life. The remembrance of his past honours convinced him of his future end; which he judged was approaching from his former prosperity.

Consider now, if the following story is not as wonderful, and still more terrible than the former. I shall relate it in the manner, that I received it. There was at Athens a very large and spacious house; but of evil report, and fatal to the inhabitants. In the dead of night, the clinking of iron, and, upon closer attention, the rattling of chains was heard; first, at a great distance, and afterwards very near. A spectre immediately appeared, representing an old man, emaciated, and squalid. His beard long, his hair staring; bolts upon his legs; upon his hands chains; which he rattled, as he carried. From these circumstances the inhabitants, in all the agonies of fear, continued watching during several melancholy, and dreadful nights. Such constant watchings brought on distempers; illness was increased by fear, and death ensued; for even in the day, when the spectre was not visible, the representation of the image wandered before their eyes: so that the terror was of longer continuance, than the presence of the spectre. At length the house was deserted, and entirely left to the apparition. A bill however was posted up, to signify, that the house was either to be sold, or lett; in hopes that some person, ignorant of the calamity, might offer for it. Athenodorus, the philosopher, came at that time to Athens; he read the bill; the price surprised him: he suspected some bad cause to occasion the cheapness; and, upon inquiry, was informed of all the circumstances; by which he was so little deterred, that they were stronger inducements to hire it. When the evening came on, he ordered a bed to be prepared for him in the first apartment. He called for lights, for his table-books, and his pen. He sent all his servants into the farther parts of the house, and applied his eyes, his hands, and his whole attention to writing; lest, as he had heard of apparitions, his mind, if unemployed, might suggest to him idle fears, and represent false appearances. The beginning of the night was as silent there, as in other places. At length, the irons clinked, and the chains rattled. Athenodorus neither lifted up his eyes, nor quitted his pen; but collecting his resolution, stopt his ears. The noise increased; it approached, as it was now heard at the threshold of the door, and immediately after, within the room. The philosopher turned back his head, and saw the figure, which he observed to answer the description, that he had received of it. The apparition stood still, and beckoned with a finger, like a person, who calls another. Athenodorus signified, by the motion of his hand, that the ghost should stay a little; and again immediately applied himself to writing. The spectre rattled his chains over the head of the philosopher, who, looking back, saw him beckoning as before; and immediately taking up a light, followed him. The ghost went forward in a slow pace, as if encumbered by the chains; and afterwards turning into a court belonging to the house, immediately vanished, leaving the philosopher alone; who, finding himself thus deserted, pulled up some grass and leaves, and placed them as a signal to find the spot of ground. The next day he went to the magistrates; informed them of the event, and desired, that they would order the place to be dug up. Human bones were later found buried there, and bound in chains. Time and the earth had mouldered away the flesh, and the skeleton only remained; which was publicly buried: and after the rites of sepulture, the house was no longer haunted. I give credit to these circumstances, as reported by others.

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