A 2,000 Year Old Horror Story
This ghost story shows that horror is always present, and usually its best served with a little mystery. The Roman writer, Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61-115), watched helpless off shore as his namesake – Uncle Pliny – died in the Vesuvius destruction. Yes, he knew a little about horror.
Here is a ghost story that he recorded, already legendary in his era. The translation is based on that of William Melmoth (1746), and is somewhat modified by this blog writer for easier reading.
There was in Athens a house, spacious and open, but with an infamous reputation, as if filled with pestilence. In the dead of night, a noise like the clashing of iron could frequently be heard, like the rattling of chains.
It is said the noise seemed to be at a distance, then it would approach, nearer, nearer, nearer, and suddenly the phantom would appear in the form of an old man, pale and emaciated, with a long beard, and hair that appeared driven by the wind
Any dwellers in the house passed the night sleepless under the most dismal terrors imaginable, without rest which led them to a kind of madness. As the horrors in their minds increased, unto their death.
Damned as uninhabitable, the house was at last deserted, left alone to the spectral monster. However, the poor owner hoped for some way to be relieved of this burdensome house, so he posted it for rent or sale.
One day a philosopher, Athenodorus Cananites the Stoic, came to Athens. Reading the post bill, he inquired on the dwelling’s price, and the extraordinary cheapness raised his suspicion. Yet being of noble spirit he was not in the least put off. Indeed, he was eager.
As the first evening drew near, Athenodorus asked for a light and his writing materials, then dismissed his aides.
For a time all was silent. Then came the dread rattling of fetters, but Athenodorus was deeply concentrating on his writing. The noise increased and advanced closer till it seemed to be at the door, and at last in the very chamber. Athenodorus looked up and saw the apparition exactly as it had been described. It stood before him, beckoning with one finger.
Athenodorus took up his lamp and followed the ghost moved, and when slowly, it reached the courtyard, it suddenly vanished. Wisely he marked the spot with the most available item, and returned to spend the night writing.
The next day he asked the village magistrate to have the spot dug up. There they found — intertwined with chains — the bones of a body that had long lain in the ground. Respectfully, the skeletal remains were collected, and given proper burial. The tortured ancient spirit was now at rest. The house in Athens was haunted no more.
From Book Seven, Letter 27, “To Sura”.