Wednesday, 15 January 2014



Our leisure furnishes me with the opportunity of learning from you, and
you with that of instructing me. Accordingly, I particularly wish to
know whether you think there exist such things as phantoms, possessing
an appearance peculiar to themselves, and a certain supernatural power,
or that mere empty delusions receive a shape from our fears. For my
part, I am led to believe in their existence, especially by what I hear
happened to Curtius Rufus. While still in humble circumstances and
obscure, he was a hanger-on in the suit of the Governor of Africa. While
pacing the colonnade one afternoon, there appeared to him a female form
of superhuman size and beauty. She informed the terrified man that she
was "Africa," and had come to foretell future events; for that he would
go to Rome, would fill offices of state there, and would even return to
that same province with the highest powers, and die in it. All which
things were fulfilled. Moreover, as he touched at Carthage, and was
disembarking from his ship, the same form is said to have presented
itself to him on the shore. It is certain that, being seized with
illness, and auguring the future from the past and misfortune from his
previous prosperity, he himself abandoned all hope of life, though none
of those about him despaired.
Is not the following story again still more appalling and not less
marvellous? I will relate it as it was received by me:
There was at Athens a mansion, spacious and commodious, but of evil
repute and dangerous to health. In the dead of night there was a noise
as of iron, and, if you listened more closely, a clanking of chains was
heard, first of all from a distance, and afterward hard by. Presently a
spectre used to appear, an ancient man sinking with emaciation and
squalor, with a long beard and bristly hair, wearing shackles on his
legs and fetters on his hands, and shaking them. Hence the inmates, by
reason of their fears, passed miserable and horrible nights in
sleeplessness. This want of sleep was followed by disease, and, their
terrors increasing, by death. For in the daytime as well, though the
apparition had departed, yet a reminiscence of it flitted before their
eyes, and their dread outlived its cause. The mansion was accordingly
deserted, and condemned to solitude, was entirely abandoned to the
dreadful ghost. However, it was advertised, on the chance of someone,
ignorant of the fearful curse attached to it, being willing to buy or to
rent it. Athenodorus, the philosopher, came to Athens and read the
advertisement. When he had been informed of the terms, which were so low
as to appear suspicious, he made inquiries, and learned the whole of the
particulars. Yet none the less on that account, nay, all the more
readily, did he rent the house. As evening began to draw on, he ordered
a sofa to be set for himself in the front part of the house, and called
for his notebooks, writing implements, and a light. The whole of his
servants he dismissed to the interior apartments, and for himself
applied his soul, eyes, and hand to composition, that his mind might
not, from want of occupation, picture to itself the phantoms of which he
had heard, or any empty terrors. At the commencement there was the
universal silence of night. Soon the shaking of irons and the clanking
of chains was heard, yet he never raised his eyes nor slackened his pen,
but hardened his soul and deadened his ears by its help. The noise grew
and approached: now it seemed to be heard at the door, and next inside
the door. He looked round, beheld and recognized the figure he had been
told of. It was standing and signalling to him with its finger, as
though inviting him. He, in reply, made a sign with his hand that it
should wait a moment, and applied himself afresh to his tablets and pen.
Upon this the figure kept rattling its chains over his head as he wrote.
On looking round again, he saw it making the same signal as before, and
without delay took up a light and followed it. It moved with a slow
step, as though oppressed by its chains, and, after turning into the
courtyard of the house, vanished suddenly and left his company. On being
thus left to himself, he marked the spot with some grass and leaves
which he plucked. Next day he applied to the magistrates, and urged them
to have the spot in question dug up. There were found there some bones
attached to and intermingled with fetters; the body to which they had
belonged, rotted away by time and the soil, had abandoned them thus
naked and corroded to the chains. They were collected and interred at
the public expense, and the house was ever afterward free from the
spirit, which had obtained due sepulture.
The above story I believe on the strength of those who affirm it. What
follows I am myself in a position to affirm to others. I have a
freedman, who is not without some knowledge of letters. A younger
brother of his was sleeping with him in the same bed. The latter dreamed
he saw someone sitting on the couch, who approached a pair of scissors
to his head, and even cut the hair from the crown of it. When day dawned
he was found to be cropped round the crown, and his locks were
discovered lying about. A very short time afterward a fresh occurrence
of the same kind confirmed the truth of the former one. A lad of mine
was sleeping, in company with several others, in the pages' apartment.
There came through the windows (so he tells the story) two figures in
white tunics, who cut his hair as he lay, and departed the way they
came. In his case, too, daylight exhibited him shorn, and his locks
scattered around. Nothing remarkable followed, except, perhaps, this,
that I was not brought under accusation, as I should have been, if
Domitian (in whose reign these events happened) had lived longer. For in
his desk was found an information against me which had been presented by
Carus; from which circumstance may be conjectured--inasmuch as it is the
custom of accused persons to let their hair grow--that the cutting off
of my slaves' hair was a sign of the danger which threatened me being
I beg, then, that you will apply your great learning to this subject.
The matter is one which deserves long and deep consideration on your
part; nor am I, for my part, undeserving of having the fruits of your
wisdom imparted to me. You may even argue on both sides (as your way
is), provided you argue more forcibly on one side than the other, so as
not to dismiss me in suspense and anxiety, when the very cause of my
consulting you has been to have my doubts put an end to.

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