Pliny The Younger

_Letter to Sura_

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 suite 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

marvelous? 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 afterwards hard by. Presently

a specter 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 some one,

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 signaling 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

afterwards 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 some one 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 afterwards 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 it 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 averted.

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.