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Ghost Stories

The Dovecote
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The Hammersmith Ghost
In the year 1804, the inhabitants of Hammersmith were...

The Tractate Middoth
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Farm House 7 Ground Plan Interior Arrangement
The front door opens into a hall 34 feet long and 10 fe...

Mystery Of The Coins
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The Dog O' Mause
Account of an apparition that appeared to William Souta...

A Suspicious Gift
Blake had been in very low water for months--almost u...

The Power Of The Dead To Return To Earth
Though there is no period at which the ancients do no...

The Difficulty Of Crossing A Field
One morning in July, 1854, a planter named Williams...

The Rose Garden
Mr and Mrs Anstruther were at breakfast in the parlour ...

Stories Of Haunting

In a letter to Sura[30] the younger Pliny gives us what may be taken as
a prototype of all later haunted-house stories. At one time in Athens
there was a roomy old house where nobody could be induced to live. In
the dead of night the sound of clanking chains would be heard, distant
at first, proceeding doubtless from the garden behind or the inner court
of the house, then gradually drawing nearer and nearer, till at last
there appeared the figure of an old man with a long beard, thin and
emaciated, with chains on his hands and feet. The house was finally
abandoned, and advertised to be let or sold at an absurdly low price.
The philosopher Athenodorus read the notice on his arrival in Athens,
but the smallness of the sum asked aroused his suspicions. However, as
soon as he heard the story he took the house. He had his bed placed in
the front court, close to the main door, dismissed his slaves, and
prepared to pass the night there, reading and writing, in order to
prevent his thoughts from wandering to the ghost. He worked on for some
time without anything happening; but at last the clanking of chains was
heard in the distance. Athenodorus did not raise his eyes or stop his
work, but kept his attention fixed and listened. The sounds gradually
drew nearer, and finally entered the room where he was sitting. Then he
turned round and saw the apparition. It beckoned him to follow, but he
signed to it to wait and went on with his work. Not till it came and
clanked its chains over his very head would he take up a lamp and follow
it. The figure moved slowly forward, seemingly weighed down with its
heavy chains, until it reached an open space in the courtyard. There it
vanished. Athenodorus marked the spot with leaves and grass, and on the
next day the ground was dug up in the presence of a magistrate, when the
skeleton of a man with some rusty chains was discovered. The remains
were buried with all ceremony, and the apparition was no more seen.

Lucian tells the same story in the _Philopseudus_, with some ridiculous
additions, thoroughly in keeping with the surroundings.

An almost exactly similar story has been preserved by Robert Wodrow, the
indefatigable collector, in a notebook which he appears to have intended
to be the foundation of a scientific collection of marvellous tales.
Wodrow died early in the eighteenth century. Gilbert Rule, the founder
and first Principal of Edinburgh University, once reached a desolate inn
in a lonely spot on the Grampians. The inn was full, and they were
obliged to make him up a bed in a house near-by that had been vacant for
thirty years. "He walked some time in the room," says Wodrow,[31] "and
committed himself to God's protection, and went to bed. There were two
candles left on the table, and these he put out. There was a large
bright fire remaining. He had not been long in bed till the room door is
opened and an apparition in shape of a country tradesman came in, and
opened the curtains without speaking a word. Mr. Rule was resolved to do
nothing till it should speak or attack him, but lay still with full
composure, committing himself to the Divine protection and conduct. The
apparition went to the table, lighted the two candles, brought them to
the bedside, and made some steps toward the door, looking still to the
bed, as if he would have Mr. Rule rising and following. Mr. Rule still
lay still, till he should see his way further cleared. Then the
apparition, who the whole time spoke none, took an effectual way to
raise the doctor. He carried back the candles to the table and went to
the fire, and with the tongs took down the kindled coals, and laid them
on the deal chamber floor. The doctor then thought it time to rise and
put on his clothes, in the time of which the spectre laid up the coals
again in the chimney, and, going to the table, lifted the candles and
went to the door, opened it, still looking to the Principal, as he would
have him following the candles, which he now, thinking there was
something extraordinary in the case, after looking to God for direction,
inclined to do. The apparition went down some steps with the candles,
and carried them into a long trance, at the end of which there was a
stair which carried down to a low room. This the spectre went down, and
stooped, and set down the lights on the lowest step of the stair, and
straight disappears."

"The learned Principal," continues Burton, "whose courage and coolness
deserve the highest commendation, lighted himself back to bed with the
candles, and took the remainder of his rest undisturbed. Being a man of
great sagacity, on ruminating over his adventure, he informed the
Sheriff of the county 'that he was much of the mind there was murder in
the case.' The stone whereon the candles were placed was raised, and
there 'the plain remains of a human body were found, and bones, to the
conviction of all.' It was supposed to be an old affair, however, and no
traces could be got of the murderer. Rule undertook the functions of the
detective, and pressed into the service the influence of his own
profession. He preached a great sermon on the occasion, to which all the
neighbouring people were summoned; and behold in the time of his sermon,
an old man near eighty years was awakened, and fell a-weeping, and
before the whole company acknowledged that at the building of that
house, he was the murderer."

The main features of the story have changed very little in the course of
ages, except in the important point of the conviction of the murderer,
which would have been effected in a very different way in a Greek story.
Doubtless a similar tale could be found in the folk-lore of almost any

Plutarch[32] relates how, in his native city of Chaeronaea, a certain
Damon had been murdered in some baths. Ghosts continued to haunt the
spot ever afterwards, and mysterious groans were heard, so that at last
the doors were walled up. "And to this very day," he continues, "those
who live in the neighbourhood imagine that they see strange sights and
are terrified with cries of sorrow."

It is quite clear from Plautus that ghost stories, even if not taken
very seriously, aroused a wide-spread interest in the average Roman of
his day, just as they do in the average Briton of our own. They were
doubtless discussed in a half-joking way. The apparitions were generally
believed to frighten people, just as they are at present, though the
well-authenticated stories of such occurrences would seem to show that
genuine ghosts, or whatever one likes to call them, have the power of
paralyzing fear.

In the _Mostellaria_,[33] Plautus uses a ghost as a recognized piece of
supernatural machinery. The regulation father of Roman comedy has gone
away on a journey, and in the meantime the son has, as usual, almost
reached the end of his father's fortune. The father comes back
unexpectedly, and the son turns in despair to his faithful slave,
Tranio, for help. Tranio is equal to the occasion, and undertakes to
frighten the inconvenient parent away again. He gives an account of an
apparition that has been seen, and has announced that it is the ghost of
a stranger from over-seas, who has been dead for six years.

"Here must I dwell," it had declared, "for the gods of the lower world
will not receive me, seeing that I died before my time. My host murdered
me, his guest, villain that he was, for the gold that I carried, and
secretly buried me, without funeral rites, in this house. Be gone hence,
therefore, for it is accursed and unholy ground." This story is enough
for the father. He takes the advice, and does not return till Tranio and
his dutiful son are quite ready for him.

Great battlefields are everywhere believed to be haunted. Tacitus[34]
relates how, when Titus was besieging Jerusalem, armies were seen
fighting in the sky; and at a much later date, after a great battle
against Attila and the Huns, under the walls of Rome, the ghosts of the
dead fought for three days and three nights, and the clash of their arms
was distinctly heard.[35] Marathon is no exception to the rule.
Pausanias[36] says that any night you may hear horses neighing and men
fighting there. To go on purpose to see the sight never brought good to
any man; but with him who unwittingly lights upon it the spirits are not
angry. He adds that the people of Marathon worship the men who fell in
the battle as heroes; and who could be more worthy of such honour than
they? The battle itself was not without its marvellous side. Epizelus,
the Athenian, used to relate how a huge hoplite, whose beard
over-shadowed all his shield, stood over against him in the thick of the
fight. The apparition passed him by and killed the man next him, but
Epizelus came out of the battle blind, and remained so for the rest of
his life.[37] Plutarch[38] also relates of a place in Boeotia where a
battle had been fought, that there is a stream running by, and that
people imagine that they hear panting horses in the roaring waters.

But the strangest account of the habitual haunting of great battlefields
is to be found in Philostratus's _Heroica_, which represents the spirits
of the Homeric heroes as still closely connected with Troy and its
neighbourhood. How far the stories are based on local tradition it is
impossible to say; they are told by a vine-dresser, who declares that he
lives under the protection of Protesilaus. At one time he was in danger
of being violently ousted from all his property, when the ghost of
Protesilaus appeared to the would-be despoiler in a vision, and struck
him blind. The great man was so terrified at this event that he carried
his depredations no further; and the vine-dresser has since continued to
cultivate what remained of his property under the protection of the
hero, with whom he lives on most intimate terms. Protesilaus often
appears to him while he is at work and has long talks with him, and he
keeps off wild beasts and disease from the land.

Not only Protesilaus, but also his men, and, in fact, virtually all of
the "giants of the mighty bone and bold emprise" who fought round Troy,
can be seen on the plain at night, clad like warriors, with nodding
plumes. The inhabitants are keenly interested in these apparitions, and
well they may be, as so much depends upon them. If the heroes are
covered with dust, a drought is impending; if with sweat, they
foreshadow rain. Blood upon their arms means a plague; but if they show
themselves without any distinguishing mark, all will be well.

Though the heroes are dead, they cannot be insulted with impunity. Ajax
was popularly believed, owing to the form taken by his madness, to be
especially responsible for any misfortune that might befall flocks and
herds. On one occasion some shepherds, who had had bad luck with their
cattle, surrounded his tomb and abused him, bringing up all the weak
points in his earthly career recorded by Homer. At last they went too
far for his patience, and a terrible voice was heard in the tomb and the
clash of armour. The offenders fled in terror, but came to no harm.

On another occasion some strangers were playing at draughts near his
shrine, when Ajax appeared and begged them to stop, as the game reminded
him of Palamedes.

Hector was a far more dangerous person. Maximus of Tyre[39] says that
the people of Ilium often see him bounding over the plain at dead of
night in flashing armour--a truly Homeric picture. Maximus cannot,
indeed, boast of having seen Hector, though he also has had his visions
vouchsafed him. He had seen Castor and Pollux, like twin stars, above
his ship, steering it through a storm. AEsculapius also he has
seen--not in a dream, by Hercules, but with his waking eyes. But to
return to Hector. Philostratus says that one day an unfortunate boy
insulted him in the same way in which the shepherds had treated Ajax.
Homer, however, did not satisfy this boy, and as a parting shaft he
declared that the statue in Ilium did not really represent Hector, but
Achilles. Nothing happened immediately, but not long afterwards, while
the boy was driving a team of ponies, Hector appeared in the form of a
warrior in a brook which was, as a rule, so small as not even to have a
name. He was heard shouting in a foreign tongue as he pursued the boy in
the stream, finally overtaking and drowning him with his ponies. The
bodies were never afterwards recovered.

Philostratus gives us a quantity of details about the Homeric heroes,
which the vine-dresser has picked up in his talks with Protesilaus. Most
of the heroes can be easily recognized. Achilles, for instance, enters
into conversation with various people, and goes out hunting. He can be
recognized by his height and his beauty and his bright armour; and as he
rushes past he is usually accompanied by a whirlwind--[Greek: podarkes,
dios], even after death.

Then we hear the story of the White Isle. Helen and Achilles fell in
love with one another, though they had never met--the one hidden in
Egypt, the other fighting before Troy. There was no place near Troy
suited for their eternal life together, so Thetis appealed to Poseidon
to give them an island home of their own. Poseidon consented, and the
White Isle rose up in the Black Sea, near the mouth of the Danube. There
Achilles and Helen, the manliest of men and the most feminine of women,
first met and first embraced; and Poseidon himself, and Amphitrite, and
all the Nereids, and as many river gods and spirits as dwell near the
Euxine and Maeotis, came to the wedding. The island is thickly covered
with white trees and with elms, which grow in regular order round the
shrine; and on it there dwell certain white birds, fragrant of the salt
sea, which Achilles is said to have tamed to his will, so that they keep
the glades cool, fanning them with their wings and scattering spray as
they fly along the ground, scarce rising above it. To men sailing over
the broad bosom of the sea the island is holy when they disembark, for
it lies like a hospitable home to their ships. But neither those who
sail thither, nor the Greeks and barbarians living round the Black Sea,
may build a house upon it; and all who anchor and sacrifice there must
go on board at sunset. No man may pass the night upon the isle, and no
woman may even land there. If the wind is favourable, ships must sail
away; if not, they must put out and anchor in the bay and sleep on
board. For at night men say that Achilles and Helen drink together, and
sing of each other's love, and of the war, and of Homer. Now that his
battles are over, Achilles cultivates the gift of song he had received
from Calliope. Their voices ring out clear and godlike over the water,
and the sailors sit trembling with emotion as they listen. Those who
had anchored there declared that they had heard the neighing of horses,
and the clash of arms, and shouts such as are raised in battle.

Maximus of Tyre[40] also describes the island, and tells how sailors
have often seen a fair-haired youth dancing a war-dance in golden armour
upon it; and how once, when one of them unwittingly slept there,
Achilles woke him, and took him to his tent and entertained him.
Patroclus poured the wine and Achilles played the lyre, while Thetis
herself is said to have been present with a choir of other deities.

If they anchor to the north or the south of the island, and a breeze
springs up that makes the harbours dangerous, Achilles warns them, and
bids them change their anchorage and avoid the wind. Sailors relate how,
"when they first behold the island, they embrace each other and burst
into tears of joy. Then they put in and kiss the land, and go to the
temple to pray and to sacrifice to Achilles." Victims stand ready of
their own accord at the altar, according to the size of the ship and the
number of those on board.

Pausanias also mentions the White Isle.[41] On one occasion, Leonymus,
while leading the people of Croton against the Italian Locrians,
attacked the spot where he was informed that Ajax Oileus, on whom the
people of Locris had called for help, was posted in the van. According
to Conon,[42] who, by the way, calls the hero Autoleon, when the people
of Croton went to war, they also left a vacant space for Ajax in the
forefront of their line. However this may be, Leonymus was wounded in
the breast, and as the wound refused to heal and weakened him
considerably, he applied to Delphi for advice. The god told him to sail
to the White Isle, where Ajax would heal him of his wound. Thither,
therefore, he went, and was duly healed. On his return he described what
he had seen--how that Achilles was now married to Helen; and it was
Leonymus who told Stesichorus that his blindness was due to Helen's
wrath, and thus induced him to write the _Palinode_.

Achilles himself is once said to have appeared to a trader who
frequently visited the island. They talked of Troy, and then the hero
gave him wine, and bade him sail away and fetch him a certain Trojan
maiden who was the slave of a citizen of Ilium. The trader was surprised
at the request, and ventured to ask why he wanted a Trojan slave.
Achilles replied that it was because she was of the same race as Hector
and his ancestors, and of the blood of the sons of Priam and Dardanus.
The trader thought that Achilles was in love with the girl, whom he duly
brought with him on his next visit to the island. Achilles thanked him,
and bade him keep her on board the ship, doubtless because women were
not allowed to land. In the evening he was entertained by Achilles and
Helen, and his host gave him a large sum of money, promising to make
him his guest-friend and to bring luck to his ship and his business. At
daybreak Achilles dismissed him, telling him to leave the girl on the
shore. When they had gone about a furlong from the island, a horrible
cry from the maiden reached their ears, and they saw Achilles tearing
her to pieces, rending her limb from limb.

In this brutal savage it is impossible to recognize Homer's chivalrous
hero, who sacrificed the success of a ten years' war, fought originally
for the recovery of one woman, to his grief at the loss of another, and
has thus made it possible to describe the _Iliad_ as the greatest
love-poem ever written. One cannot help feeling that Pindar's Isle of
the Blest, whither he was brought by Thetis, whose mother's prayer had
moved the Heart of Zeus, to dwell with Cadmus and Peleus, is Achilles'
true home; or the isle of the heroes of all time, described by Carducci,
where King Lear sits telling OEdipus of his sufferings, and Cordelia
calls to Antigone, "Come, my Greek sister! We will sing of peace to our
fathers." Helen and Iseult, silent and thoughtful, roam under the shade
of the myrtles, while the setting sun kisses their golden hair with its
reddening rays. Helen gazes across the sea, but King Mark opens his arms
to Iseult, and the fair head sinks on the mighty beard. Clytemnestra
stands by the shore with the Queen of Scots. They bathe their white arms
in the waves, but the waves recoil swollen with red blood, while the
wailing of the hapless women echoes along the rocky strand. Among these
heroic souls Shelley alone of modern poets--that Titan spirit in a
maiden's form--may find a place, according to Carducci, caught up by
Sophocles from the living embrace of Thetis.[43]

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