Apparitions Of The Dead

Among the tall stories in Lucian's _Philopseudus_[79] is an amusing

account of a man whose wife, whom he loved dearly, appeared to him after

she had been dead for twenty days. He had given her a splendid funeral,

and had burnt everything she possessed with her. One day, as he was

sitting quietly reading the Phaedo, she suddenly appeared to him, to the

terror of his son. As soon as he saw her he embraced her tearfully, a

fact which seems to show that she was of a more substantial build than

the large majority of ghosts of the ancient world; but she strictly

forbade him to make any sound whatever. She then explained that she had

come to upbraid the unfortunate man for having neglected to burn one of

her golden slippers with her at the funeral. It had fallen behind the

chest, she explained, and had been forgotten and not placed upon the

pyre with the other. While they were talking, a confounded little

Maltese puppy suddenly began to bark from under the bed, when she

vanished. But the slipper was found exactly where she had described, and

was duly burnt on the following day. The story is refreshingly human.

This question of dress seems to have been a not infrequent source of

anxiety to deceased ladies in the ancient world. Periander,[80] the

tyrant of Corinth, on one occasion wished to consult his wife's spirit

upon a very important matter; but she replied, as she had doubtless

often done when alive, that she would not answer his questions till she

had some decent clothes to wear. Periander waited for a great festival,

when he knew that all the women of Corinth would be assembled in their

best, and then gave orders that they should one and all strip

themselves. He burnt the clothes on a huge pyre in his wife's honour;

and one can imagine his satisfaction at feeling that he had at last

settled the question for ever. He applied to his wife once more with a

clear conscience, when she gave him an unmistakable sign that she was

speaking the truth, and answered his questions as he desired.

That small household matters may weigh heavily upon a woman's

conscience, even nowadays, is shown by the following interesting story,

which may well be compared with the foregoing.[81] In July, 1838, a

Catholic priest, who had gone to Perth to take charge of a mission, was

called upon by a Presbyterian woman. For many weeks past, she explained,

she had been anxious to see a priest. A woman, lately dead, whom she

knew very slightly, had appeared to her during the night for several

nights, urging her to go to a priest and ask him to pay three shillings

and tenpence to a person not specified.

The priest made inquiries, and learnt that the deceased had acted as

washerwoman and followed the regiment. At last, after careful search, he

found a grocer with whom she had dealt, and, on being asked whether a

female of the name owed him anything, the grocer turned up his books and

informed him that she owed him three shillings and tenpence. He paid the

sum. Subsequently the Presbyterian woman came to him, saying that she

was no more troubled.

The spirits of the worst of the Roman Emperors were, as we should

expect, especially restless. Pliny[82] tells us how Fannius, who was

engaged upon a Life of Nero, was warned by him of his approaching death.

He was lying on his couch at dead of night with a writing-desk in front

of him, when Nero came and sat down by his side, took up the first book

he had written on his evil deeds, and read it through to the end; and so

on with the second and the third. Then he vanished. Fannius was

terrified, for he thought the vision implied that he would never get

beyond the third book of his work, and this actually proved to be the


Nero, in fact, had a romantic charm about him, in spite of, or perhaps

because of, the wild recklessness of his life; and he possessed the

redeeming feature of artistic taste. Like Francis I. of France, or our

own Charles II., he was irresistible with the ladies, and must have been

the darling of all the housemaids of Rome. People long refused to

believe in his death, and for many years it was confidently affirmed

that he would appear again. His ghost was long believed to walk in Rome,

and the church of Santa Maria del Popolo is said to have been built as

late as 1099 by Pope Paschalis II. on the site of the tombs of the

Domitii, where Nero was buried, near the modern Porta del Popolo, where

the Via Flaminia entered the city, in order to lay his restless shade.

Caligula also appeared shortly after his death, and frequently disturbed

the keepers of the Lamian Gardens, for his body had been hastily buried

there without due ceremony. Not till his sisters, who really loved him,

in spite of his many faults, had returned from exile were the funeral

rites properly performed, after which his ghost gave no more


On the night of the day of Galba's murder, the Emperor Otho was heard

groaning in his room by his attendants. They rushed in, and found him

lying in front of his bed, endeavouring to propitiate Galba's ghost, by

whom he declared that he saw himself being driven out and expelled.[84]

Otho was a strange mixture of superstition and scepticism, for when he

started on his last fatal expedition he treated the unfavourable omens

with contempt. By this time, however, he may have become desperate.

Moreover, irreligious people are notoriously superstitious, and at this

period it would be very difficult to say just where religion ended and

superstition began.

We have one or two ghost stories connected with early Greek mythology.

Cillas, the charioteer of Pelops, though Troezenius gives his name as

Sphaerus, died on the way to Pisa, and appeared to Pelops by night,

begging that he might be duly buried. Pelops took pity on him and

burnt[85] his body with all ceremony, raised a huge mound in his honour,

and built a chapel to the Cillean Apollo near it. He also named a town

after him. Strabo even says that there was a mound in Cillas' honour at

Crisa in the Troad. This dutiful attention did not go unrewarded. Cillas

appeared to Pelops again, and thanked him for all he had done, and to

Cillas also he is said to have owed the information by which he was able

to overthrow OEnomaus in the famous chariot race which won him the

hand of Hippodamia. Pelops' shameless ingratitude to OEnomaus's

charioteer, Myrtilus, who had removed the pin of his master's chariot,

and thus caused his defeat and death in order to help Pelops, on the

promise of the half of the kingdom, is hardly in accordance with his

treatment of Cillas, though it is thoroughly Greek. However, on the

theory that a man who betrays one master will probably betray another,

especially if he is to be rewarded for his treachery with as much as

half a kingdom, Pelops was right in considering that Myrtilus was best

out of the way; and he can hardly have foreseen the curse that was to

fall upon his family in consequence.

With this story we may compare the well-known tale of the poet

Simonides, who found an unknown corpse on the shore, and honoured it

with burial.[86] Soon afterwards he happened to be on the point of

starting on a voyage, when the man whom he had buried appeared to him in

a dream, and warned him on no account to go by the ship he had chosen,

as it would undoubtedly be wrecked. Impressed by the vision, the poet

remained behind, and the ship went down soon afterwards, with all on

board. Simonides expressed his gratitude in a poem describing the event,

and in several epigrams. Libanius even goes so far as to place the scene

of the event at Tarentum, where he was preparing to take ship for


The tale is probably mythical. It belongs to a group of stories of the

grateful dead, which have been the subject of an interesting book

recently published by the Folk-Lore Society.[87] Mr. Gerould doubts

whether it really belongs to the cycle, as it is nearly two centuries

earlier, even in Cicero's version, than any other yet discovered; but it

certainly inspired Chaucer in his Nun's Priest's Tale, and it may well

have influenced other later versions. The Jewish version is closer to

the Simonides story than any of the others, and I will quote it in Mr.

Gerould's words.[88]

"The son of a rich merchant of Jerusalem sets off after his father's

death to see the world. At Stamboul he finds hanging in chains the body

of a Jew, which the Sultan has commanded to be left there till his

co-religionists shall have repaid the sum that the man is suspected of

having stolen from his royal master. The hero pays this sum, and has the

corpse buried. Later, during a storm at sea he is saved by a stone, on

which he is brought to land, whence he is carried by an eagle back to

Jerusalem. There a white-clad man appears to him, explaining that he is

the ghost of the dead, and that he has already appeared as stone and

eagle. The spirit further promises the hero a reward for his good deed

in the present and in the future life."

This is one of the simplest forms in which the story appears. It is

generally found compounded with some other similar tale; but the main

facts are that a man buries a corpse found on the sea-shore from

philanthropic motives. "Later he is met by the ghost of the dead man,

who in many cases promises him help on condition of receiving, in

return, half of whatever he gets. The hero obtains a wife (or some other

reward), and, when called upon, is ready to fulfil his bargain as to

sharing his possessions,"[89] not excepting the wife. Some of the

characteristics of the tale are to be found in the story of Pelops and

Cillas, related above, which Mr. Gerould does not mention.

Pausanias[90] has a story of one of Ulysses' crew. Ulysses' ship was

driven about by the winds from one city to another in Sicily and Italy,

and in the course of these wanderings it touched at Tecmessa. Here one

of the sailors got drunk and ravished a maiden, and was stoned to death

in consequence by the indignant people of the town. Ulysses did not

trouble about what had occurred, and sailed away. Soon, however, the

ghost of the murdered man became a source of serious annoyance to the

people of the place, killing the inhabitants of the town, regardless of

age and sex. Finally, matters came to such a pass that the town was

abandoned. But the Pythian priestess bade the people return to Tecmessa

and appease the hero by building him a temple and precinct of his own,

and giving him every year the fairest maiden of the town to wife. They

took this advice, and there was no more trouble from the ghost. It

chanced, however, that Euthymus came to Tecmessa just when the people

were paying the dead sailor the annual honours. Learning how matters

stood, he asked to be allowed to go into the temple and see the maiden.

At their meeting he was first touched with pity, and then immediately

fell desperately in love with her. The girl swore to be his, if he would

save her. Euthymus put on his armour and awaited the attack of the

monster. He had the best of the fight, and the ghost, driven from its

home, plunged into the sea. The wedding was, of course, celebrated with

great splendour, and nothing more was heard of the spirit of the drunken

sailor. The story is obviously to be classed with that of Ariadne.

The god-fearing AElian seeks to show that Providence watches over a good

man and brings his murderers to justice by a story taken from

Chrysippus.[91] A traveller put up at an inn in Megara, wearing a belt

full of gold. The innkeeper discovered that he had the money about him,

and murdered him at night, having arranged to carry his body outside the

gates in a dung-cart. But meanwhile the murdered man appeared to a

citizen of the town and told him what had happened. The man was

impressed by the vision. Investigations were made, and the murderer was

caught exactly where the ghost had indicated, and was duly punished.

This is one of the very few stories in which the apparition is seen at

or near the moment of death, as is the case in the vast majority of the

well-authenticated cases collected during recent years.

Aristeas of Proconesus, a man of high birth, died quite suddenly in a

fulling establishment in his native town.[92] The owner locked the

building and went to inform his relatives, when a man from Cyzicus,

hearing the news, denied it, saying that Aristeas had met him on the way

thither and talked to him; and when the relatives came, prepared to

remove the body, they found no Aristeas, either alive or dead.

Altogether, he seems to have been a remarkable person. He disappeared

for seven years, and then appeared in Proconesus and wrote an epic poem

called _Arimispea_, which was well known in Herodotus's day. Two hundred

and forty years later he was seen again, this time at Metapontum, and

bade the citizens build a shrine to Apollo, and near it erect a statue

to himself, as Apollo would come to them alone of the Italian Greeks,

and he would be seen following in the form of a raven. The townsmen were

troubled at the apparition, and consulted the Delphic oracle, which

confirmed all that Aristeas had said; and Apollo received his temple and

Aristeas his statue in the market-place.

Apollonius[93] tells virtually the same story, except that in his

version Aristeas was seen giving a lesson in literature by a number of

persons in Sicily at the very hour he died in Proconesus. He says that

Aristeas appeared at intervals for a number of years after his death.

The elder Pliny[94] also speaks of Aristeas, saying that at Proconesus

his soul was seen to leave his body in the form of a raven, though he

regards the tale as in all probability a fabrication.

The doctor in Lucian's _Philopseudus_ (_c._ 26) declares that he knew a

man who rose from the dead twenty days after he was buried, and that he

attended him after his resurrection. But when asked how it was the body

did not decompose or the man die of hunger, he has no answer to give.

Dio Cassius[95] describes how, when Nero wished to cut a canal through

the Isthmus of Corinth, blood spurted up in front of those who first

touched the earth, groans and cries were heard, and a number of ghosts

appeared. Not till Nero took a pickaxe and began to work himself, to

encourage the men, was any real progress made.

Pliny[96] quotes an interesting account, from Hermotimus of Clazomenae,

of a man whose soul was in the habit of leaving his body and wandering

abroad, as was proved by the fact that he would often describe events

which had happened at a distance, and could only be known to an actual

eyewitness. His body meanwhile lay like that of a man in a trance or

half dead. One day, however, some enemies of his took the body while in

this state and burnt it, thus, to use Pliny's phrase, leaving the soul

no sheath[97] to which it could return.

No one can help being struck by the bald and meagre character of these

stories as a whole. They possess few of the qualities we expect to find

in a good modern ghost story. None of them can equal in pathetic beauty

many of those to be found in Myers's _Human Personality_. Take, for

example, the story of the lady[98] who was waked in the night by the

sound of moaning and sobbing, as of someone in great distress of mind.

Finding nothing in her room, she went and looked out of the landing

window, "and there, on the grass, was a very beautiful young girl in a

kneeling posture before a soldier, in a General's uniform, clasping her

hands together and entreating for pardon; but, alas! he only waived her

away from him."

The story proved to be true. The youngest daughter of the old and

distinguished family to which the house had belonged had had an

illegitimate child. Her parents and relations refused to have anything

more to do with her, and she died broken-hearted. The lady who relates

the story saw the features so clearly on this occasion that she

afterwards recognized the soldier's portrait some six months later, when

calling at a friend's house, and exclaimed: "Why, look! There is the

General!" as soon as she noticed it.

One really beautiful ghost story has, however, come down to us.[99]

Phlegon of Tralles was a freedman of the Emperor Hadrian. His work is

not of great merit. The following is a favourable specimen of his

stories. A monstrous child was born in AEtolia, after the death of its

father, Polycrates. At a public meeting, where it was proposed to do

away with it, the father suddenly appeared, and begged that the child

might be given him. An attempt was made to seize the father, but he

snatched up the child, tore it to pieces, and devoured all but the head.

When it was proposed to consult the Delphic oracle on the matter, the

head prophesied to the crowd from where it lay on the ground.

Then comes the following story. The early part is missing, but Erwin

Rohde, in an interesting article,[100] has cleared up all the essential

details. Proclus's treatises on Plato's Republic are complete only in

the Vatican manuscripts. Of these Mai only published fragments,[101] but

an English theologian, Alexander Morus, took notes from the manuscript

when it was in Florence, and quoted from it in a commentary on the

Epistle to the Hebrews.[102] One of the treatises is called [Greek: pos

dei noein eisienai kai exienai psuchen apo somatos]. The ending in

Phlegon[103] proves that the story was given in the form of a letter,

and we learn that the scene was laid at Amphipolis, on the Strymon, and

that the account was sent by Hipparchus in a letter to Arrhidaeus,

half-brother of Alexander the Great, the events occurring during the

reign of Philip II. of Macedon. Proclus says that his information is

derived from letters, "some written by Hipparchus, others by Arrhidaeus."

Philinnion was the daughter of Demostratus and Charito. She had been

married to Craterus, Alexander's famous General, but had died six months

after her marriage. As we learn that she was desperately in love with

Machates, a foreign friend from Pella who had come to see Demostratus,

the misery of her position may possibly have caused her death. But her

love conquered death itself, and she returned to life again six months

after she had died, and lived with Machates, visiting him for several

nights. "One day an old nurse went to the guest-chamber, and as the

lamp was burning, she saw a woman sitting by Machates. Scarcely able to

contain herself at this extraordinary occurrence, she ran to the girl's

mother, calling: 'Charito! Demostratus!' and bade them get up and go

with her to their daughter, for by the grace of the gods she had

appeared alive, and was with the stranger in the guest-chamber.

"On hearing this extraordinary story, Charito was at first overcome by

it and by the nurse's excitement; but she soon recovered herself, and

burst into tears at the mention of her daughter, telling the old woman

she was out of her senses, and ordering her out of the room. The nurse

was indignant at this treatment, and boldly declared that she was not

out of her senses, but that Charito was unwilling to see her daughter

because she was afraid. At last Charito consented to go to the door of

the guest-chamber, but as it was now quite two hours since she had heard

the news, she arrived too late, and found them both asleep. The mother

bent over the woman's figure, and thought she recognized her daughter's

features and clothes. Not feeling sure, as it was dark, she decided to

keep quiet for the present, meaning to get up early and catch the woman.

If she failed, she would ask Machates for a full explanation, as he

would never tell her a lie in a case so important. So she left the room

without saying anything.

"But early on the following morning, either because the gods so willed

it or because she was moved by some divine impulse, the woman went away

without being observed. When she came to him, Charito was angry with the

young man in consequence, and clung to his knees, and conjured him to

speak the truth and hide nothing from her. At first he was greatly

distressed, and could hardly be brought to admit that the girl's name

was Philinnion. Then he described her first coming and the violence of

her passion, and told how she had said that she was there without her

parents' knowledge. The better to establish the truth of his story, he

opened a coffer and took out the things she had left behind her--a ring

of gold which she had given him, and a belt which she had left on the

previous night. When Charito beheld all these convincing proofs, she

uttered a piercing cry, and rent her clothes and her cloak, and tore her

coif from her head, and began to mourn for her daughter afresh in the

midst of her friends. Machates was deeply distressed on seeing what had

happened, and how they were all mourning, as if for her second funeral.

He begged them to be comforted, and promised them that they should see

her if she appeared. Charito yielded, but bade him be careful how he

fulfilled his promise.

"When night fell and the hour drew near at which Philinnion usually

appeared, they were on the watch for her. She came, as was her custom,

and sat down upon the bed. Machates made no pretence, for he was

genuinely anxious to sift the matter to the bottom, and secretly sent

some slaves to call her parents. He himself could hardly believe that

the woman who came to him so regularly at the same hour was really dead,

and when she ate and drank with him, he began to suspect what had been

suggested to him--namely, that some grave-robbers had violated the tomb

and sold the clothes and the gold ornaments to her father.

"Demostratus and Charito hastened to come at once, and when they saw

her, they were at first speechless with amazement. Then, with cries of

joy, they threw themselves upon their daughter. But Philinnion remained

cold. 'Father and mother,' she said, 'cruel indeed have ye been in that

ye grudged my living with the stranger for three days in my father's

house, for it brought harm to no one. But ye shall pay for your meddling

with sorrow. I must return to the place appointed for me, though I came

not hither without the will of Heaven.' With these words she fell down

dead, and her body lay stretched upon the bed. Her parents threw

themselves upon her, and the house was filled with confusion and sorrow,

for the blow was heavy indeed; but the event was strange, and soon

became known throughout the town, and finally reached my ears.

"During the night I kept back the crowds that gathered round the house,

taking care that there should be no disturbance as the news spread. At

early dawn the theatre was full. After a long discussion it was decided

that we should go and open the tomb, to see whether the body was still

on the bier, or whether we should find the place empty, for the woman

had hardly been dead six months. When we opened the vault where all her

family was buried, the bodies were seen lying on the other biers; but on

the one where Philinnion had been placed, we found only the iron ring

which had belonged to her lover and the gilt drinking-cup Machates had

given her on the first day. In utter amazement, we went straight to

Demostratus's house to see whether the body was still there. We beheld

it lying on the ground, and then went in a large crowd to the place of

assembly, for the whole event was of great importance and absolutely

past belief. Great was the confusion, and no one could tell what to do,

when Hyllus, who is not only considered the best diviner among us, but

is also a great authority on the interpretation of the flight of birds,

and is generally well versed in his art, got up and said that the woman

must be buried outside the boundaries of the city, for it was unlawful

that she should be laid to rest within them; and that Hermes Chthonius

and the Eumenides should be propitiated, and that all pollution would

thus be removed. He ordered the temples to be re-consecrated and the

usual rites to be performed in honour of the gods below. As for the

King, in this affair, he privately told me to sacrifice to Hermes, and

to Zeus Xenius, and to Ares, and to perform these duties with the utmost

care. We have done as he suggested.

"The stranger Machates, who was visited by the ghost, has committed

suicide in despair.

"Now, if you think it right that I should give the King an account of

all this, let me know, and I will send some of those who gave me the

various details."

The story is particularly interesting, as the source of Goethe's _Braut

von Korinth_. In Goethe's poem the girl is a Christian, while her lover

is a pagan. Their parents are friends, and they have been betrothed in

their youth. He comes to stay with her parents, knowing nothing of her

death, when she appears to him. As in the Greek story, her body is

material, though cold and bloodless, and he thinks her still alive. He

takes her in his arms and kisses her back to life and love, breathing

his own passion into her. Then the mother surprises them, and the

daughter upbraids her for her cruelty, but begs that she and her lover

may be buried together, as he must pay for the life he has given her

with his own.

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