Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Athenodorus, the Worlds First Paranormal Investigator

While delving into Greco-Roman religion for a course that finishes my Master of Divinity degree, I remembered back to an old article in Fortean Times by Professor Barry Baldwin. In the 12th in a series of articles for his byline called "Classics Corner" he references many incidences of ghosts in classic literature of the ancient world. Upon reading the original texts one story stood out, that of the Athenodorus and the ghost of Athens found in Pliny's "Letters". Athenodorus Cananites (c.74BC-7AD) was a Stoic philosopher and a teacher of Octavian (Ceasar Augustus). He also seems to be histories first recorded Paranormal Investigator!

Here the story of his encounter as recorded in Pliny the Younger's Letters, Book 7.

“There was at Athens a large and spacious, but ill‑reputed and pestilential house. In the dead of the night a noise, resembling the clashing of iron, was frequently heard, which, if you listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of fetters; at first it seemed at a distance, but approached nearer by degrees; immediately afterward a phantom appeared in the form of an old man, extremely meagre and squalid, with a long beard and bristling hair; rattling the gyves on his feet and hands. The poor inhabitants consequently passed sleepless nights under the most dismal terrors imaginable. This, as it broke their rest, threw them into distempers, which, as their horrors of mind increased, proved in the end fatal to their lives. For even in the day time, though the spectre did not appear, yet the remembrance of it made such a strong impression on their imaginations that it still seemed before their eyes, and their terror remained when the cause of it was gone. By this means the house was at last deserted, as being judged by everybody to be absolutely uninhabitable; so that it was now entirely abandoned to the ghost. However, in hopes that some tenant might be found who was ignorant of this great calamity which attended it, a bill was put up, giving notice that it was either to be let or sold.
It happened that Athenodorus the philosopher came to Athens at this time, and reading the bill ascertained the price. The extraordinary cheapness raised his suspicion; nevertheless, when he heard the whole story, he was so far from being discouraged, that he was more strongly inclined to hire it, and, in short, actually did so. When it grew towards evening, he ordered a couch to be prepared for him in the fore‑part of the house, and after calling for a light, together with his pen and tablets, he directed all his people to retire within. But that his mind might not, for want of employment, be open to the vain terrors of imaginary noises and apparitions, he applied himself to writing with all his faculties. The first part of the night passed with usual silence, then began the clanking of iron fetters; however, he neither lifted up his eyes, nor laid down his pen, but closed his ears by concentrating his attention. The noise increased and advanced nearer, till it seemed at the door, and at last in the chamber. He looked round and saw the apparition exactly as it had been described to him: it stood before him, beckoning with the finger. Athenodorus made a sign with his hand that it should wait a little, and bent again to his writing, but the ghost rattling its chains over his head as he wrote, he looked round and saw it beckoning as before. Upon this he immediately took up his lamp and followed it. The ghost slowly stalked along, as if encumbered with its chains; and having turned into the courtyard of the house, suddenly vanished. Athenodorus being thus deserted, marked the spot with a handful of grass and leaves. The next day he went to the magistrates, and advised them to order that spot to be dug up. There they found bones commingled and intertwined with chains; for the body had mouldered away by long Iying in the ground, leaving them bare, and corroded by the fetters. The bones were collected, and buried at the public expense; and after the ghost was thus duly laid the house was haunted no more.” (

Thanks to Prof. Bladwin's original work you can read more ghost tales from ancient Greece and Rome in my Examiner article here: Hauntings in Ancient Greece and Rome
Until Next Time,
Pastor Swope


Jessica Penot said...

Wow. What a wonderful history story. Great Post.

Epic Jeff said...

Very interesting!

Khristian De Soto said...

Great post appreciate it gravely.

Maria Angeleyes said...

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