Spooky Thursday again. A couple of years ago, I noted the corpus of ancient ghost stories having something to do with the Corinthia and wondered aloud whether this had something to do with Corinth’s reputation as an exotic place, its particular history as a destroyed city, or whether the pattern was common to most ancient cities. Whatever the case, there’s not much scarier than a Phoenician vampire who preys on philosophy students.
Except for a good haunted house. This year’s ghost tale comes from the second century orator, Lucian of Samasota, who, in The Lover of Lies, Ch. 28-32, gives an example of a haunted house in the Kraneion district of Corinth. In the story, Arignotus the Pythagorean tries to convince the skeptical Tychiades that ghosts are real and recounts how he cast out a spirit from an abandoned house owned by Eubatides. Those familiar with Athanasius’ later Life of St. Anthony will observe superficial parallels to the account of Antony spending the night in the Egyptian cave and encountering shape-changing demons along the way.
The full account from Lover of Lies is also available online here.
“Is it right, Tychiades, to doubt these apparitions any longer, when they are distinctly seen and a matter of daily occurrence ?” “No, by Heaven,” I said : “those who doubt and are so disrespectful toward truth deserve to be spanked like children, with a gilt sandal ! ”
At this juncture Arignotus the Pythagorean came in, the man with the long hair and the majestic face — you know the one who is renowned for wisdom, whom they call holy. As I caught sight of him, I drew a breath of relief, thinking : ” There now, a broadaxe has come to hand to use against their lies. The wise man will stop their mouths when they tell such prodigious yarns.” I thought that Fortune had trundled him in to me like a deus ex machina, as the phrase is. But when Cleodemus had made room for him and he was seated, he first asked about the illness, and when Eucrates told him that it was already less troublesome, said : ” What were you debating among yourselves? As I came in, I overheard you, and it seemed to me that you were on the point of giving a fine turn to the conversation!
“We are only trying to persuade this man of adamant,” said Eucrates, pointing at me, “to believe that spirits and phantoms exist, and that souls of dead men go about above ground and appear to whomsoever they will.” I flushed and lowered my yes out of reverence for Arignotus. “Perhaps, Eucrates,” he said, “Tychiades means that only the ghosts of those who died by violence walk, for example, if a man hanged himself, or had his head cut off, or was crucified, or departed life in some similar way; and that those of men who died a natural death do not. If that is what he means, we cannot altogether reject what he says.” “No, by Heaven,” replied Deinomachus,” he thinks that such things do not exist at all and are not seen in bodily form.”
“What is that you say?” said Arignotus, with a sour look at me.” Do you think that none of these things happen, although everybody, I may say, sees them.” “Plead in my defence,” said I, “if I do not believe in them, that I am the only one of all who does not see them if I saw them, I should believe in them, of course, just as you do.” ” Come,” said he, ” if ever you go to Corinth, ask where the house of Eubatides is, and when it is pointed out to
you beside Cornel Grove, enter it and say to the doorman Tibius that you should like to see where the Pythagorean Arignotus exhumed the spirit and drove it away, making the house habitable from that time on.”
” What was that, Arignotus ? ” asked Eucrates.
“It was uninhabitable,” he replied, “for a long time because of terrors ; whenever anyone took up his abode in it, he fled in panic at once, chased out by a fearful, terrifying phantom. So it was falling in and the roof was tumbling down, and there was nobody at all who had the courage to enter it.
“When I heard all this, I took my books — I have a great number of Egyptian works about such matters — and went into the house at bed-time, although my host tried to dissuade me and all but held me when he learned where I was going — into misfortune with my eyes open, he thought. But taking a lamp I went in alone; in the largest room I put down the light and was reading peacefully, seated on the ground, when the spirit appeared, thinking that he was setting upon a man of the common sort and expecting to affright me as he had the others ; he was squalid and long-haired and blacker than the dark. Standing over me, he made attempts upon me, attacking me from all sides to see if he could get the best of me anywhere, and turning now into a dog, now into a bull or a lion. But I brought into play my most frightful imprecation, speaking the Egyptian language, pent him up in a certain corner of a dark room, and laid him. Then, having observed where he went down, I slept for the rest of the night.
“In the morning, when everybody had given up hope and expected to find me dead like the others, I came forth to the surprise of all and went to Eubatides with the good tidings that he could now inhabit his house, which was purged and free from terrors. So, taking him along and many of the others too — they went with us because the thing was so amazing — I led them to the place where I had seen that the spirit had gone down and told them to take picks and shovels and dig. When they did so, there was found buried about six feet deep a mouldering body of which only the bones lay together in order. We exhumed and buried it; and the house from that time ceased to be troubled by the phantoms.”
When Arignotus, a man of superhuman wisdom, revered by all, told this story, there was no longer any one of those present who did not hold me convicted of gross folly if I doubted such things, especially as the narrator was Arignotus. Nevertheless I did not blench either at his long hair or at the reputation which encompassed him, but said : “What is this, Arignotus ? Were you, Truth’s only hope, just like the rest — full of moonshine and vain imaginings? Indeed the saying has come true: our pot of gold has turned out to be nothing but coals.”