The Best Mystery and Detective Stories HTML version

PLINY, THE YOUNGER (First Century)
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