Ghosts — Gods for the ordinary person?


Haunted House
Elm Street. Photo by Ticklebug.

There was in Athens a house, spa­cious and open, but with an infam­ous repu­ta­tion, as if filled with pes­ti­lence. For in the dead of night, a noise like the clash­ing of iron could be heard. And if one listened care­fully, it soun­ded like the rat­tling of chains. At first the noise seemed to be at a dis­tance, but then it would approach, nearer, nearer, nearer. Suddenly a phantom would appear, an old man, pale and ema­ci­ated, with a long beard, and hair that appeared driven by the wind. The fet­ters on his feet and hands rattled as he moved them.

Any dwell­ers in the house passed sleep­less nights under the most dis­mal ter­rors ima­gin­able. The nights without rest led them to a kind of mad­ness, and as the hor­rors in their minds increased, onto a path toward death. Even in the daytime–when the phantom did not appear–the memory of the night­mare was so strong that it still passed before their eyes. The ter­ror remained when the cause of it was gone.

Damned as unin­hab­it­able, the house was at last deser­ted, left to the spec­tral mon­ster. But in hope that some ten­ant might be found who was unaware of the malevol­ence within it, the house was pos­ted for rent or sale.

It happened that a philo­sopher named Athenodorus came to Athens at that time. Reading the pos­ted bill, he dis­covered the dwelling’s price. The extraordin­ary cheapness raised his sus­pi­cion, yet when he heard the whole story, he was not in the least put off. Indeed, he was eager to take the place. And did so immediately.

As even­ing drew near, Athenodorus had a couch pre­pared for him in the front sec­tion of the house. He asked for a light and his writ­ing mater­i­als, then dis­missed his retain­ers. To keep his mind from being dis­trac­ted by vain ter­rors of ima­gin­ary noises and appar­i­tions, he dir­ec­ted all his energy toward his writing.

For a time the night was silent. Then came the rat­tling of fet­ters. Athenodorus neither lif­ted up his eyes, nor laid down his pen. Instead he closed his ears by con­cen­trat­ing on his work. But the noise increased and advanced closer till it seemed to be at the door, and at last in the very cham­ber. Athenodorus looked round and saw the appar­i­tion exactly as it had been described to him. It stood before him, beck­on­ing with one finger.

Athenodorus made a sign with his hand that the vis­itor should wait a little, and bent over his work. The ghost, how­ever, shook the chains over the philosopher’s head, beck­on­ing as before. Athenodorus now took up his lamp and fol­lowed. The ghost moved slowly, as if held back by his chains. Once it reached the court­yard, it sud­denly vanished.

Athenodorus, now deser­ted, care­fully marked the spot with a hand­ful of grass and leaves. The next day he asked the magis­trate to have the spot dug up. There they found–intertwined with chains–the bones that were all that remained of a body that had long lain in the ground. Carefully, the skeletal rel­ics were col­lec­ted and given proper burial, at pub­lic expense. The tor­tured ancient was at rest. And the house in Athens was haunted no more.

Ghost story from Pliny’s Letters

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Getty Museum knowingly bought archaeological treasures stolen from Italy, investigation claims


You never know who you’ll meet at the Getty.
32867. Originally uploaded by Least Wanted.

A story in the Guardian on the Getty Museum, though it’s hardly the only major museum in the world with this prob­lem. SAFE points to the LA Times which has another story, Getting it right at the Getty, talk­ing about the issue.

One you probably won’t see in the papers


Efrosyni and Me
Efrosyni (right) and Me.

Had my photo taken with Efrosyni for a Greek paper, Ta Nea, yes­ter­day. I’m the one on the left in glasses. We’re fre­quently con­fused for one another. Not by any­one who’s met us both I should add, but for some reason we both get called Efrosyni if she or I gives a paper on our work separately.

The one they’ll prob­ably use is one without the glasses. Though you still can’t see my eyes as they’re nearly closed in the bright sunlight.

Essays for 1st years


Term will be start­ing soon and a new intake of first years will be won­der­ing what is wanted from an essay. I’ve updated my file, but I may re-write it again before term starts.

Panic. Photo by ckirk­man.

I remem­ber pan­ick­ing at the thought of writ­ing 2000 words when I did my first Ancient History essay, so if you’re still wor­ried with a fort­night to go before the dead­line, here’s how I’d tackle a first year essay.

Rule One. This is import­ant. Tattoo it to friend’s head so you don’t forget.

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There could be something in it


The Skeptic's CircleThat’s a phrase that grates some­times. “There could be some­thing in it.” It doesn’t seem to mat­ter what out­rageous tale you make up, it doesn’t take too long before you find someone who’ll gently shake their head, hmm and say “Well, there could be some­thing in it.”

This does crop up as a phrase from gradu­ates in Archaeology and Ancient History from most uni­ver­sit­ies that I’ve met. Interestingly I often hear in asso­ci­ation to claims about Atlantis or Pyramids on Mars. Obviously the Face on Mars isn’t an actual face, but there could be some­thing in it. If read­ers from the hard sci­ences are feel­ing unduly smug, I also struggled with a Physics post-doc who was con­vinced that inter­breed­ing with ali­ens was a pos­sib­il­ity, when we find them. We share no DNA with alien life, if it exists. We do how­ever share some­thing like 47% of our DNA with cab­bages (I think that the fig­ure var­ies a lot depend­ing on how you meas­ure it). A Human-cabbage hybrid would seem more likely. You can insert a joke about the politi­cian of your choice here.
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