|1. Pliny The Younger, Letters, 7.27, 9.26 (2nd cent. CE - 2nd cent. CE)
Tagged with subjects: • Altman, J.
Found in books: Hanghan (2019) 15, 139; Hitch (2017) 15, 139
|7.27. To Sura. The leisure we are both of us enjoying gives you an opportunity of imparting, and me an opportunity of receiving, information. So I should very much like to know whether in your opinion there are such things as ghosts, whether you think they have a shape of their own and a touch of the supernatural in them, or whether you consider they are vain, empty shadows and mere creatures of our fears and imaginations. For my own part, I feel led to believe that they have a real existence, and this mainly from what I hear befell Curtius Rufus. * In the days when he was still poor and obscure, he had attached himself to the person of the governor of Africa. One evening at sundown he was walking in the portico, when the figure of a woman - but taller and more beautiful than mortal woman - presented itself before him and told Rufus, who was terrified with fright, that she was Africa and could foretell the future. She declared that he would go to Rome and hold high offices of state, and that he would also return with plenary powers as governor to that same province, and there meet his death. All these details were fulfilled. Moreover, when he was entering Carthage and just stepping out of his ship, the same figure is said to have met him on the beach. Certain it is that when he was attacked by illness, he interpreted the future by the past, and his coming adversity by his present prosperity, and, though none of his people were despairing of his recovery, he cast aside all hope of getting better. Now I want you to consider whether the following story, which I shall tell you just as I heard it, is not even more terrifying and no less wonderful than the other. There stood at Athens a spacious and roomy house, but it had an evil reputation of being fatal to those who lived in it. In the silence of the night the clank of iron and, if you listened with closer attention, the rattle of chains were heard, the sound coming first from a distance and afterwards quite close at hand. Then appeared the ghostly form of an old man, emaciated, filthy, decrepit, with a flowing beard and hair on end, with fetters round his legs and chains on his hands, which he kept shaking. The terrified inmates passed sleepless nights of fearful terror, and following upon their sleeplessness came disease and then death as their fears increased. For every now and again, though the ghost had vanished, memory conjured up the vision before their eyes, and their fright remained longer than the apparition which had caused it. Then the house was deserted and condemned to stand empty, and was wholly abandoned to the spectre, while the authorities forbade that it should be sold or let to anyone wishing to take it, not knowing under what a curse it lay. The philosopher Athenodorus came to Athens, read the notice board, and on hearing the price hesitated, because the low rent made him suspicious. Then he was told the whole story, and, so far from being deterred, he became the more eager to rent it When evening began to fall, he ordered his people to make him up a bed in the front of the house, and asked for his tablets, a pen, and a lamp. Dismissing all his servants to the inner rooms, he applied mind, eyes, and hand to the task of writing, lest by having nothing to think about he might begin to conjure up the apparition of which he had been told and other idle fears. At first the night was just as still there as elsewhere, then the iron was rattled and the chains clanked. Athenodorus did not raise his eyes, nor cease to write, but fortified his resolution and closed his ears. The noise became louder and drew nearer, and was heard now on the threshold and then within the room itself. He turned his head, and saw and recognised the ghost which had been described to him. It stood and beckoned with its finger, as if calling him; but Athenodorus merely motioned with his hand, as if to bid it wait a little, and once more bent over his tablets and plied his pen. As he wrote the spectre rattled its chains over his head, and looking round he saw that it was beckoning as before, so, without further delay, he took up the lamp and followed. The spectre walked with slow steps, as though burdened by the chains, then it turned off into the courtyard of the house and suddenly vanished, leaving its companion alone, who thereupon plucked some grass and foliage to mark the place. On the following day he went to the magistrates and advised them to give orders that the place should be dug up. Bones were found with chains wound round them. Time and the action of the soil had made the flesh moulder, and left the bones bare and eaten away by the chains, but the remains were collected and given a public burial. Ever afterwards the house was free of the ghost which had been thus laid with due ceremony. I quite believe those who vouch for these details, but the following story I can vouch for to others. I have a freedman who is a man of some education. A younger brother of his was sleeping with him in the same bed, and he thought he saw someone sitting upon the bed and applying a pair of shears to his head, and even cutting off some hair from his crown. When day broke, his hair actually was cut at the crown, and the locks were found lying close by. A little time elapsed, and a similar incident occurred to make people believe the other story was true. A young slave of mine was sleeping with a number of others in the dormitory, when, according to his story, two men clothed in white tunics entered by the window and cut his hair as he slept, retiring by the way they came. Daylight revealed that his hair had been cut and the locks lay scattered around. No incident of any note followed, unless it was that I escaped prosecution, as I should not have done if Domitian, in whose reign these incidents had taken place, had lived any longer than he did. For in his writing-desk there was discovered a document sent in by Carus which denounced me. This gives rise to the conjecture that, as it is the custom for accused persons to let their hair go untrimmed, the fact that the hair of my slaves was cut was a sign that the peril overhanging me had passed away. I beg of you to bring your erudition to bear on these stories. The matter is one which is worth long and careful, consideration, nor am I altogether undeserving of your imparting to me your plentiful knowledge. I will let you follow your usual habit of arguing on both sides of the case, but be sure that you take up one side more strongly than the other, so that I may not go away in suspense and uncertainty, when the reason I asked your advice was just this - that you should put an end to my doubts. Farewell. |
9.26. To Lupercus. When referring to a certain orator of our own times, who was a straightforward and level-headed speaker, but lacked the grand manner and ornateness, I said, rather neatly in my opinion, "He has no faults, except it be a fault that he has none." For an orator ought to soar to great heights and be carried away by his feelings, and, on some occasions, he ought to rage and storm, and frequently get near the brink of a precipice, for precipices usually lie near high and exalted places. One travels more safely along level ground, but the road is low and undistinguished, and those who run are more likely to stumble than those who creep, yet the latter get no credit for not falling, while the former, despite their fall, often do. It is exactly the same with oratory as with other arts; it is the difficulty of the task which makes the credit of the achievement. You may notice how the tight-rope walkers, who are struggling along at a great height, evoke the loudest applause just when they seem to be on the point of falling, for those events create most wonder which are least expected, most hazardous, and, as the Greeks still better express it, are most recklessly daring. The skill of a helmsman is by no means so great when he is sailing on a smooth sea as when a tempest is raging; in the former case, there is no one to wonder at his skill as he enters the harbour unheeded and without applause; it is only when the ropes are creaking, and the mast is bent, and the helm is groaning, that the pilot appears in all his glory, and seems most like one of the deities of the sea. I am writing in this strain, because I think you have marked some passages in my works as turgid which I consider lofty, and others, as indiscreet and overdone, which seem to me to be boldly and adequately dealt with. But it makes all the difference whether the marks you have made signify your disapproval of a passage, or merely that it is a striking one. For anything which stands out conspicuously catches the eye, but it requires careful attention to decide whether it is out of proportion or cast on a grand scale, whether it is lofty or disproportionately high. But let me refer to Homer for examples, for who can fail to notice the extreme differences of style between "The great heaven trumpeted around,""His lance rested on the clouds," and all the passage beginning, "Not so loud thunders the wave of the sea" ? * One needs the most delicate pair of scales to decide whether these are empty marvels, which no one should credit, or magnificent and divinely inspired passages. I do not, of course, say that I have ever uttered parallel passages to these, or that I ever could utter them. I am not so mad as all that, but the point I do wish to make is that sometimes eloquence must be given a free rein, and that the rush of genius must not be restrained within too narrow a circuit. But, you will say, there is one rule for orators, and another for poets. Still, Marcus Tullius showed just the same daring as Homer - and yet I will say no more about Tullius, for, with respect to him, there is no possibility of dispute. However, take the case of Demosthenes, who is the pattern and model of all orators. Does he rein and curb himself in that well-known passage, "these scoundrels, flatterers, and polluted wretches," or again, "Not with walls of stone or brick did I fortify the city," or again, "Did I not set Euboea to be a bulwark to Attica on the side of the sea" ? or again, "For my own part, men of Athens, I swear I think he is intoxicated by the vastness of his own achievements"? ** What could be more daring than the fine digression beginning, "For a disease ..." or than this passage, shorter than those I have quoted above, but equally bold, "Then indeed I resisted the audacity of Python\'s eloquence, which was rushing like a tide upon you"? † In the same style he writes I am arguing against my argument, and you will say that Demosthenes is censured for these extravagances of his. But just notice how much finer Demosthenes is than his critic, and finer just because of his extravagances. Elsewhere, he shows his force, in these passages he shows how much he towers above others. Besides, did Aeschines abstain from the faults which he carped at in Demosthenes? What about this sentence ''. None