From a spooky 3,200-year-old tale written on broken pottery pieces to amateur YouTube videos of “ghost chases,” frightening tales of apparitions, demons and goblins have been documented since ancient times and continue to fascinate people today.
Although these paranormal events aren’t supported by science, they have persisted throughout history. Here’s a look at some of the most frightening cases.
In 1915, Egyptologist Gaston Maspero published a translation of an ancient Egyptian ghost story, possibly set in Luxor (ancient Thebes, shown above), that was discovered on four pieces of pottery. In the story, a ghost of a mummified man tells a high priest of the god Amun about his current condition.
“I grew, and I did not see the rays of the sun. I did not breathe the air, but darkness was before me every day, and no one came to find me,” the ghost says (translation by Maspero).
“The ghost seems to complain of some accident that has happened to himself or to his tomb, but I cannot make out what is the subject of his dissatisfaction,” Maspero wrote. [Spooky Tales: The 10 Most Famous Ghosts]
Tu-po was an ancient Chinese ghost with revenge on his mind. Before he died, Tu-Po served as a minister to Chinese Emperor Hsuan (lived 827-783 B.C.). The two had a disagreement, and Hsuan had Tu-Po killed in about 786 B.C., despite warnings that Tu-Po would come back and haunt him.
Tu-Po did a lot more than haunt the emperor: Three years later, in 783 B.C., “Hsuan was killed with an arrow fired by an apparition resembling Tu-Po in front of an assembly of feudal lords,” wrote Chinese philosopher Mo Tzu (lived 470-391 B.C.). (Translation by Yi-pao Mei, from “The Complete Book of Ghosts” by Paul Roland.) (Image Credit: Public domain, courtesy Wikimedia)
Chained man in ancient Athens
Roman senator Pliny the Younger, who died in A.D. 113, told a ghost tale so haunting that it survives to this day. “There was at Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad name, so that no one could live there. 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 chains,” disturbances that led to the appearance of a specter “form of an old man, of extremely emaciated and squalid appearance, with a long beard and dishevelled, hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands.”
Needless to say, the house was abandoned and had to be rented out for a cheap price. When a philosopher named Athenodorus heard the story, he reportedly rented the house and confronted the ghost. The ghost appeared, and rattled around before vanishing. Athenodorus calmly marked the spot where the ghost vanished and, in the morning, ordered that the spot be dug up, the story goes. (Image Credit: Nick Pavlakis | Shutterstock.com) [Americans’ Beliefs in Paranormal Phenomena (Infographic)]
“This was accordingly done, and the skeleton of a man in chains was found there, for the body, having lain a considerable time in the ground was putrefied and mouldered away from the (chains). ” After being given a proper burial, the ghost departed, and the house was haunted no more, according to Pliny’s tale. (Translation from Pliny the Younger, The Harvard Classics, 1909-1914.)
The writer Plutarch, who lived from A.D. 45 to 120, tells a ghost story that has a much sadder ending than the one from Athens. In the city of Chaeronea, Greece, there was a boy named Damon who attracted the attention of a Roman military commander, who apparently loved him, historical records suggest. Damon refused the commander’s advances, enraging him.
Knowing that he would be killed if he did nothing, Damon got a group of friends together, ambushed the Roman commander (and several other Roman soldiers), killing them. The city council of Chaeronea condemned Damon and his friends to death. After that proclamation, Damon, who had not been killed, had the council members killed.
Damon and his friends then took to the countryside, plundering it. Eventually, the townspeople allowed Damon to return, but he was killed shortly afterward in the local bathhouse.
“And because, for a long while thereafter, certain phantoms appeared in the place, and groans were heard there, as our Fathers tell us, the door of the vapour-bath was walled up, and to this present time, the neighbours think it the source of alarming sights and sounds,” Plutarch wrote. (Translation from Loeb Classical Library, 1914.) (Lion statue, Image Credit: Philipp Pilhofer, CC Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported)