[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
Plutarch, whose gravity and wisdom are well known, often speaks of specters and apparitions. He says, for instance, that at the famous battle of Marathon against the Persians, several soldiers saw the phantom of Thesus, who fought for the Greeks against the enemy.
The same Plutarch, in the life of Sylla, says that that general saw in his sleep the goddess whom the Romans worshiped according to the rites of the Cappadocians (who were fire-worshipers), whether it might be Bellona or Minerva, or the moon. This divinity presented herself before Sylla, and put into his hand a kind of thunderbolt, telling him to launch it against his enemies, whom she named to him one after the other; at the same time that he struck them, he saw them fall and expire at his feet. There is reason to believe that this same goddess was Minerva, to whom, as to Jupiter Paganism attributes the right to hurl the thunder-bolt; or rather that it was a demon.
Pausanias, general of the Lacedemonians, having inadvertently killed Cleonice, a daughter of one of the first families of Byzantium, was tormented night and day by the ghost of that maiden, who left him no repose, repeating to him angrily a heroic verse, the sense of which was, Go before the tribunal of justice, which punishes crime and awaits thee. Insolence is in the end fatal to mortals.
Pausanias, always disturbed by this image, which followed him everywhere, retired to Heraclea in Elis, where there was a temple served by priests who were magicians, called Psychagogues, that is to say, who profess to evoke the souls of the dead. There Pausanias, after having offered the customary libations and funeral effusions, called upon the spirit of Cleonice, and conjured her to renounce her anger against him. Cleonice at last appeared, and told him that very soon, when he should be arrived at Sparta, he would be freed from his woes, wishing apparently by these mysterious words to indicate that death which awaited him there.
We see there the custom of evocations of the dead distinctly pointed out, and solemnly practiced in a temple consecrated to these ceremonies; that demonstrates at least the belief and custom of the Greeks. And if Cleonice really appeared to Pausanias and announced his approaching death, can we deny that the evil spirit, or the spirit of Cleonice, is the author of this prediction, unless indeed it were a trick of the priests, which is likely enough, and as the ambiguous reply given to Pausanias seems to insinuate.
Pausanias the historian writes that, 400 years after the battle of Marathon, every night a noise was heard there of the neighing of horses, and cries like those of soldiers exciting themselves to combat. Plutarch speaks also of specters which were seen, and frightful howlings that were heard in some public baths, where they had put to death several citizens of Chæronea, his native place; they had even been obliged to shut up these baths, which did not prevent those who lived near from continuing to hear great noises, and seeing from time to time specters.
Dion the philosopher, the disciple of Plato, and general of the Syracusans, being one day seated, towards the evening, very full of thought, in the portico of his house, heard a great noise, then perceived a terrible specter of a woman of monstrous height, who resembled one of the furies, as they are depicted in tragedies; there was still daylight, and she began to sweep the house. Dion, quite alarmed, sent to beg his friends to come and see him, and stay with him all night; but this woman appeared no more. A short time afterwards, his son threw himself down from the top of the house, and he himself was assassinated by conspirators.
Marcus Brutus, one of the murderers of Julius Caesar, being in his tent during a night which was not very dark, towards the third hour of the night, beheld a monstrous and terrific figure enter. "Who art thou? a man or a God? and why comest thou here?" The specter answered, "I am thine evil genius. Thou shalt see me at Philippi!" Brutus replied undauntedly, "I will meet thee there." And on going out, he went and related the circumstance to Cassius, who being of the sect of Epicurus, and a disbeliever in that kind of apparition, told him that it was mere imagination; that there were no genii or other kind of spirits which could appear unto men, and that even did they appear, they would have neither the human form nor the human voice, and could do nothing to harm us. Although Brutus was a little reassured by this reasoning, still it did not remove all his uneasiness.
But the same Cassius, in the campaign of Philippi, and in the midst of the combat, saw Julius Caesar, whom he had assassinated, who came up to him at full gallop: which frightened him so much that at last he threw himself upon his own sword. Cassius of Parma, a different person from him of whom we have spoken above, saw an evil genius, who came into his tent, and declared to him his approaching death.
Drusus, when making war on the Germans (Allemani) during the time of Augustus, desiring to cross the Elbe, in order to penetrate farther into the country, was prevented from so doing by a woman of taller stature than common, who appeared to him and said, "Drusus, whither wilt thou go? wilt thou never be satisfied? Thy end is near—go back from hence." He retraced his steps, and died before he reached the Rhine, which he desired to recross.
St. Gregory of Nicea, in the Life of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, says that, during a great plague which ravaged the city of Neocesarea, specters were seen in open day, who entered houses, into which they carried certain death.
After the famous sedition which happened at Antioch, in the time of the Emperor Theodosius, they beheld a kind of fury running about the town, with a whip, which she lashed about like a coachman who hastens on his horses.
St. Martin, Bishop of Tours, being at Trèves, entered a house, where he found a specter which frightened him at first. Martin commanded him to leave the body which he possessed: instead of going out (of the place), he entered the body of another man who was in the same dwelling; and throwing himself upon those who were there, began to attack and bite them. Martin threw himself across his way, put his fingers in his mouth, and defied him to bite him. The demoniac retreated, as if a bar of red-hot iron had been placed in his mouth, and at last the demon went out of the body of the possessed, not by the mouth but behind.
John, Bishop of Atria, who lived in the sixth century, in speaking of the great plague which happened under the Emperor Justinian, and which is mentioned by almost all the historians of that time, says that they saw boats of brass, containing black men without heads, which sailed upon the sea, and went towards the places where the plague was beginning its ravages; that this infection having depopulated a town of Egypt, so that there remained only seven men and a boy ten years of age, these persons, wishing to get away from the town with a great deal of money, fell down dead suddenly.
The boy fled without carrying anything with him, but at the gate of the town he was stopped by a specter, who dragged him, in spite of his resistance, into the house where the seven dead men were. Some time after, the steward of a rich man having entered therein, to take away some furniture belonging to his master, who had gone to reside in the country, was warned by the same boy to go away—but he died suddenly. The servants who had accompanied the steward ran away, and carried the news of all this to their master.
The same Bishop John relates that he was at Constantinople during a very great plague, which carried off ten, twelve, fifteen, and sixteen thousand persons a-day, so that they reckon that two hundred thousand persons died of this malady—he says, that during this time demons were seen running from house to house, wearing the habits of ecclesiastics or monks, and who caused the death of those whom they met therein.
The death of Carlostadt was accompanied by frightful circumstances, according to the ministers of Basle, his colleagues, who bore witness to it at the time. They relate, that at the last sermon which Carlostadt preached in the temple of Basle, a tall black man came and seated himself near the consul. The preacher perceived him, and appeared disconcerted at it. When he left the pulpit, he asked who that stranger was who had taken his seat next to the chief magistrate; no one had seen him but himself. When he went home, he heard more news of the specter. The black man had been there, and had caught up by the hair the youngest and most tenderly loved of his children. After he had thus raised the child from the ground, he appeared disposed to throw him down so as to break his head; but he contented himself with ordering the boy to warn his father that in three days he should return, and he must hold himself in readiness. The child having repeated to his father what had been said to him, Carlostadt was terrified. He went to bed in alarm, and in three days he expired. These apparitions of the demon's, by Luther's own avowal, were pretty frequent, in the case of the first reformers.
These instances of the apparitions of specters might be multiplied to infinity; but if we undertook to criticize them, there is hardly one of them very certain, or proof against a serious and profound examination. Here follows one, which I relate on purpose because it has some singular features, and its falsehood has at last been acknowledged.
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