Specters which appear, and predict things unknown and to come

 [This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010.  Copyright as such.]


Both in ancient and modern writers, we find an infinite number of stories of specters. We have not the least doubt that their apparitions are the work of the demon, if they are real. Now, it cannot be denied that there is a great deal of illusion and falsehood in all that is related by them. We shall distinguish two sorts of specters: those which appear to mankind to hurt or deceive them, or to announce things to come, fortunate or unfortunate as circumstances may occur; the other specters infest certain houses, of which they have made themselves masters, and where they are seen and heard. We shall treat of the latter in another chapter; and show that the greater number of these specters and apparitions may be suspected of falsehood.

Pliny the younger, writing to his friend Sura on the subject of apparitions, testifies that he is much inclined to believe them true; and the reason he gives, is what happened to Quintus Curtius Rufus, who, having gone into Africa in the train of the quaestor or treasurer for the Romans, walking one day towards evening under a portico, saw a woman of uncommon height and beauty, who told him that she was Africa, and assured him that he would one day return into that same country as proconsul. This promise inspired him with high hopes; and by his intrigues, and help of friends, whom he had bribed, he obtained the quæstorship, and afterwards was praetor, through the favor of the Emperor Tiberius.

This dignity having veiled the obscurity and baseness of his birth, he was sent proconsul to Africa, where he died, after having obtained the honors of the triumph. It is said that, on his return to Africa, the same person who had predicted his future grandeur appeared to him again at the moment of his landing at Carthage.

These predictions, so precise, and so exactly followed up, made Pliny the younger believe that predictions of this kind are never made in vain. The story of Curtius Rufus was written by Tacitus, long enough before Pliny's time, and he might have taken it from Tacitus.

After the fatal death of Caligula, who was massacred in his palace, he was buried half burnt in his own gardens. The princesses, his sisters, on their return from exile, had his remains burnt with ceremony, and honorably inhumed; but it was averred that before this was done, those who had to watch over the gardens and the palace had every night been disturbed by phantoms and frightful noises.

The following instance is so extraordinary that I should not repeat it if the account were not attested by more than one writer, and also preserved in the public monuments of a considerable town of Upper Saxony: this town is Hamelin, in the principality of Kalenberg, at the confluence of the rivers Hamel and Weser.

In the year 1384, this town was infested by such a prodigious multitude of rats that they ravaged all the corn which was laid up in the granaries; everything was employed that art and experience could invent to chase them away, and whatever is usually employed against this kind of animals. At that time there came to the town an unknown person, of taller stature than ordinary, dressed in a robe of divers colors, who engaged to deliver them from that scourge for a certain recompense, which was agreed upon.

Then he drew from his sleeve a flute, at the sound of which all the rats came out of their holes and followed him; he led them straight to the river, into which they ran and were drowned. On his return he asked for the promised reward, which was refused him, apparently on account of the facility with which he had exterminated the rats. The next day, which was a fête day, he chose the moment when the elder inhabitants of the burgh were at church, and by means of another flute which he began to play, all the boys in the town above the age of fourteen, to the number of a hundred and thirty, assembled around him: he led them to the neighboring mountain, named Kopfelberg, under which is a sewer for the town, and where criminals are executed; these boys disappeared and were never seen afterwards.

A young girl, who had followed at a distance, was witness of the matter, and brought the news of it to the town.

They still show a hollow in this mountain, where they say that he made the boys go in. At the corner of this opening is an inscription, which is so old that it cannot now be deciphered; but the story is represented on the panes of the church windows; and it is said, that in the public deeds of this town it is still the custom to put the dates in this manner—Done in the year ——, after the disappearance of our children.

If this recital is not wholly fabulous, as it seems to be, we can only regard this man as a specter and an evil genius, who, by God's permission, punished the bad faith of the burghers in the persons of their children, although innocent of their parents' fault. It might be, that a man could have some natural secret to draw the rats together and precipitate them into the river; but only diabolical malice would cause so many innocent children to perish, out of revenge on their fathers.

Julius Caesar having entered Italy, and wishing to pass the Rubicon, perceived a man of more than ordinary stature, who began to whistle. Several soldiers having run to listen to him, this specter seized the trumpet of one of them, and began to sound the alarm, and to pass the river. Caesar at that moment, without further deliberation, said, "Let us go where the presages of the gods and the injustice of our enemies call upon us to advance."

The Emperor Trajan was extricated from the town of Antioch by a phantom, which made him go out at a widow, in the midst of that terrible earthquake which overthrew almost all the town. The philosopher Simonides was warned by a specter that his house was about to fall; he went out of it directly, and soon after it fell down.

The Emperor Julian, the apostate, told his friends that at the time when his troops were pressing him to accept the empire, being at Paris, he saw during the night a specter in the form of a woman, as the genius of an empire is depicted, who presented herself to remain with him; but she gave him notice that it would be only for a short time. The same emperor related, moreover, that writing in his tent a little before his death, his familiar genius appeared to him, leaving the tent with a sad and afflicted air. Shortly before the death of the Emperor Constans, the same Julian had a vision in the night, of a luminous phantom, who pronounced and repeated to him, more than once, four Greek verses, importing that when Jupiter should be in the sign of the water-pot, or Aquarius, and Saturn in the 25th degree of the Virgin, Constans would end his life in Asia in a shocking manner.

The same Emperor Julian takes Jupiter to witness that he has often seen Esculapius, who cured him of his sicknesses.




©  D J McAdam.  Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by law and may not be copied without express written permission. 



DJ McAdam

Home | Book Collecting | Folklore / Myth | Philately | Playing Cards | Literature | Contents