Athenodorus, haunting of

The haunting of Athenodorus is perhaps the first record of the classic chain-clanking ghost is that of the haunting of the rented house of the philosopher Athenodorus of Athens in the 1st century. The Roman philosopher Pliny the Younger relayed the story in a letter to his patron, Lucias Sura. It is not known how much of the story was embellishment, but it makes for an interesting tale. Wrote Pliny:

There was formerly at Athens a large and handsome house which none the less had acquired a reputation of being badly haunted. The folk told how at the dead of night horrid noises were heard: the clanking of chains which grew louder and louder until there suddenly appeared the hideous phantom of an old man who seemed the very picture of abject filth and misery. His beard was long and matted, his white hair dishevelled and unkempt. His thin legs were loaded with a weight of galling fetters that he dragged wearily along with a painful moaning; his wrists were shackled by long cruel links, while ever and anon he raised his arms and shook his shackles in a kind of impotent fury. Some few mocking skeptics who were once bold enough to watch all night in the house had been well-nigh scared from their senses at the sight of the apparition and what was worse, disease and even death itself proved the fate of those who after dusk had ventured within those accursed walls. The place was shunned. A placard “To Let” was posted but year succeeded year and the house fell almost to ruin and decay.

Even this state of affairs, however, did not deter Athenodorus, who had little money. When told the house was so cheap and in such deplorable condition because it was haunted, he rented it anyway. His first night there, he sat up late working, as was his custom. Presently he heard a chain rattling. The sound grew closer, until suddenly the gruesome phantom of the old man stood before him. The ghost beckoned with his finger, but Athenodorus demurred, indicating he was preoccupied with his work. The ghost then shook the chains so angrily and persistently that the philosopher got up, took his lamp and followed it. The ghost led him outside to the garden, where he pointed to a spot and then vanished. Athenodorus marked the spot and then went inside and to bed. He slept undisturbed. The next day, according to Pliny, he went to the local magistrates and told them what had happened. Digging commenced at the spot in the garden, and a human skeleton, with rusted chains still shackled to the bones, was uncovered lying close to the surface. The remains were given a proper burial, and the house was ritually purified. According to Pliny, the haunting and the bad luck of the house then came to an end.



  • Cohen, Daniel. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1984.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007