Nudging the dirty man who stank of alcohol on the shoulder, he roused the man from his state of slumber. Still disoriented, the man flinched in self-defense and moved to defend himself. When Athenodorus didn’t make a violent move, the man blinked and rubbed the sleep and drool from his face with his shirt-sleeved forearm.
When Athenodorus was satisfied the man had his wits fully gathered about him, he inquired about purchasing the property. Scarcely able to contain his excitement, the unscrupulous man at first decided to gauge just how ignorant Athenodorus really was and offered to sell the house for a fair sum of three hundred and fifty thousand silver denarii or the equivalent in Athenian drachma.
Athenodorus tapped his chin thoughtfully. Normally, this would be more than a fair price for a fine villa in the great state of Athens. However, he was armed with the knowledge of the property’s history and recent woes. Surely, the young man would part with the property for a mere pittance. Athenodorus felt bad about taking advantage of the man, but he was only a philosopher himself and hardly affluent. He informed the nephew he was aware of the property’s troubles and could never agree to such a high price.
After some poor negotiating by the nephew, Athenodorus scoffed and turned to walk away. Frantically, the nephew scurried to his feet and tugged at Athenodorus’ robes. He begged the man to come to a deal. The nephew had sunk even further into debt with his gambling and drinking last night. This was what drove him to the streets last night to sleep. He offered the house for the cost of settling his gambling debts, so he may once again become a respected member of the city.
Athenodorus thought about this proposal for a moment and then reached into his over the shoulder satchel. Producing five small leather coin bags, he offered them to the nephew as payment. When he saw the bags, his eyes widened as he saw them stuffed to the brim in golden aureus. There must be five thousand of them together—more than his gambling debts for sure and enough left over to sustain his room and board through the winter months. Excitedly, he nodded his head in agreement and the deal was done.
Several days later, Athenodorus had furnished the villa to his liking and had employed some servants, based on a small loan he had acquired from the central bank. Having moved in, he decided it was time to resume his work.
When evening began to draw near, Athenodorus asked for his couch to be readied for him at the front of the villa. The fresh air and the scent from the garden would provide a soothing atmosphere. After checking that the servants had kindly left him a freshly filled jug, he readied his pencil and a tablet and an oil lamp, and then allowed his retainers to retire for the night.
The air was calm, and the sky was clear. It promised to be a perfect night for writing under the hallowed moon. In the distance, he could hear the faint sound of the festival begin to fade. It wouldn’t be long before the revelers retired to their own homes. He immediately set out to engage his mind in his writing and awaited the distractions of noises and apparitions that the stories foretold.
As the full moon rose into the night sky, he didn’t really need to light his lamp to see, but he did so purely out of habit. The night remained silent and an inspired Athenodorus found no trouble putting words to paper.
Then the rattling of fetters and the scraping of tired feet on the cobbles began. Athenodorus would not lift his eyes or set down his pen. Instead, he grabbed a new page, setting the other aside for now. He concentrated on his writing and focused on this new sensory input that delighted his ears.
The noise didn’t stop—the soft padding of worn soles, the dull rhythmic jangle of chain, the soft, raspy breathing of the old man pacing with effort. Occasionally, a low guttural moan would disrupt the steady cadence of the other stories. With each moment, the apparition drew closer and the clarity increased until it seemed to be at the door and then standing in his very chamber!
When Athenodorus could bear no more, he looked up from his work…and saw the ghost standing before him, just as the bar-goers had described. It stood there waiting – beckoning somberly with one finger.
Athenodorus held up his palm, telling the visitor he should wait a moment. Bending over his work, he furiously scribbled down more details. The ghost grew impatient quickly and shook his chains over the philosopher’s head. With another raspy moan, he beckoned Athenodorus to follow him. This time, Athenodorus picked up his lamp, prepared to follow. The ghost turned and moved slowly, retracing his path back outside and down the walkway. Athenodorus slowly shuffled at a half step pace behind the old man, who was clearly impeded by the chains shackled to his feet. Upon reaching the old tree in the center of the courtyard, the ghost looked back over his shoulder one more time before he suddenly vanished.
Now alone in the courtyard, Athenodorus rushed to the spot where the ghost vanished. He brushed the fallen leaves aside exposing the browning grass below. Taking a large rock from the nearby garden, he carefully marked the spot to ensure he would not forget in the morning.
The next morning, Athenodorus walked to the magistrate’s office in town. When Athenodorus stepped inside the office, he found Magistrate Eliud lounging on a couch, munching on a pastry. The magistrate was a portly man of middle age. The top of his head had long given up the fight to grow any hair, but Eliud would not be deterred by this triviality. He compensated by growing the sides long and sweeping it over to cover the bald spot.
Knowing the history of the villa was well known, Athenodorus suspected this slovenly man would be of little help. Yet, he told the politician the story and requested a working team to come investigate the suspected burial spot. The magistrate sat up to consider this request with his hands clasped before his face—two fingers tapping against one another. His assistant leaned in and whispered something in the magistrate’s ear. Eliud nodded and agreed to investigate the site.
Athenodorus suspected the aide had found some avenue for political advantage. He didn’t care for the intrigues of politics. All that mattered to him was these men did the right thing for the poltergeist that haunted his villa.
He returned to the estate and waited for the men to arrive. Shortly before the high sun, the magistrate arrived with an entourage of men—workers with various tools, various members of the upper class, and a priest from the Roman capital. The servants of the estate brought out refreshments for the gathering and the workers set out to excavate the mark Athenodorus had carefully marked.
Luckily, the men didn’t require long to work at their task. Buried in a shallow grave at the spot Athenodorus marked, they found the skeleton of a man intertwined in chains. The body had lain in the ground a long time, and had left the bones bare and corroded by the fetters. The men circled around and examined the remains. With hushed whispers, they conferred with one another. Some paced back and forth wringing their hands together, but all appeared to take the situation very seriously.
When they were done, Magistrate Eliud stepped forward and produced an old tarnished key from a small pocket fastened to the leather belt around his waist. He placed the key into a hole in the manacles and twisted the locking mechanism. The shackles fell clear of the bony limbs with a clatter. Finally, the priest said a few words and made gestures over the body. When he was done, the workers carefully collected the bones of the old man and loaded him into a wooden cart lined with straw. One of the city elders stepped up and handed the cart driver a satchel of coins, so that the man could be carried to a proper burial ground. Finally laid to rest, the ghost’s tortured soul would no longer haunt the villa in Athens.
Pliny finished the story and looked at Hades thoughtfully waiting for a response. A pleasant one hopefully—he shuddered thinking of what awaited if he had displeased Hades with his translation. Hades’ eyes were glassy and appeared to be staring right through the historian. After a few awkward moments of silence, Pliny set the manila folder down on the desk in front of his lord. Startled, Hades flinched backwards. Equally startled by the reaction, Pliny shrieked in a high pitch and began to tremble in his sandals.
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