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Thursday, August 22 2019 @ 04:41 AM CDT

Ghosts Present and Past

Book Reviews

Present At A Hanging and Other Ghost Stories
by Ambrose Bierce

Greek and Roman Ghost Stories
by LACY COLLISON-MORLEY

Greek and Roman Ghost Stories

by LACY COLLISON-MORLEY

Though there is no period at which the ancients do not seem to have believed in a future life, continual confusion prevails when they come to picture the existence led by man in the other world, as we see from the sixth book of the Æneid.

Combined with the elaborate mythology of Greece, we are confronted with the primitive belief of Italy, and doubtless of Greece too-a belief supported by all the religious rites in connection with the dead-that the spirits of the departed lived on in the tomb with the body. As cremation gradually superseded burial, the idea took shape that the soul might have an existence of its own, altogether independent of the body, and a place of abode was assigned to it in a hole in the centre of the earth, where it lived on in eternity with other souls.

Excerpt:

This latter view seems to have become the official theory, at least in Italy, in classical days. In the gloomy, horrible Etruscan religion, the shades were supposed to be in charge of the Conductor of the Dead-a repulsive figure, always represented with wings and long, matted hair and a hammer, whose appearance was afterwards imitated in the dress of the man who removed the dead from the arena. Surely something may be said for Gaston Boissier's suggestion that Dante's Tuscan blood may account to some extent for the gruesome imagery of the Inferno.

Cicero tells us that it was generally believed that the dead lived on beneath the earth, and special provision was made for them in every Latin town in the "mundus," a deep trench which was dug before the "pomerium" was traced, and regarded as the particular entrance to the lower world for the dead of the town in question. The trench was vaulted over, so that it might correspond more or less with the sky, a gap being left in the vault which was closed with the stone of the departed-the "lapis manalis." Corn was thrown into the trench, which was filled up with earth, and an altar erected over it. On three solemn days in the year-August 25, October 5, and November 8-the trench was opened and the stone removed, the dead thus once more having free access to the world above, where the usual offerings were made to them.

These provisions clearly show an official belief that death did not create an impassable barrier between the dead and the living. The spirits of the departed still belonged to the city of their birth, and took an interest in their old home. They could even return to it on the days when "the trench of the gods of gloom lies open and the very jaws of hell yawn wide."

Their rights must be respected, if evil was to be averted from the State. In fact, the dead were gods with altars of their own, and Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, could write to her sons, "You will make offerings to me and invoke your parent as a god."

Their cult was closely connected with that of the Lares-the gods of the hearth, which symbolized a fixed abode in contrast with the early nomad life. Indeed, there is practically no distinction between the Lares and the Manes, the souls of the good dead. But the dead had their own festival, the "Dies Parentales," held from the 13th to the 21st of February, in Rome; and in Greece the "Genesia," celebrated on the 5th of Bœdromion, towards the end of September, about which we know very little.


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This collection of the strange and mysterious is brought to you by none other than the strange and mysterious Ambrose Bierce. Bierce was a newspaper writer and reporter, who psychic ability allowed to him to write details of news half a world away BEFORE the event happened!


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Present At A Hanging and Other Ghost Stories

by Ambrose Bierce

My peculiar relation to the writer of the following narratives is such that I must ask the reader to overlook the absence of explanation as to how they came into my possession. Withal, my knowledge of him is so meager that I should rather not undertake to say if he were himself persuaded of the truth of what he relates; certainly such inquiries as I have thought it worth while to set about have not in every instance tended to confirmation of the statements made.

Yet his style, for the most part devoid alike of artifice and art, almost baldly simple and direct, seems hardly compatible with the disingenuousness of a merely literary intention; one would call it the manner of one more concerned for the fruits of research than for the flowers of expression.

In transcribing his notes and fortifying their claim to attention by giving them something of an orderly arrangement, I have conscientiously refrained from embellishing them with such small ornaments of diction as I may have felt myself able to bestow, which would not only have been impertinent, even if pleasing, but would have given me a somewhat closer relation to the work than I should care to have and to avow.

- A. B.


Excerpt:

An old man named Daniel Baker, living near Lebanon, Iowa, was suspected by his neighbors of having murdered a peddler who had obtained permission to pass the night at his house.

This was in 1853, when peddling was more common in the Western country than it is now, and was attended with considerable danger. The peddler with his pack traversed the country by all manner of lonely roads, and was compelled to rely upon the country people for hospitality.

This brought him into relation with queer characters, some of whom were not altogether scrupulous in their methods of making a living, murder being an acceptable means to that end. It occasionally occurred that a peddler with diminished pack and swollen purse would be traced to the lonely dwelling of some rough character and never could be traced beyond.

This was so in the case of "old man Baker," as he was always called. (Such names are given in the western "settlements" only to elderly persons who are not esteemed; to the general disrepute of social unworth is affixed the special reproach of age.) A peddler came to his house and none went away - that is all that anybody knew.

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