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Scary Stories From Ancient Rome Posted by on Oct 16, 2014 in Latin Language, Roman culture

Happy Halloween!

Pumpkins for sale during Halloween. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Pumpkins for sale during Halloween. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Some of the first scary stories were told and recorded in Latin, and while sure there have been scary stories from all cultures and times- we are focusing on Latin and Ancient Rome. The following list is comprised of stories I have read, learned about, or researched that scared me, disturbed me, or simply were applicable for the theme of this post.

 

HOW ANCIENT ROME INSPIRED OUR MODERN NOTION OF HELL 

Medieval illustration of Hell in the Hortus deliciarum manuscript of Herrad of Landsberg (about 1180). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Medieval illustration of Hell in the Hortus deliciarum manuscript of Herrad of Landsberg (about 1180). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

1. Vergil’s Aeneid Book 6: The hero of the Aeneid, Aeneas, must visit the underworld, and Vergil’s vivid descriptions would later provide Dante with much of his material for the InfernoAeneid Book 6 is a classic unto itself, and via Dante, it has become the archetype for western notions of Hell.  For the texts: English (here) & Latin (here)

A ROMAN ACCOUNT OF ZOMBIES (FOR GREEK ZOMBIE [HERE]

Participants of a 2009 zombie walk in Moscow. Courtesy of Wikicommons.

Participants of a 2009 zombie walk in Moscow. Courtesy of Wikicommons.

2. Lucan’s Bellum Civile Book 6: In this book, Pompey the Great’s son Sextus enlists the witch, Erictho, to reanimate the corpse of a slain soldier from the battlefield so that he can issue a prophesy of the future. During the necromancy, the corpse prophesies the defeat of Pompey as well as the assassination of Julius Caesar. English (here) & Latin (here)

THE ROMAN WEREWOLF

Ancient Example of Werewolf: Dolon wearing a wolf-skin. Attic red-figure vase, c. 460 BC. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Ancient Example of Werewolf: Dolon wearing a wolf-skin. Attic red-figure vase, c. 460 BC. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

3. Petronius’ Satyricon 61-63: During the Cena Trimalchionis (the Dinner of Trimalchio) the guests decide to tell one another some ghost stories. Niceros tells the story of a fellow traveler who shed his clothes, urinates around them, and then turned into a wolf. Trimalchio follows it with a story about witches who turn a boy into straw. LATIN & ENGLISH (here) #61-63 Latin Accompany.

WANTON GORE AND BRUTALITY

4. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book 6: The Tale of Marsyas: In the contest between Apollo and Marsyas, the terms stated that the winner could treat the defeated party any way he wanted. Since the contest was judged by the Muses, Marsyas naturally lost and was flayed alive in a cave near Celaenae for his hubris to challenge a god. Apollo then nailed Marsyas’ skin to a pine tree, near Lake Aulocrene (the Turkish Karakuyu Gölü), which Strabo noted was full of the reeds from which the pipes were fashioned. English (here) &  Latin ( 382-400) (here).

ROMAN GHOSTS

 

5. Pliny the Younger’s Epistle 83: In this letter, Pliny inquires of Sura whether he believes in ghosts, and then relays a ghost story he himself heard: a house in Athens which was beset by a phantom that rattled its chains at night. A particularly brave and logical philosopher decides to purchase the house and stays there. When the ghost appears, he follows it to a patch of ground, where later some bones are found wrapped in chains. When the skeletal remains are buried properly with the chains removed, the ghost goes away. LATIN (here) #27 & ENGLISH (here)

ROMAN WITCHES & CURSES

Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse, 1886. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse, 1886. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

6. Apuleius’ Golden Ass, Books 1-3: Lucius visiting Thessaly, he ends up staying in the home of a witch and accidentally gets turned into an ass.  This condition from which he spends the rest of the story trying to cure himself. . English (here) & Latin (here)
Suggestions for more stories?  Feel free to leave them in the comments!

Happy Halloween!

 

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About the Author: Brittany Britanniae

Hello There! Please feel free to ask me anything about Latin Grammar, Syntax, or the Ancient World.


Comments:

  1. Kelly MacFarlane:

    On zombies, there is also Seneca’s Thyestes (671-2): errat antiquis vetus / emissa bustis turba /// “Old tombs break open, releasign hordes of wandering dead” (Emily Watson’s translation, in Seneca: Six Tragedies).

  2. meridiean:

    Good – AND CREEPY – stories! Thanks for sharing them!

  3. sam das:

  4. Alexandra Paul:

    really scary !Latin scary stories, and while sure there have been scary stories from all cultures .

  5. Veronika:

    Horace’s Satire 1.8 is a comical but very vivid description of witches
    http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/horace/serm1.shtml#1.8