July 26, 2021

Avengers from Beyond in Ancient Greece

The sources about spectral apparitions are numerous in Ancient Greece. We find texts that relate contacts with ghosts in poetry; in prose works by renowned authors, such as Herodotus or Lucian; in writings of religious content and also in many ceramics, in which images of spectra are represented. The Hereafter was in the Underworld, underground, which could be accessed through grottos. Although other sources report that it was located on an island beyond the seas.

As in Pharaonic Egypt, the soul of the deceased was represented as a winged figure of anthropomorphic appearance that left the body at the time of death. However, it was not uncommon for the deceased to present themselves to the living with the appearance they had in life, as the witnesses of this kind of phenomena recount in the 21st century. For example, Homer writes in the Iliad how the ghost of Patroclus appears in dreams to his friend Achilles. He was the same as when he lived, and said to Achilles: «You have forgotten me (…) Bury me immediately and let me pass the gates of Hades (Paradise). They keep me out of psychai Y eidola of the dead, who do not let me cross the river to meet them (…) If you make me the rite of burning (…) I will not return from Hades.

Spectra that fade away

In a Greek ceramic we contemplate the figure of what looks like a ghost, since a character is seen dressed in oriental clothes on a kind of smoke column. Above this image you can read Eidolon Aietou. Homer uses this term, eidolon, to refer to the souls of the dead, so everything seems to indicate that the appearance of the spectrum of Eetes is being represented in the aforementioned ceramics (Aietou). Mercedes Aguirre unveils in the coral book Ghosts, appeared and dead without rest (Abada, 2015) other cases of wraiths that end up fading before the living in Classical Greece, precisely as the entities of the Hereafter disappear the hundreds of thousands of witnesses who have faced this kind of phenomena today . For example, when Ulysses wants to hug his mother’s ghost, who had shown himself before him, he vanishes in front of his nose. Also in a work by Luciano, titled The hobbyist, we find that the spectrum of the wife of Éucrates vanishes “like smoke.”

Souls used to return from Hades to warn a relative or living friend of something

In Ghosts, appeared and dead without restRichard Buxton, a specialist in Classical Greece, points out that the apparitions of the spirits of those who died violently and return to take revenge or ask them to do it for friends or family are also common. Another case is that of those who return from Hades to warn a living of something. In Of DivinationeCicero narrates the case that starred the Greek poet Simonides, who once buried the body of a deceased man that nobody had worried about. Shortly thereafter, Simonides planned to make a sea voyage, but the ghost of the wretched man who had buried him appeared in a dream to warn him not to think about boarding. The poet heeded the warning of the Hereafter and saved his life, because the ship ended up sinking and all its occupants died.

The day of contact with the spirits

But if there was a time when the dead left the “other side” to connect with the living, it was during the three days that lasted the festival of the Anteterias, celebrated in the spring in honor of the god Dionysus. We do not have information in relation to what was really happening during this holiday, but it seems proven that once finished, the spirits returned to the Hereafter. Another way of contacting the souls of the deceased was by invoking them using certain magical forms. A known case of this phenomenon is the one that starred the Pythagorean sage of the 1st century AD. C. Apollonius of Tiana, who spent a night next to the tomb of Achilles with the intention of showing himself before him. This happened and Apollonius had the opportunity to ask him several questions that worried him. Six centuries before, Esquilo describes in his work The Persians the appearance of the ghost of Darius, who had been invoked by his widow, the Persian queen Atossa.

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