Ghost of Polycritus
POLYKRITOS (Polycritus) was the ghost of a man who appeared when his hermaphroditic child was about to be slain by the local townsfolk. The ghost seized the infant, devoured it, and then disappeared. The tale of Polykritos was set in historical Aitolia (central Greece).
Another ghost tale told by Phlegon of Tralles is the famous story of the vampiric lover Philinnion.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Phlegon of Tralles, Book of Marvels 2. 2 (trans. Hansen) (Greek Paradoxography C2nd A.D.) :
"Hieron of Alexandria or of Ephesos relates that a Ghost also appeared in Aitolia (Aetolia). One of the citizens, a certain Polykritos (Polycritus), was voted Aitolarch (Aetolarch) for a term of three years by the people, who deemed him worthy among the citizens because of his ancestors' nobility. While in office he took a Lokrian (Locrian) woman as wife, lived with her for three nights, and departed from life on the fourth night. The woman remained at home as a widow. When the time for childbirth came she delivered a child with two sets of genitals, male and female, which differed amazingly in their nature. The upper portion of the genitals was hard and manly, whereas the part around the thighs was womanish and softer. Struck with astonishment the child's relatives took it to the agora where they called an assembly, summoned sacrificers and diviners and deliberated about the child. Of these, some declared that a breach would come about between the Aitolians and the Lokrians, for the infant had been separated from its mother, who was Lokrian, and its father, an Aitolian. Others thought that they should take the child and the mother away to the countryside beyond the frontiers and burn them.
As they were deliberating, Polykritos, the man who had previously died, appeared in the assembly near the child and wearing black clothing. The citizens were stricken with amazement by the apparition and many had begun to flee when he called on them to take courage and not be thrown into confusion at the presence of the Ghost. After he had put a stop to most of the commotion and confusion, he spoke in a soft voice, as follows : ‘Citizens, my body is dead, but in the goodwill and kindness I feel towards you I am alive. I am here with you now for your benefit, having appealed to those who are master of things beneath the earth. And so I call on you now, since you are fellow citizens, not to be frightened or repulsed by the unexpected presence of a Ghost. I beg all of you, praying by the salvation of each one of you, to hand over to me the child I begot, in order that no violence take place as a result of your reaching some other decision and that your hostility towards me not be the beginning of difficult and harsh troubles. For it is not permitted me to let the child be burnt by you [i.e. to burn it would be to treat it like an animal], just because of the madness of the seers who have made proclamations to you. Now, I excuse you because as you behold so strange a sight you are at a loss as to what is the right course of action for you to take. If, moreover, you will obey me without fear, you will be released from your present fear as well as the impending catastrophe. But if you come to some other opinion, I fear that because of your distrust of me you will fall into an irremedial calamity. Now because of the goodwill I had when I was alive, I have also now in this my present unexpected appearance foretold what is beneficial to you. So I ask you not to put me off any longer but to deliberate correctly and, obeying what I have said, to give me the child in an auspicious manner. For it is not permitted me to linger long on account of those who rule beneath the earth.’
After this he was quiet for a little while, expectantly awaiting whatever resolution they would bring forth concerning his request. Now, some thought they should hand over the child and make atonement for both the prodigy and the supernatural being that was standing by, but most disagreed, saying that they ought not to deliberate rashly, sine the matter was of great importance and the problem was not an ordinary one. Seeing that they were not heeding him but instead were hindering his desire, he spoke again : ‘At all events, citizens, if trouble befalls you on account of your irresolution, blame not me but the fate that thus leads you down the wrong path, a fate that, opposing me also, forces me to act unlawfully against my own child.’
The people had clustered together and were arguing about the portent when the Ghost took hold of the child, forced back most of the men, hastily tore the child limb from limb, and began to devour him. People began to shout and throw stones at him in an attempt to drive him away. Unharmed by the stones, he consumed the entire body of the boy except for his head, and then suddenly disappeared. The people, vexed at these happenings and in a state of extraordinary perplexity, wanted to send a delegation to Delphoi, but the head of the boy that was lying on the ground began to speak, foretelling the future in an oracle : ‘O countless folk inhabiting a land famed in song, Do not go to the sanctuary of Phoibos, to the temple with its incense, For the hands you hold in the air are unclean from blood, The journey before your feet is defiled. Renounce the journey to the tripod, and consider instead what I say, For I will recount the entire behest of the oracle. On this day in the course of a year Death has been ordained for all, but by the will of Athena The souls of Lokrian and Aitolians shall live mixed together. Nor will there be a respite from evil, not even briefly, For a bloody drizzle is poured on your heads, Night keeps everything hidden, and a dark sky has spread over it, At once night causes a darkness to move over the entire earth, At home all the bereaved move their limbs at the threshold, The woman will not leave off grieving, nor do the children Leave off grieving for what they weep for in the halls, as they cling to their dear parents. Such has been the wave that has crashed down upon everyone from above, Alas, alas, without cease I bewail the terrible sufferings of my land And my most dread mother, whom death eventually carried away. All the gods will render inglorious the birth Of whatever there remains of Aitolian and Lokrian seed, Because death has not touched my head, nor has it done away With all the indistinguishable limbs of my body but has left [me on] the earth. Come and expose my head to the rising dawn, and Do not hide it below within the dusky earth. As for you yourselves, abandon the land and Go to another land, to a people of Athena, If you choose an escape from death in accordance with fate.’
When the Aitolians heard the oracle they brought their wives, infant children and very elderly to such places of safety as each man was able to arrange. They themselves remained behind, awaiting what would occur and it happened in the following year that the Aitolians and the Akarnanians joined battle, with great destruction on both sides."
- Phlegon of Tralles, Book of Marvels - Greek Paradoxography C2nd A.D.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.