Phlegon of Tralles was an Ancient Greek historian, and a chronicler of the weird and unbelievable. As a freedman of Emperor Hadrian, Phlegon wrote of long-lived persons and historical records of Olympiads. His most enduring work, On Marvels, is a sensationalized text containing thirty-five accounts of hauntings, abnormal human developments, discoveries of giant bones, centaurs, etc. Phlegon was one of a long lineage of Greek and Roman paradoxographers (writers of marvels) whose works did historians generally discredit, and whose volumes have mostly disappeared over time.
Interpreting events purported to have occurred in Macedonia, Plegon’s account of the Philinnion and Machates horror is an early blueprint for aspects of the later gothic vampire stories, which would popularly explore the relationship between sexuality and mortality. The anecdote is told from the perspective of Hipparchus, writing a letter to Alexander the Great’s half brother, Arrhidæus, to consult him on advice for the protocol following reports of undead activity.
Philinnion and Machates
Translated by Alexander Morus, 1600’s
“Philinnion was the daughter of Demostratus and Charito. She had been married to Craterus, Alexander’s famous General, but had died six months after her marriage. As we learn that she was desperately in love with Machates, a foreign friend from Pella who had come to see Demostratus, the misery of her position may possibly have caused her death. But her love conquered death itself, and she returned to life again six months after she had died, and lived with Machates, visiting him for several nights. “One day an old nurse went to the guest-chamber, and as the lamp was burning, she saw a woman sitting by Machates. Scarcely able to contain herself at this extraordinary occurrence, she ran to the girl’s mother, calling: ‘Charito! Demostratus!’ and bade them get up and go with her to their daughter, for by the grace of the gods she had appeared alive, and was with the stranger in the guest-chamber.
“On hearing this extraordinary story, Charito was at first overcome by it and by the nurse’s excitement; but she soon recovered herself, and burst into tears at the mention of her daughter, telling the old woman she was out of her senses, and ordering her out of the room. The nurse was indignant at this treatment, and boldly declared that she was not out of her senses, but that Charito was unwilling to see her daughter because she was afraid. At last Charito consented to go to the door of the guest-chamber, but as it was now quite two hours since she had heard the news, she arrived too late, and found them both asleep. The mother bent over the woman’s figure, and thought she recognized her daughter’s features and clothes. Not feeling sure, as it was dark, she decided to keep quiet for the present, meaning to get up early and catch the woman. If she failed, she would ask Machates for a full explanation, as he would never tell her a lie in a case so important. So she left the room without saying anything.
“But early on the following morning, either because the gods so willed it or because she was moved by some divine impulse, the woman went away without being observed. When she came to him, Charito was angry with the young man in consequence, and clung to his knees, and conjured him to speak the truth and hide nothing from her. At first he was greatly distressed, and could hardly be brought to admit that the girl’s name was Philinnion. Then he described her first coming and the violence of her passion, and told how she had said that she was there without her parents’ knowledge. The better to establish the truth of his story, he opened a coffer and took out the things she had left behind her—a ring of gold which she had given him, and a belt which she had left on the previous night. When Charito beheld all these convincing proofs, she uttered a piercing cry, and rent her clothes and her cloak, and tore her coif from her head, and began to mourn for her daughter afresh in the midst of her friends. Machates was deeply distressed on seeing what had happened, and how they were all mourning, as if for her second funeral. He begged them to be comforted, and promised them that they should see her if she appeared. Charito yielded, but bade him be careful how he fulfilled his promise.
“When night fell and the hour drew near at which Philinnion usually appeared, they were on the watch for her. She came, as was her custom, and sat down upon the bed. Machates made no pretence, for he was genuinely anxious to sift the matter to the bottom, and secretly sent some slaves to call her parents. He himself could hardly believe that the woman who came to him so regularly at the same hour was really dead, and when she ate and drank with him, he began to suspect what had been suggested to him—namely, that some grave-robbers had violated the tomb and sold the clothes and the gold ornaments to her father.
“Demostratus and Charito hastened to come at once, and when they saw her, they were at first speechless with amazement. Then, with cries of joy, they threw themselves upon their daughter. But Philinnion remained cold. ‘Father and mother,’ she said, ‘cruel indeed have ye been in that ye grudged my living with the stranger for three days in my father’s house, for it brought harm to no one. But ye shall pay for your meddling with sorrow. I must return to the place appointed for me, though I came not hither without the will of Heaven.’ With these words she fell down dead, and her body lay stretched upon the bed. Her parents threw themselves upon her, and the house was filled with confusion and sorrow, for the blow was heavy indeed; but the event was strange, and soon became known throughout the town, and finally reached my ears.
“During the night I kept back the crowds that gathered round the house, taking care that there should be no disturbance as the news spread. At early dawn the theatre was full. After a long discussion it was decided that we should go and open the tomb, to see whether the body was still on the bier, or whether we should find the place empty, for the woman had hardly been dead six months. When we opened the vault where all her family was buried, the bodies were seen lying on the other biers; but on the one where Philinnion had been placed, we found only the iron ring which had belonged to her lover and the gilt drinking-cup Machates had given her on the first day. In utter amazement, we went straight to Demostratus’s house to see whether the body was still there. We beheld it lying on the ground, and then went in a large crowd to the place of assembly, for the whole event was of great importance and absolutely past belief. Great was the confusion, and no one could tell what to do, when Hyllus, who is not only considered the best diviner among us, but is also a great authority on the interpretation of the flight of birds, and is generally well versed in his art, got up and said that the woman must be buried outside the boundaries of the city, for it was unlawful that she should be laid to rest within them; and that Hermes Chthonius and the Eumenides should be propitiated, and that all pollution would thus be removed. He ordered the temples to be re-consecrated and the usual rites to be performed in honour of the gods below. As for the King, in this affair, he privately told me to sacrifice to Hermes, and to Zeus Xenius, and to Ares, and to perform these duties with the utmost care. We have done as he suggested.
“The stranger Machates, who was visited by the ghost, has committed suicide in despair.
“Now, if you think it right that I should give the King an account of all this, let me know, and I will send some of those who gave me the various details.”