What Was The First Ghost Story?

Ghosts are a coomon theme in hman history. When was the first ghost story written?
I seem to recall a story from ancient Greece-it concerns a haunted house-being haunted by a ghost in chains. This was brought to the attention of a local philosopher, who witnessed a haunting. The philosopher then summoned a magistrate, and a hired amn (who dug into the ground where the ghost appeared). A skeleton (bound in chains) was uncovered. When the bones were reburied (with proper honors) the hauntings ceased.
Was this the earliest ghost story?

engineer and philosopher Mozi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozi from 5th century BCE China referenced some well known ghost story (about a ruler being killed by a vengeful ghost, something of that nature) as well as the general commonality of ghost stories in contemporary China as evidence that there must be something to the phenomenon. I cannot give a cite because I read it in some scholarly secondary source.

Not sure how far back would Egyptian ghost stories go. E.g. Herodotus mentions a story of the ghost of Khufu helping out some oppressed workers, but I don’t remember if this was allegedly happening shortly after Khufu’s death (i.e. really long time ago) or else closer to Herodotus’s time.

How far do you want to take the concept of ghosts? Many early gods fit the bill under my definition but you may be thinking of something like ghosts of regular people who died in living memory or poltergeists in particular.

The First book of Samuel has a sort of ghost story.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh summons the ghost of Enkidu from the underworld to tell him of the afterlife.

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I remember reading that in the library at Alexandria – but you forgot the best part about the last scroll: At the end of the story, they unmask the ghost and it turns out to be Old Master Polonius who ran the “haunted temple amusement park” next door. He looks over at Odysseus, Atalanta, and Perseus (who’s holding Cerberus on a golden leash) and says “I would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids and that dog!”

I think it was something like:

Mother: “Boy! Look cave. Og go cave. Big beast kill Og. No go cave.”
Son: “Beast? Hah! No fear beast. Kill beast.”
Uncle: “No! Fear beast no. Fear Og! Beast kill Og. Yes. Boy go cave, OG KILL BOY.”
Son: “Og kill boy? OG?! Fear Og in Cave! No go cave!”

As far as extant historical works go, you probably aren’t going to beat The Epic of Gilgamesh. It has the first werewolf as well.

When I was a boy I had one of those “non-fiction-encyclopedia-style-books-about-a-single-topic-for-young-children”, and in this case the topic was “ghosts”.

The book claimed that “The Epic of Gilgamesh” did indeed have the first recorded appearance of a ghost in history.

Wikipedia states that the earliest extant version (of Gilgamesh, not the ghost book for young children) dates from 7th Century BC so I guess it beats out Mozi.


(Wikipedia also says that the possibly real Gilgamesh dates from the 27th Century BC. Wow. That’s old.)

I’ve read estimates of The Book of Samuel (I) in the Old Testament that range from 9th to 6th century BCE, but even going with the more recent one that would make it roughly contemporaneous with the oldest surviving Gilgamesh. As with Gilgamesh it doesn’t involve a haunting but a conjuring; Saul, in freefall militarily and dynastically, orders the witch of Endor(who for some reason insists on calling him Durwood) to summon up the ghost of Samuel for advice. Samuel’s advice is of course “Leave me the f&ck alone!”

Is there a ghost anywhere in The Illiad or The Odyssey? Those also date to the Samuel/Gilgamesh Bronze Age Greatest Hits sessions.

The wiki on Ghostshas a decent run down. Evidently the notion of a haunting came later than the notion of a residual essence that could appear or be summoned.

Odysseus visits the underworld in The Odyssey and talks to the spirit of Achilles there, who famously says that it’s better to be a slave among the living than a king among the dead.

I guess it’s open to debate whether this is truly a ghost story, as a ghost story usually involves the spirits of the dead visiting the living rather than the other way around. I don’t remember anything from The Odyssey about the spirit of a dead person leaving the underworld. Achilles was apparently unable to even see or hear anything going on outside the realm of the dead, as he had to ask Odysseus for news of his own son.

One of the first written ghost stories may have been this:

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters… :eek:

– Genesis 1:1