I owe this to Simon Raven. In one of his works he speaks of the legend of Cape Tainarus in Greece. There is a dreaded cave there, dreaded because the dead emerge from this cave on the last night of every thousand years. They fly off across the many-sounding sea to Cytherea (an island of Aphrodite the Goddess of Love, now called Kithira). Here they are given the singular gift of real bodies, with which they can make love to whomever they choose for the single hour between 11 pm and midnight.
After the witching hour strikes, they revert merely to being shadows and are bound to return to their accustomed abode (grave, tomb, mausoleum etc.) as the last stroke of twelve brings in The New Year, the New Century and the new Millennium.
Now it seems that the first time this rare anniversary happened in the Christian Era was the year 1000 A.D. There were Christians in Cytherea who knew of this legend from their pagan records. They were naturally worried lest they be seduced or raped by these ghosts with only too human bodies. Aphrodite forgotten and the Church authorities now dominant, they locked their doors and barred themselves into their house, blocking all cracks in the boards with quick-drying clay.
The new Bishop of Cytherea remained outside all night armed with Cross and crozier so as to exorcise any randy spirit that might appear before they changed from larval to carnal and thus be capable of lustful outrage. Came the morn, and the brave bishop reported that no naughty reventants had turned up! It was thankfully assumed that Goddess Aphrodite had lost her powers since Christianity had triumphed. There would not be any infernal, amorous invaders, and in any case none were due to come for another thousand years.
On the following New Year’s Eve, the people carried on with their usual binge excesses, dancing in the streets, stuffing themselves with rich foods, only to be caught unawares and seriously molested by swarms of over-sexed cadavers, who managed to ‘have relations’ as the better class of newspapers say, with almost every human being on the island between 11 p.m. and midnight! What had happened? Why was this terrific orgy a year late?
What had gone wrong was that the Cythereans had made the silly mistake of thinking that the new millennium started, and the old ended at the beginning of 1000. Now we know that they only start and end with the arrival of 1001, when the year 1000, last of the old millennium is waved goodbye. So the Cythereans had shut themselves up to no purpose a year early, and were wandering about unprepared when the crunch came.
Now what was to be done about the women and girls who had been impregnated by the visitors? Or about the babies they would bear nine months later? It seems the dead could not be bothered with condoms. The older people had behaved without decorum too. They had not had any sexual entertainment for years, and had been accosted equally by the over-sexed spirits, who in any case had not enough time to discriminate. The venerables greatly enjoyed the discovery that they were up to it after all. Worse, they wouldn’t leave their far more appetising juniors alone – the spirits were hard put to fend the ancients off!
One wonders if the inhabitants of Cytherea made the same mistake at the onset of the years 2000 and 2001? They may have got their dates right twelve years ago, though, or maybe their intelligent authorities preferred to get it wrong accidentally on purpose. After all, such a divertissement could become an every- thousand-year tourist attraction.