APULEIUS and the Golden Ass


Lucius Apuleius lived and wrote in Latin in Romanized North Africa around the middle of the 2 nd c. A.D. He was well versed in the popular Greek writing of the time, and shows in all his prose a strong interest in the supernatural, in Eastern religions, and in magic. In fact he was accused of casting spells on his wife by her family, and defended himself in the legal defense, or Apologia which we have. His interest in Greek philosophy led to the writing of a book of philosophical extracts, the Florida, an essay on Plato, another on Socrates' theology, and a translation from a spurious work of Aristotle De Mundo.

But he is known mainly for his Metamorphoses, a prose romantic novel in eleven books which we have complete, written in an flowery but engaging and quite readable style modeled on the Greek Romances. However his vocabulary is large and the reader will often find his nose in the dictionary. The most famous of the many encapsulated stories is the long account of Cupid and Psyche, which is amazingly close to the Germanic Cinderella tale.

The Metamorphoses often referred to as The Golden Ass, is written in a Grecizing style, with fairly involved syntax, couched in a large vocabulary. These things make Apuleius slightly difficult reading, but the engaging storytelling and natural flow of ideas leads the student on easily. Since the Renaissance the book has had a wide following, however it has never become a basic part of the modern Classical canon of authors, perhaps because of the novelistic form, the popular interests, including magic, and the post-Classical style of writing. This is unfortunate, since the Metamorphoses offers fascinating reading material for intermediate students who are developing their reading skills. There is a good Loeb edition from Harvard U Pr.,, the most readily accessible editions for general use, although without app. crit. or notes.

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William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris