Apuleius's Golden Ass is a unique, entertaining, and thoroughly readable Latin novel--the only work of fiction in Latin to have survived from antiquity. It tells the story of the hero Lucius, whose curiosity and fascination for sex and magic results in his transformation into an ass. Aftersuffering a series of trials and humiliations, he is ultimately returned to human shape by the kindness of the goddess Isis. Simultaneously a blend of romantic adventure, fable, and religious testament, The Golden Ass is one of the truly seminal works of European literature, of intrinsic interest asa novel in its own right, and one of the earliest examples of the picaresque. This new translation is at once faithful to the meaning of the Latin, while reproducing all the exuberance of the original.
The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, better known as The Golden Ass, is funny and wise; and despite its unrepentant status as a fiction, its later chapters are probably one of the most accurate and detailed accounts from the period regarding the operation of mystery cults in late antiquity. The "Golden" of the title refers to the value of the text. It was written in a florid, storytelling style of Latin, and has a brisk, episodic pace. There are nonetheless many digressions, including the splendid and famous fable of Eros and Psyche, which falls near the center of the text.
Known in his own day as an orator and Platonist philosopher, Apuleius is also important as a reference regarding the status of magic in the ancient world; he was himself accused of criminal sorcery, although he denied it. The central enchantment of the story is the transformation of the protagonist into a donkey.
The literary progeny of these Metamorphoses are countless, as befits a donkey's instrument! Apuleius' story has influenced everything from Augustine's Confessions to Beauty and the Beast. But the original still deserves pride of place.
The professor had placed it on reserve so I had to read it within the library. I never expected to be able to read it in one sitting, but once I started the book I just could not put it down. I had to move to a corner where there were no students because I could not help myself from laughing out loud quite frequently. No one prepared me for this delightful, sideways walk on the wild side of the Roman Mediterranean in the 2nd century.
Apuleius became a devout worshiper of Isis. For the class, we were instructed to pay close attention to the attributes of Isis, since Mary would eventually take on these same abilities a few centuries after this was written. After all, Isis was the Egyptian mother goddess whose son, Horus, died and was reborn (only his birth/death cycle happens every year -- corresponding with the seasonal flooding of the Nile, if I remember correctly), so it was only logical that Mary would become her in many ways.
Jesus took on the many attributes associated with Mithra (his feast day being Dec. 25th for one), as well as Horus, Osiris and even a little bit from Apollo too. Mary's cult developed much later (somewhere in the 6th century). As Christianity spread across the globe, it was famous for learning about the local deities, and if the priests were not able to directly convert the population, the priests would in effect say "that god you are worshiping is just like saint so & so, and if you pray to him or her to intercede for you to Jesus & God the Father, your prayers will be answered". This type of absorption/conversion by taking a local deity and transforming it into a saint is responsible for why it is very difficult to trace the original roots of some of the early saints to an actual person. Yes, there were flesh and blood people who were martyrs, and some of them became saints that developed into cults, but there is a large group of early saints who have conflicting origin stories, and therefor many religious historians doubt they were actual people but were created to absorb, and transform the local deities into a saint to Christianize the area.
At the time this book was written, the Isis cult was one of the major faiths, if not the most popular throughout the Mediterranean. In fact, as an art historian, the familiar mother & infant poses of Mary and Jesus that were so popular during the Middle Ages, were direct copies of the poses used to depict Isis and Horus together.
The professor also told us to notice Apuleius' treatment of the other popular religions of his day, but especially the degrading way he portrayed a female worshiper of Jesus Christ. Apuleius clearly had no respect for Christians. In general, this view of Christians is typical in 160 AD. The portrayal of the initiation into the Cult of Isis at the end of the book, is believed to be accurate, and offers great insight into mystery cults of the 1st & 2nd centuries. The rituals have similarities with those that would later be adopted by Christianity, especially the purification by water.
Apuleius' raunchy romp is meant to be absurd, but also shows great truths of the Roman world, as well as prejudices and stereotypes from the perspective of a worshiper of Isis. This is why the ending is not out of joint from the rest of the book (as some people have suggested - they have only been reading on the superficial, sensual level) -- Lucius has struggled with his inappropriate behavior & faith, He has in essence gone through the trials of Job, and has prevailed and been rewarded and then purified and welcomed into the fold of the Isis cult.
As others have mentioned, this book was known throughout the centuries to the well educated and clearly influenced numerous works, including: The Canterbury Tales, The Decameron, some of Shakespeare's Comedies, Dante's Divine Comedy, even Kafka's Metamorphosis (although the humor is strained in his world view), among many others. The Golden Ass needs to return to the required reading list for a complete education. I believe that a critical reading of this book cannot help but expand the reader's mind and general world perspective; and because of all the farcical sexual encounters, the process will be a fun one too. Sadly, this country's extreme conservative temperature will not tolerate returning this book to its rightful place of required reading until perhaps at the University level (and some would not even have it there...probably wishing to burn it -- especially for the way Apuleius portrays the Christian woman).
I remembered it as a rather saucy tale of a man who is somehow transformed into an ass and has a rare old time before managing to reverse the transmogrification. Well, Lucius is made an ass, through taking a magic potion, stolen for him in mistake for one that will make him an owl by his slave girl lover. But his life as an ass is not exactly a jolly romp, as animals, (and especially the ass) in the 2nd century AD were not afforded the consideration which we now consider their right. Lucius has to endure beatings and hard useage during his 12 month journey, although he does acquire a great store of tales to pass on to the reader - including Cupid and Psyche. His transformation, as Graves points out in his introduction, is his punishment for his unseemly interest in black magic, and the secrets that properly belong only to the gods. The book is the story of his return to the goddess’ favour and her eventual pity for him. He becomes one of the ‘twice born’, an initiate and then a priest of Isis. It is, in fact, a very moral book, although it is not a Christian morality, and Apuleius has a very poor opinion of Christians. I was fascinated to find in Lucius’ struggles to find the money for his priestly initiation an echo of the parable of the pearl of great price: “If you wanted to buy something that gave you true pleasure, would you hesitate for a moment before parting with your clothes? Then why, when about to partake of my holy sacrament, do you hesitate to resign yourself to a poverty of which you will never need to repent?” Lies breathed through silver, indeed.
What more can you ask for?
Although several of the episodes in Lucius' life as a donkey and the anecdotes he overhears are genuinely funny, much of the humour is of the slapstick-meets-satire kind, which is not really up my street, and stereotypes and black-and-white morality reign, which I'm not too keen on, either.
But that is not to say The Golden Ass isn't a great deal of fun to read; it is, albeit not in the way that it was originally intended: many of the things I liked (apart from the ribaldry) are things I doubt were meant as such by the author.
For one thing, I liked the openly appreciative attitude towards sexuality: sex, not as a foul practice to be ashamed about, but as something that people willingly admit to doing frequently. Another thing I found fascinating is the snippets of daily life casually mentioned as part of the background: how streets were lighted at night, how towns were planned, and how various tradespeople ran their businesses. All of these were glimpses into a fully functional civilization whose everyday life and whose bureaucracy I know very little about. I was also intrigued by how violent a place the Empire seems to have been to live in: corporal punishment is standard practice, and brutal attacks on and indifferent cruelty towards slaves, animals, women and non-citizens is presented as normal. Morality, as it appears in this book, serves to further a fundamental double standard: one standard for the male citizen (wealthy and good-looking), and another for everyone and everything else. These, and other parts of the “world building” in this book, were what almost interested me more than the actual story.
In all, The Golden Ass is quite entertaining as a book of bawdiness and mild satire, though I couldn't help but view it as anything but an 1800-year old book, and enjoyed it primarily as such.
Amusing tales within tales, recollections of characters of various misadventures and misfortunes ....
Lucius A wandering spirit Suffering in his heedless traveling over the world in order to work out his salvation.
Interesting how magic plays a prominent role in the everyday life.
His deep love of life with his eager and curiosity , and mocking personality,And interest on magic transmogrifications,leads him to asks his new mistress to apply one of the forbidden magic spells on him. He aimed to become a bird, flying everywhere...
She applies the wrong potion and Lucius turns into an ass.
And here begins a series of adventures from which Lucius repeatedly changes masters while still an ass. The masters are invariably cruel, abusing Lucius , He is eternally beaten and degraded, and threatened with death and castration more than once .
The novel serves a window into Roman society, one sees every level and division of society, which produces a more accurate view of life for the common man.the problems of misused power ,and wives whom cheat on husbands, and husbands who many times kill their wives' lovers.
The importance of religion, especially for Lucius, comes to light upon Lucius rebirth into his human form by the work of the goddess Isis. After this rebirth Lucius seems to find his final and ultimate purpose for his life and realizes how the events that have taken place, leads him to what he was searching for..
The myth of Psyche and Cupid is what I admired most in the novel
A fascinating and exciting love story that can overcome all barriers and be blind to faults.
Psyche’s beauty gives her no pleasure, but separates her from others. Her father, unable to find a husband for her, goes to the oracle for advice.
Cupid falls in love with Psyche but conceals his identity from her, visiting her only at night. Fearing he is an evil person, she looks at him, although forbidden to do so. Cupid then abandons her.
That being said, the last chapter made me think of those early Weekly Reader pictographs of 6 things, 5 of which belonged together in some way, and 1 of which did not. Maybe after I go to class today, I will learn more about why this odd appendage hangs on the end of the book. I suspect it's more my lack of scholarship than the book's fault.
Robert Graves' translation is both readable and entertaining. The wry telling of the unfortunate but sympathetic narrator's adventures invites the term picaresque, although that particular designation for novels came much later. It's easy to see the influence of Lucius on world literature. This work from the 2nd century AD seems to have influenced Chaucer, and Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream ia perhaps the most well-known instance of a human turning into an ass. Other borrowers include Milton, Boccacio, Cervantes, Dekker, Kyd and Kafka.
The description of Isis, the Mother Goddess, is adoration itself: "so lovely a face that the gods themselves would have fallen down in adoration of it." Long thick hair falling in ringlets, crowned with a garland of flowers, and a disk on her forehead, held by vipers. A multi-colored linen robe; and a black mantle covered with stars. Her left hand holds suspended a boat-shaped gold dish, and on the handle there is an asp ready to strike. She is accompanied by all the perfumes of Arabia. She tells Lucius, "I am Nature, the Universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are. My nod governs the shiny heights of heaven, the wholesome sea breezes, the lamentable silences of the world below." Perhaps an invocation of Graves' White Goddess?