The golden asse

by Lucius Apuleius

Other authorsBrian Robb (Illustrator), Denis Saurat (Introduction), William Adlington (Translator)
Hardcover, 1947





London, J. Westhouse, 1947.


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.… (more)

Media reviews

Valuable for those who have wit to understand it.
1 more
Le "Metamorfosi" si prestano a diverse chiavi di lettura: fino alla fine del decimo libro sembrano un romanzo realistico con elementi magici, avventurosi ed erotici. L'undicesimo e ultimo libro, però, è per toni e temi estremamente diverso da tutti gli altri: se nei primi dieci il romanzo è di una velocità travolgente, vivo come poche opere classiche, nell'ultimo, invece, è denso, criptico e oscuro, ma ugualmente affascinante; l'undicesimo libro sconvolge la prospettiva realistica e l'opera diventa la storia dell'iniziazione religiosa e della redenzione spirituale del protagonista. Le peripezie del curioso Lucio possono essere viste come il percorso ascensionale dell'anima umana; l'opera come un moderno bildungsroman (romanzo di formazione). Le due chiavi di lettura, in definitiva, si integrano e al romanzo d'intrattenimento si aggiunge un messaggio di salvezza spirituale che Apuleio voleva lasciare a contemporanei e posteri. La lingua e lo stile dell'opera sono originali e piuttosto chiari; sono presenti delle tendenze virtuosistiche tipiche dell'epoca, che si traducono in un grande uso di figure retoriche; diversi sono anche gli influssi stilistici dall'oratoria. In ogni caso lo svolgimento della trama resta comprensibile.

User reviews

LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
Although the vulgar take the donkey as a symbol of ignorance and stupidity, occultists and magicians know better. Cornelius Agrippa, in his Vanity of the Arts and Sciences, praises the ass as a paradigm of virtue. Giordano Bruno, whose heliocentrism was wedded to his hermetic magic, made the donkey a symbol of the highest mystical state in his personal cabala, declaring it to be the Triumphant Beast.

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.
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LibraryThing member Colors
This is one of my favorite books. I read it for a class on the origins of the cult of the Virgin Mary. As a graduate student in the History of Art, I was using this class to better understand the early Christian representations of the Virgin (pre 8th century).

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).
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LibraryThing member P_S_Patrick
Superficially, this is a silly book, written to entertain the reader with its farce, spectacle, tragedy, myth, and the various digressions into other brief stories with little obvious relevance to the main plot, other than that the author heard them told and wants to recall them for our pleasure. If the reader is attentive though, as he is told to be in the preface, then there are moral messages, philosophical reflections, and theologising also. The main theme that runs throughout the story concerns the penalties of indulging curiosity, which may be severe, but often in the end can lead to reward, if the character is strong enough to struggle through his difficulties. Not only is this in the main plot of the story, but also features in at least one of the small stories contained within it, illustrated in a slightly different way. Although Platonic theory is mentioned only once during the novel, the whole story is meant, I believe, to represent the searching for higher ideas above the earthly representations which we commonly see. This is compounded with some mystic religious stuff at the end, but in those days philosophy, knowledge, and religion, were all confused together by most people and not easily separated, but I suspect to some extent that the author was deliberately using allegories that could be easily understood to illustrate his more abstract reflections. Still, the book is amusing enough even if all the edifying stuff in it is ignored or not understood, and is surprising readable considering it was written nearly two thousand years ago. I have perhaps either not done the book justice in my reading of it, or alternatively have read things into it which are not there, but I'm sure it would stand up to a second reading, as it is short enough, for all to become clear.… (more)
LibraryThing member Goldengrove
Picked this off the shelf again when looking for something to read in bed while convalescing. Pleased to see that I bought it in Gloucester Road, April 1989. I love it when I find these reminders in my books – I know just the shop, one I used to visit often, when I was working in the Imperial College Chaplaincy. That was the last time I read it, and judging from my recollection of the work I was rather less mature at the time than I believed – aren’t we all at 24?
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.
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LibraryThing member Loptsson
An incredible story that continues to entertain even after nearly 2000 years. Lucius's adventures and stories are the epitome of the storytelling art! If only we had more novels from this era survive, I can only wonder what incredible tales we have missed out on. The story about Cupid and Psyche is moving, so much tragedy yet with a happy ending and his conversion to Isis and Osiris worship incredibly interesting to read. Do not let this book pass you by without giving it a chance!!… (more)
LibraryThing member librarylord99
"Bestiality. Kidnapping. Mugging. Ye olde carjacking. Burglary. Assault. Murder. Female paedophiles. Incest. Male rape. Adultery. Animal cruelty. Serial killers in the making. Poisonings. Homosexual priest gangbangs. Shapeshifting. Gods and goddesses. The Seven Deadly Sins. Evil mother-in-laws. Drama. Comedy. Tragedy. Adventure. Romance. Horror. Urban legends. Stories within stories. Inspiration for that Hannibal episode where a person was sewn into a dead horse's belly."

What more can you ask for?
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LibraryThing member andyjb
The oldest book I've read. If it wasn't for the language used and the spellings, you'd be hard put to realise that this book dates from the 2nd Century AD. By turns funny, dark, entertaining and just downright enjoyable this book puts many of today's blockbusters to shame.
LibraryThing member Autodafe
One of the funniest works I have ever read. Apuleius puts contemporary humourists to shame.
LibraryThing member ariesblue
a masterpiece ,so interesting and entertaining as a read. for beneath the humorous and the sharp ironies lay a religious and philosophical thoughtful mind.
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.

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LibraryThing member untraveller
I thoroughly enjoyed Quentin Blake's artwork as well as the book. One of my all-time fave books is the Decameron and I picked up where the girl over the barrel/pot story came from....The Golden Ass. Twas an easy fun read watching the metamorphosis of the material Lucius (human to ass) into the spiritual Lucius (one who would diddle with the slave girl becomes one following the religion of Isis).… (more)
LibraryThing member Unreachableshelf
A witty book, full of raunchy and crass humor as you'd expect from Greek comedy. If it rambles and goes on wild digressions, it does so in much the same way as other great novels for centuries to come. Although I've never seen an analysis of The Golden Ass as an influence on Don Quixote, I believe I see the seeds of it there, from the times when chapters are spent on one character telling a story to another to the fact that our hero (before his metamorphosis) gets into a fight with some wineskins.… (more)
LibraryThing member Petroglyph
The Golden Ass often gets described as the only complete Ancient novel in Latin, but it’s more of a collection of stories, myths and anecdotes held together by a thin framing device. The plot is well-known. A well-off Roman Citizen in Greece messes around with black magic and gets transformed into a donkey. Cue a picaresque series of owners as he gets bought, sold, stolen and adopted by ambitious robbers, effeminate priests, greedy millers, cruel boys, and lusty upper class women. Each owner has comedic things happening to them and plenty of bawdy and tall tales anecdotes to tell -- or they know people who do. It’s all rather flimsily tied together, but the cohesion, of course, is much less important than the accumulation of humorous stories.

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.
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LibraryThing member amandachapman
True satire humor says much about what was funny in the second century CE is still funny today. A great Grecian tale with many sexual episodes that may be shocking today was not taboo in Roman attitudes.
LibraryThing member readingrat
A collection of stories which are bound together under the theme of the travels of Lucius Apuleius.
LibraryThing member kencf0618
More than great, good bawdy fun, this classic, one of the first I ever read, still holds up, mystery religion and all. Chockfull of Jungian goodness!
LibraryThing member datrappert
One of the earliest novels to survive, a hilarious and bawdy story of a young man turned into an ass and the adventures that follow. Gives the author a chance to chronicle different aspects of Roman society, and the characters you encounter certainly have their modern day counterparts. Graves' translation is extremely readable. Things slack off a little toward the end, but overall this is one book from Roman times that you can easily read for pleasure, and not just out of a sense of historical curiosity, in the 21st century.… (more)
LibraryThing member jjones42
Robert Graves does a fine version of the Golden Ass. At one level, a series of riffs on classic myths; on another, the story of change and growth. Must have been interesting to be in Graves's mind during work on this and The White Goddess and King Jesus and Genesis.
LibraryThing member GlenRalph
Transformations of Lucius, translated by Robert Graves. Limited to 2000 copies, in slip case Call No. PC 1.3
LibraryThing member a211423
My first reading of any Latin literature. Cupid and Psyche were my favorites and remain still.
LibraryThing member Fullmoonblue
Proto-novel by a cosmopolitan, multilingual North African author, this 'golden' tale influenced many later works. Raunchy and rambling, like a surreal Canterbury Tales, featuring witchcraft, Greek myth, and social criticism.
LibraryThing member librarianbryan
My review refers to Robert Graves translation. The narrative drags in the way that most classics do to the modern reader, but it does offer a lot of insight to Roman society.
LibraryThing member curious_squid
My first attempt at reading something written in Olde English, (I was reading the 1566 English edition) and it was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Also good to know that bathroom humor was alive and well in the late 2nd century.
LibraryThing member MartinBodek
This one was interesting. I enjoyed the playful language and the premise of the pickle in which the protagonist found himself. I presume the carnality would be considered shocking for the time, but it's inclusion added to the intrigue. This could certainly stand to be updated to a modern version in books and/or film. I suppose Pinocchio is a version of it.… (more)
LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
Apuleius' comedic romp is a gentle, breezy tale told through in the 3rd person P.O.V. He manages to touch on many characters, settings, and themes in his work and the component parts all serve to augment the whole. Apuleius is quite a writer, and the old fashioned language rather serves to accentuate the power of the language rather than serve as a detriment to it.

All in all, a good show! 3.5 stars!
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LibraryThing member JackMassa
The Robert Graves tranlation. Wonderful for it's showcasing of daily life and characters in the late Roman world.



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