Manual The Golden Ass (Penguin Classics)

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Introduction Apuleius is the most whimsical of authors and is a law to himself. This is the most continuously and accessibly amusing book that has come down to us from classical antiquity. But in The Golden Ass appearances more often than not turn out to be deceptive, and there is a good deal more in this short Prologue than immediately meets the eye.


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The two words intende: laetaberis are more suggestive than they seem. Intendo connotes directed effort; the reader is to be intentus, attentive, serious, switched on. The coordinate structure of the Latin phrase stands, as often, for a conditional clause: if you give your mind to what follows, you will be made happy. What has preceded, however, is calculated to puzzle the really attentive reader. This points to a collection of tales of the kind associated with Aristides of Miletus fL c. This class of literature was not considered edifying. These disparate stories, it seems, have some sort of Egyptian flavour and are in some way pointed see 1.

At this point a voice is heard asking Quis ille? The reader, in words put into his mouth by the writer?

The Golden Ass (Penguin Classics S.)

A third party? The possibilities, given more particularly that ancient scribal conventions knew nothing of quotation marks and such devices, shade into one another: the blurring of identities which so much preoccupies critics of The Golden Ass has begun. The answer to the question is not altogether precise. Such apologies for insufficiency prefacing a book or a speech are commonly disingenuous, as the following comparison with the trick- rider shows this one to be. This collection of stories, it is insinuated, is to be a stylistic tour deforce by a Greek who can teach native Romans a thing or two about how to handle their own language.

But one more surprise is in store. It seems that after all this is not some sort of anthology of anecdotes, but one story translated or adapted from a single Greek original. The reader is for the time being left to wonder - and wonder has been promised as well as pleasure - about this apparent discrepancy. That will eventually be resolved when The Golden Ass turns out to be both these things. For the surprise that is ultimately in store not even the most attentive of first-time readers can have been prepared. Clairvoyance rather than concentration would have been needed to foresee that.

The figure of the author, manipulating with almost insolent assurance his diverse literary materials and the two languages of which he is self- proclaimed master, now fades into and is lost in that of a narrator, the hero of the fabula Graecanica - the plaything of Fortune, the slave of his passions, controlled by the events of the story which as author he had purported to control. This proves to be an obsessive interest in witchcraft for which Thessaly was famous ; and it turns out that his hostess at Hypata, where he is bound with letters of introduction, is a renowned sorceress.

Before he can get at the antidote to the spell, which is to eat some roses, he is carried off by a gang of robbers; and the tale of his ensuing adventures, misadventures, and narrow escapes from death as he passes from one owner to another takes up the rest of the first ten books of the novel.

The narrative is bulked out by stories heard by Lucius both before and after his metamorphosis, making up some sixty per cent of the text of books 1 - These stories are clearly intended to form an integral part of the literary structure of the book, providing what is in effect a commentary on the experiences, sufferings, and final deliverance of the hero. Their allegorical character using the word in its broadest sense is most obviously evident in the tale of Cupid and Psyche, set off from the rest by its length, elaborate literary texture, and central placing in the narrative framework 4.

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It is now that events take the most startling turn of all. With the last of his series of owners Lucius has apparently fallen on his feet. A rich woman falls in love with him and bribes his keeper to allow her to spend a night with him. This is a great success, and when Thiasus gets wind of it he decides to exhibit Lucius in the role of lover in the games he is about to hold at Corinth. On learning of this and of the atrocious crimes of the woman who is to be his partner in the spectacle, Lucius despairs.

Confronted with what he sees as the ultimate in degradation and fearing, reasonably enough, that the beasts in the arena are unlikely to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty parties, he decides to make a break for freedom. He escapes and prepares to spend the night on the seashore a few miles from Corinth. So ends book 10, with the hero in a state of physical and spiritual prostration. To him at this nadir of his fortunes rescue now comes, in a way that the most percipient and attentive reader could not have guessed.

He suddenly awakes from sleep to see the full moon rising in all her unearthly brilliance from the sea, and prays to her for deliverance. Nothing has prepared the reader for his instant conviction that here is his salvation, that she - invoked simultaneously as Ceres, Venus, Diana, and Proserpine-is the supreme governing power of the universe and that she and she alone can save him.

This unexplained revelation comes, as is the nature of revelation, out of the blue. The goddess answers his prayer, not in any of the guises under which he has invoked her, but in one that subsumes and transcends them all.

THE GOLDEN ASS - Metamorphosis or The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius - Unabridged Audiobook

After enumerating the names under which she is worshipped throughout the world, she discloses her real identity: Isis, truly venerated under that name in Egypt - and the mind of the reader is immediately transported back to the mysterious hints in the Prologue. She promises him release from his sufferings and gives him exact instructions for achieving it: in return he is to devote the rest of his life to her service.

All goes according to plan. He moves to Rome, undergoes further initiations, and the end of the story finds him an apparently respectable member of society, simultaneously pursuing a secular career as a successful barrister and following a religious vocation as a shaven-headed official of an ancient priestly college. The emergence of the story into the light of common day finally reveals the nature and purpose of the over-arching metamorphosis from which The Golden Ass itself has emerged, and, so to say, gives the literary game away.

The Golden Ass

Nevertheless the sense of anticlimax continues to nag. The first fifteen chapters of book 11 constitute the longest sequence of consistently elevated writing in the novel, writing as brilliant and compelling as anything in Latin literature. That glory of revelation and rebirth tails off into a workaday account of successive initiations and the shifts to which Lucius has to resort to meet the necessary expenses. The demands of God and Mammon, however, are finally reconciled when, under the special protection of Osiris, he is enabled to work up a flourishing legal practice.

To some critics book 11 has seemed too loosely attached thematically to the first ten, and too sharply contrasted with them in tone and feeling, for The Golden Ass to be convincingly defended as an integrated literary whole. A work in eleven books is in itself an anomaly: the preference was for even numbers or multiples of five. Ideally the problem ought perhaps to be tackled without reference to anything but the book as we have it. That view is expressed robustly by George Saintsbury: Origins However, in this case it happens that, whether fortunately or unfortunately, we do possess a good deal of information external to The Golden Ass, both as to its author and as to its sources, models, and literary congeners.

This is something we can hardly affect to ignore. The Milesian element in The Golden Ass is referred to twice in the book, once, as we have seen, in the Prologue, and again in a facetious authorial apology for reporting an oracle of Apollo in Latin verse. This latter allusion, however, is opportunism of a kind one soon learns to recognize, prompted by the fact that the oracle in question is the one at Miletus 4.

There is nothing remotely Milesian about the story of Cupid and Psyche. The fabula Graecanica we can identify.

Transmitted among the works of the Greek satirist Lucian fi. This is a first-person narrative by one Lucius, who is changed into an ass by a spell which miscarries and after various adventures is changed back again: a version of our story lacking certain episodes, most notably that of the Festival of Laughter, the stories heard or reported by Lucius, Cupid and Psyche, and the Isiac sequel.

The close correspondences between The Golden Ass and the Onos leave no room for doubt that they derive from a common original see Appendix. What this was we learn from the Bibliotheca of the Byzantine scholar Photius c. It is hardly conceivable that Cupid and Psyche can have done. In the Onos Lucius, now restored to human shape, again presents himself to the lady whose favours he had enjoyed as an ass and is humiliatingly rebuffed because his genital equipment no longer measures up to her requirements.

Some have thought that this broadly farcical denouement has replaced an original ending on a more serious note which served as model or inspiration for book 11 of The Golden Ass. There is little evidence either for or against this hypothesis, which is a good example of the type of explanation to which scholars resort from an ingrained reluctance to believe that any classical writer ever thought of anything for himself.

There is no solid reason to withhold from our author the credit of originality as regards the way in which he chose to round off his book. Whether the result of combining this and the other disparate elements - the cautionary tales and Milesian stories, Cupid and Psyche, and the rest - in the framework of the ass-narrative can be considered successful is another matter.

Certainly the whole undertaking was an ambitious one, like nothing else in the way of prose fiction that has survived from classical antiquity. Though loose ends and minor inconsistencies abound, where the author has not taken sufficient pains to dovetail the added material into the original fabric, the reader is irresistibly carried along by the sweep of the narrative and the narratives within the narrative.

This is the secret of the classic novel, the trick of maintaining an even flow of narration, steadily moving on no matter how thick and rich it may be. If a man can do this instinctively - and, let me add, very few men can - then God intended him to be a novelist. There is no doubt that God intended the author of The Golden Ass to be a novelist. It is only now and then, as in the case of the tale of the delinquent slave 8. In general the inserted stories and episodes significantly reinforce and illustrate the main narrative and the characterization of the hero.

There are obvious technical flaws in the conduct of the story 3. She is a more ambiguous character than Abroea, her prototype in the Onos; is she, like Milo, a willing party to the deception? The other inserted episodes and stories in books are, in contrast, transparently cautionary, reinforcing the warning explicitly given by Byrrhena 2. Of the stories that he hears as ass, that of Cupid and Psyche stands in a class by itself and calls for separate consideration. The others constitute a running commentary on the world of which he is now a feeling but inarticulate spectator.

It is in fact the same world as that which he formerly inhabited when he was a privileged individual who would contemplate life de haut en has. Now he sees it from below and is duly appalled by what he sees. No more than poets are novelists bound to tell the truth - oh, creative poetic licence Is boundless, and unconstrained By historical fact - 18 and The Golden Ass was not written as social history.

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There is no doubt, for instance, that outside the larger centres law enforcement in the provinces of the Roman Empire was by and large of the do-it-yourself order. Large landowners policed their estates themselves with their own retainers; it is the insensate rage of the tyrannical plutocrat rather than the arbitrary nature of his conduct that would have seemed exceptional 9. Brigandage, prominent in the plots of other romances and central in that of The Golden Ass, was a fact of life, controlled, in so far as it was controlled, by ad hoc punitive action 7.

In point of fact the only effective police were the soldiers at the disposition of the provincial governor. Hypata boasts a town guard 3.

go to site This may be a case of authorial inadvertence, but rings true in the light of what Juvenal has to say about street crime in Rome itself some half a century earlier Satires, 3. Whether a court other than that of the governor was legally competent to try a Roman citizen on a capital charge is debatable, but many contemporary readers may have been no more certainly informed than modern scholars on such points, and it would probably have occurred to few to think about a question which the hero himself does not raise.

Nor again would most readers stop to wonder why the doctor in the trial of the evil stepmother delays giving his crucial evidence until the very last moment That would indeed have spared the innocent defendant much anguish, but it would have deprived the reader of his pleasure. Court-room scenes were a standard feature of ancient romance precisely because of their dramatic potentialities, and the essence of drama is suspense. It is against this on the whole recognizable background that the inserted stories in books are projected. They present a grim composite picture of a world motivated by deceit, spite, greed, and lust.

Increasingly it is the themes of adultery and murder, often by poisoning, that come to predominate. The colouring of the picture is self- consciously literary: so the story of the incestuous stepmother is acknowledged as lifted from Greek tragedy and embellished with allusions to the Latin poets Nevertheless it will not do to write them off as too literary and too highly coloured to be credible. The mother whom Juvenal, ironically expecting to be disbelieved, arraigns for poisoning her own children Satires , 6.