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The Golden Ass: The Transformations of…
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The Golden Ass: The Transformations of Lucius (edition 1998)

by Apuleius, Robert Graves (Translator)

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2,998391,903 (3.84)165
Member:amdp7887
Title:The Golden Ass: The Transformations of Lucius
Authors:Apuleius
Other authors:Robert Graves (Translator)
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1998), Paperback, 294 pages
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Rating:*****
Tags:classic, greek

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The Golden Ass by Apuleius

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English (35)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (39)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  Petroglyph | Dec 22, 2014 |
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 doesn't The Golden Ass have?

At this point I should probably be comparing The Golden Ass to the brutality shown in Game of Thrones, only this is much less about political maneuvering and Machiavellian plotting, but still, they're both not for the faint of heart. The Golden Ass is one of the first, or the first, human-to-animal transformation stories that run in the same vein as Disney's Brother Bear and The Emperor's New Groove.

With all of the beatings Lucius received as a helpless slave in donkey form, carrying loads too heavy for his four-legged form, having his fur set on fire, never allowed rest when he most needs it and forced to continue on or have his feet tied together to be hurled off a cliff - because that's what they did to lame animals - I feel like I need to donate to The Donkey Sanctuary.

For a 1,900 year old novel, you realise that nothing's really changed in that time, socially speaking.

Sex scenes are surprisingly good. There's no hesitation. No repressed sexuality. No self-esteem issues. And all manner of positions are attempted.

'The only redeeming feature of this catastrophic transformation was that my natural endowment had grown too.'

Typical man. Turned into a donkey and he's impressed with the increase in the size of his manhood.

Yelling 'FIRE!' when being burgled and in need of help:

'Then, leaving him there fatally crucified, he climbed to the roof of his hovel and shouted at the top of his voice to summon the neighbours; calling each one by name he gave out that his house had suddenly caught fire, reminding them that this involved the safety of them all. So everybody, frightened by the danger next door, came running in alarm to help.'

Well, it's been proven. Video games don't make kids violent, a lack of video games does. Imagination is a dangerous thing. So many inventive ways to torture and kill, to humiliate and degrade. The devil makes work for idle hands, as they say. So parents, quickly stuff a Playstation controller into your little one's hands before they turn their minds to dastardly deeds.

Certain aspects of The Golden Ass really do get you thinking about contentious issues.

How do you define bestiality? Lucius is a man turned into a donkey. When it's proposed that he'll be allowed his choice of horses with which to procreate - is that bestiality? Is Lucius's fornication as an ass with a human woman bestiality? Does the fact that he has a human mind inside an animal body change the status of the sexual relationship?

Surprisingly, Apuleius doesn't deliver the stereotype paedophile. A lusty married woman sets her sights on her stepson. Oddly this is labelled incest though there appears to be no blood connection. And it's the same with rape. A cuckolded husband rapes his adulterous wife's toyboy lover as punishment. Perhaps male paedophiles and rapists were stereotypes even 2,000 years ago.

The feminist in me feels compelled to point out the unbalanced female representation. Many women were demonised as witches who pee on men's faces, who steal body parts from the dead, who are complicit in evil deeds, who are nymphomaniacs, adulterers, paedophiles, vain and jealous grudge-holding goddesses. Psyche (myth), Photis (Lucius's servant lover) and Byrrhena (Lucius's aunt) are the only exceptions.

The Abduction of Psyche by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

During Lucius's journey, the stories he hears are mostly told at the dinner table, around the fire, as a distraction on a long journey, or as a comfort to distraught kidnap victims. Understandably storytelling was their main form of entertainment. Well, that and gossip, which was free or you provided a meal for the teller. I really enjoyed the mythical telling of Psyche and Cupid.

Each of the 11 'books' are self-contained chapters of about 20 pages with a spoiler-y summary of what's to come at the beginning, so it was easy to dip in and out. I wasn't particularly happy with the ending, in fact I skimmed and skipped around at that point. I can understand Lucius's gratefulness at the chance to become human again, and I'm aware of that ancient tradition of 'a life saved, is a life owed' [see Azeem of 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves], but I have an issue with blind faith. Lucius walks away from his previous life to devote himself and his future to worshipping his rescuer. That's just weird, from my 21st century non-religious perspective.

The translation very much played a part in my enjoyment of this ancient novel. I carefully researched which was right for me. I chose the Kenney edition as it seemed the least stilted of those available, and I'm glad I made that choice.

I never thought I'd enjoy a 2,000 year old novel, but I did. And you might, too.

My funny mishap in trying to find a copy of The Golden Ass.

*Read as part of The Dead Writer's Society's Around the World challenge. ( )
  Cynical_Ames | Sep 23, 2014 |
Once again I face the situation in which I don't know why this book is in the list of the "1001 books to read before you die". I'm not dismissing the whatsoever historical importance of this book, I just don't see the big deal in it. Is it the archaic language? The metaphors? The writing style, maybe it was the responsible for consolidating a new literature trend or something like that? Regardless, I'm not particularly proud for having read this book simply because I did not understand what's so good about it. The story was... okay. If you take it for a fantasy book, it's about a random guy who got himself turned into a... donkey and lived lots of adventures while hearing several mythological stories. Ehrm... nice?
I do have a problem with older books: their writing style. Like in Heart of Darkness, this book sews together several occurrences in such a way that you can't really "take a break" from what you're reading (meaning you'll have paragraphs that last for two or three pages and have little to no punctuation, for they are part of one single idea). As a result, it's very, very easy to get lost with everything that's going on, which also means you'll probably have to do some re-reading of several paragraphs. Well, at least unlike Heart of Darkness, this book is slightly easier to understand in spite of the archaic English writing style.
I didn't absolutely hate this book, but if my friend hadn't chosen it blindly for me to read it, I would never, ever have picked it. ( )
  aryadeschain | Aug 26, 2014 |
Some tout this as a "great" book. I find it gross. Lewd, nude and crude with a primitive (if any) morality, I can't figure why anyone would consider it "great" other than a great disappointment. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
This Ass is packed with tales that are as full of characters as they are hard to follow. Make sure you get yourself a good translation of this if you want to have half a chance of following what’s going on as there are stories within stories. I reckon this is where they got the idea for Inception from.

The very basic moral is that messing with magic doesn’t pay. Experimenting, Lucius the author and narrator turns himself into an ass, albeit a very nice one. The solution to his plight turns out to be simple: eat a rose. But before he can do so, he is stolen by a band of robbers and his adventures begin.

I tried very hard to keep up with the plot/s but lost it/them several times. So, I found the book a bit confusing and sometimes it took a while before I realised where I was and what had happened. But then, I felt the same way about Ovid’s Metamorphosis too. I’m just thankful I wasn’t born 2000 years ago and only had this to read.

However, this is an extremely important and influential book, not least because it is the only complete novel we have left to us in Latin. Many writers have been influenced by it and the stories it contains. As a result, how I felt about it doesn’t count for much. This is on the 1001 list and so it should be. ( )
  arukiyomi | Feb 22, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (237 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Apuleiusprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adlington, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Graves, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hanson, J. ArthurEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Helm, RudolfEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hunink, VincentTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kenney, E.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marziano, NinoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quintáns Suárez, ManuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Relihan, Joel C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rieu, E. V.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roncoroni, FedericoIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwartz, M.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walsh, P.G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whibley, CharlesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zimmerman, MaaikeEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Business once took me to Thessaly, where my mother's family originated; I have, by the way, the distinction of being descended through her from the famous Plutarch.
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Cupid and Psyche (I)
'Once upon a time there lived a king and queen who had three very beautiful daughters.'
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140435905, Paperback)

Lucius, a young man whose fascination with witchcraft leads him to believe he can be transformed into a bird, instead becomes a donkey. Whirled off by robbers, he embarks on a series of adventures and misadventures. Confronted eventually with the prospect of a stage performance where he is supposed to demonstrate his sexual prowess with a woman, he is overwhelmed by a religious vision and is finally initiated into the cult of the goddess Isis.

It has been long disputed whether Apuleius meant this last-minute conversion seriously or as a final comic surprise and the challenge of interpretation continues to keep readers fascinated by this work. Apuleius’ Golden Ass is the most continuously and accessibly amusing book that has come down to us from classical antiquity.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:44 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

After Lucius is transformed into an ass because of his curiosity and fascination for sex and magic, he suffers a series of trials and humiliations before being transformed back into human shape by the kindness of Isis.

(summary from another edition)

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