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Apuleius' Platonism: The Impersonation of…

Apuleius' Platonism: The Impersonation of Philosophy

by Richard Fletcher

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Apuleian studies have thrived over the last 30 years. The majority of research in the field has focused explicitly or implicitly on The Metamorphoses. The text can (arguably) be categorized, among other things, as an ancient novel, a product of the Second Sophistic, and/or as satire. This flexibility gives it an alluring elusiveness and makes it useful for researching various facets of the Roman Empire’s intellectual, literary, and social cultures. Moreover, Winkler’s seminal study of its narrative sophistication,Auctor and Actor, transformed Apuleius' prose fiction from a underappreciated work of a marginal author into a favorite test case for narratological analysis. Decades later, those intrigued by The Metamorphoses no longer have to defend their interest: excerpts from it now appear on several undergraduate and graduate program reading lists. But the rest of Apuleius’ corpus has garnered significantly less scholarly attention. Though appreciation for Apuleius’ Apologia as a unique specimen of forensic oratory in post-Ciceronian Latin has grown, it, like the rest of Apuleius’ corpus, lives in the shadow of his bawdy masterpiece.

Richard Fletcher is fully aware of these aspects of Apuleian studies and addresses them head-on in his monograph, Apuleius’ Platonism: the Impersonation of Philosophy. His book is as much about Apuleius’ approach to narrating the philosophical life, philosophical concepts, and philosophical protreptic as it is about how one approaches the Apuleian corpus. Fletcher hopes this book will be the “first attempt at redirecting…Apuleian studies to a more responsible acknowledgement of the totality of [Apuleius’] literary and philosophical achievement”(viii). Rejecting the belief that the rest of Apuleius’ corpus lacks the nuance and sophistication of his prose fiction, he aims to draw attention to the strategies used by the Madauran to explicate and to encourage his “idiosyncratic brand of Platonism” (vii). Fletcher thus highlights methodological continuities across texts previously segregated from The Metamorphoses and each other as rhetorical (Apologia,Florida) and philosophical (De Mundo,De Platone,De Deo Socratis) works. He also foregoes prolonged discussion of Apuleius’ ‘novel’, encouraging his readers to pick up where his study leaves off (viii; 5). His approach represents an important and exciting step in the development of Apuleian studies. Nuanced interpretations of familiar passages and skillful examinations of less cited passages prove his methodology both intellectually interesting and hermeneutically fruitful.
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