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The Golden Ass

by Apuleius

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,424732,084 (3.86)239
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)
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» See also 239 mentions

English (54)  Spanish (10)  Italian (3)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (72)
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
This is a Roman picaresque novel centering on the adventures of Lucius, who travels to Thessaly to seek his fortune. The city’s reputation for magic excites him, and he wants to see wonders. He goes to the home of his aunt Byrrhena. Seemingly unimpressed by the mechanical wonders of her palace, he decides to seek lodging in the city. Ignoring his aunt’s warning, he stays with Milo, whose wife is a witch. Lucius becomes romantically involved with Milo’s slave Photis, who is instrumental in providing Lucius with the ointment that brings about his transformation into an ass.

Up to this point in the narrative, there a several points of interest from a Gnostic perspective. The names Lucius and Photis share a common calque, light. This suggests a certain relationship between them, beyond the obvious sexual one depicted on the surface of the novel. Attracted to the reputed wonders of Thessaly, he spurns those that are readily before him in favor of the illusions he brings with him, i.e., the stories of witches and their powers. At Lucius’ request, Photis steals some metamorphosing ointment from her mistress. Instead of becoming a bird, as he had seen the witch do, Lucius becomes an ass. It is unclear whether Photis brought the wrong ointment, and if she did, whether she did so intentionally, or whether the effect of the ointment varies by user. Even then, it is an open question whether Photis knew what would happen to Lucius. Interestingly, she knows the cure: he must simply eat roses.

Before he returns to his previous form, Lucius goes on a series of adventures, almost like a program of karma yoga. In this respect, it reminds me of Milarepa’s ordeals to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime. Here, however, there is no indication that Lucius had led a bad life and was being punished, he merely must work through the lower, materialistic aspects of his soul before he is given the roses that will give him back his human form.

The most interesting interlude comes halfway through the story when Lucius is held captive by robbers. While in their cave, he hears an old woman tell the story of Cupid and Psyche. Her story covers several chapters of the novel, and the robbers kill her once she finishes it. Both of these details suggest the importance of the story: it takes up a large portion of the narrative, and it is as if the woman was waiting all her life to relate it, and once done, her life was complete. The story itself is a retelling of the Y-H-V-H formula of the redintegration of the Soul. In this version, however, the Queen does not want the Princess to supplant her and actively thwarts the Prince’s actions. In the larger schema of the story, Photis is the Vav to Lucius’s final Heh. Lucius’s inability to get an immediate remedy to his condition suggests an unseen initial Heh at work.

Once the roses physically purify Lucius, he undergoes spiritual purification through a three-part initiation into the cult of Isis. An analogy to Liber XV might be the following: (1) Lucius is transformed into an ass (the Priest, after having purified and consecrated the Priestess, closes the veil, shutting himself off from her light); (2) Lucius undergoes a series of adventures (the Priest circumambulates the Temple); and (3) Lucius eats the roses and resumes human form (the Priest opens the Veil, renewing his visual contact with the Priestess, and the roses on the altar). It is tempting to compare the Priest’s mounting of the three steps with Lucius’s initiations into the mysteries of Isis, but the steps come before the opening of the veil, and only the first step has Isian connotations. ( )
1 vote Kikhos_ba-Midhbar | Jan 11, 2022 |
Lucius, a lusty young Greek under Roman rule, is accidentally transformed into a donkey when his experimentation with magic goes awry. In animal form, he passes from owner to owner, undergoing some strange and dangerous experiences before being rescued by an Egyptian goddess.

The Golden Ass was written in Latin by an African about a Greek. Africa is not discussed in the novel, but Apuleius’ African provincial background likely influenced the way he depicts his main character’s Greek provincial background. By the time of Apuleius, Rome had gained control over a territory of more than 100 major and minor provinces, including much of northern Africa and all of Greece. Both had been under Roman rule for more than three centuries. Greece was divided into two administrative regions: the northern province of Macedonia, where the ad-ventures of the Greek main character begin, and the southern province of Achaea, where they end.

Rome ruled each of its provinces through a governor, whose main duties were to keep the province “peaceful,” that is, out of foreign hands and free from dissidents, insurgents, and criminals. In the words of one ancient authority, a governor “should search out persons guilty of sacrilege, brigands, kidnappers and thieves and punish them according to their offences” (Ulpian in Freeman, p. 503). The empire selected certain cities as assize towns, that is, towns where legal cases were heard. Mostly the cases involved small-scale crimes. A provincial governor would rely on local magistrates to bring the accused before him. They would cooperate with the Roman authori-ties to enforce the imperial laws. With cooperation, recognized the magistrates (and others in the local elite, including army veterans), came privileges—control of the local government, the food supply, various properties, and more.

Society in the provinces was comprised of two basic classes: the honestiores (”more honorable people”) and the humiliores (”humbler people”). Slaves were another case altogether. Not part of the humiliores, they were thought of as property rather than people. The honestiores class, made up of the local elite, received preferential treatment. In criminal cases, their hearings were the first to be conducted, and if convicted, their sentencing involved fines or, at worst, exile, not bodily punishment or death. In contrast, though nominally free and sometimes of citizen status, the criminals who were humiliores suffered penalties such as torture and crucifixion. Often the accused from this class were even condemned without a proper hearing. A governor could judge only so many cases, and, again, the rich came first. Only in fiction, says one historian, such as “The Golden Ass... would a poisoned woman get instant access to justice” (Goodman, p. 193).

The “justice” meted out to slaves was especially harsh. It is impossible to arrive at an accurate number of slaves in the whole of the Roman Empire at any period. It has been conjectured that, during the reign of Augustus (31 bce-14 ce), in the century before Apuleius, the empire had 10 million slaves in a population of roughly 50 million. In Italy itself, one in every three persons was probably a slave (Madden). These figures, while speculative, are likely not to have varied significantly by Apuleius’ time. Romans enslaved war captives, abandoned children, and the kidnapped and then put them to work in various capacities. There were slave road builders, construction workers, factory laborers, cooks, house cleaners, secretaries, miners, barbers, seamstresses, and farmhands. In some cases, the captives looked like their captors and were just as educated, but, in society’s eyes, slavery robbed them of any social or moral status, regardless of their talents and skills. Slaves were commonly subjected to floggings and sexual assaults. For a capital crime (adultery, treason, or murder) they would be crucified or burned alive. One Roman custom called for all the slaves in a household to be murdered if one of them had killed their master. ( )
1 vote Marcos_Augusto | Nov 4, 2021 |
This is a surprisingly entertaining 2nd century Roman novel. It describes a young man, curious about magic, that gets turned into a donkey. Sarah Ruden's translation into modern English makes this a lively read. ( )
  M_Clark | Oct 13, 2021 |
"It is a difficult matter to keep love imprisoned."

Written in the second century AD originally in Latin this book is packed with often grisly stories and striking characters. The narrator, Lucius, travels to Thessaly, the land of witchcraft, where he is accidentally transformed in to an ass as a result of his foolish curiosity about witchcraft.

Lucius starts out as a thoughtless, womanising glutton who basically acts like an ass, and so is transformed into one.He has a pretty rough time of it in his asinine form, trapped in a world of depravity, where violence, cruelty and sexual lust are rife until tiring of abuse at the hands of cruel owners, near death experiences and other shameful circumstances, he finally gives himself up to prayer and is restored by divine intervention by the Goddess Isis. "I have come in pity of your plight, I have come to favour and aid you. Weep no more, lament no longer, for the hour of your deliverance, shone over by my watchful light, is at hand." After his restoration he puts his former ways behind him and lives happily as a lawyer.

Although the book is a fantasy, by turns grim, funny and bawdy the underlying theme is a moral and a religious one, of the soul's redemption by divine love.

A lot of the humour is somewhat crude which really seemed at odds with the oldie-style language used but all the same the story rolls along at a good pace. There are many side stories, including a lengthy section describing the story of Cupid and Psyche, but overall I felt that these helped the main story to flow rather than in any way hinder it.

I'm not sure what my expectations were before I opened this book but they were most definitely dumbfounded. I anticipated some religious undertones but I certainly didn't expect it's bawdy nature, equally I found it a relatively easy, quick and enjoyable read once I got a feel for the language whereas I was expecting a bit of a slog. Nor did I anticipate it being so graphic. I felt that the final chapter was a little too overblown but my main complaint was that in my version of this book the word 'divers' was misused on numerous occasions instead of the word 'diverse', this really did begin to bug me towards the end of it. But these are only very minor gripes.

Don't be afraid to tackle this book because of its age, you may be surprised. As Apuleius puts it himself in his introduction: “If you are not put off by the Egyptian story-telling convention that allows humans to be changed into animals and, after various adventures, restored to their proper shapes, you should be amused by this queer novel… now read on and enjoy yourself!” ( )
  PilgrimJess | Sep 4, 2021 |
Witches, sex, witch sex, donkey dicks, projectile pooping, man-eating ants, piss as a weapon, blood fountains, cuckolds, rabies, murder. What’s not to like? Human vulgarity has thrived since time immemorial, y’all. It is truly fitting that this non-stop debauchathon is the only ancient Roman novel in Latin to survive in its entirety. Last kudos to Apuleius for there has never been as universally and as perennially a relevant question as “do we now have to put up with an ass playing the philosopher?” ( )
1 vote jiyoungh | May 3, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
Valuable for those who have wit to understand it.
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.

» Add other authors (315 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Apuleiusprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Graves, RobertTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Adlington, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Annaratone, ClaudioEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ayrton, MichaelIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ģiezens, AugustsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blake, QuentinIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Braarvig, JensIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carlesi, FerdinandoEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Darton, F. J. HarveyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gockinga, RenéIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grant, MichaelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hagreen, PhilipIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hanson, J. ArthurEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hunink, VincentTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kenney, E.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marziano, NinoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matoses, RafaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mørland, HenningTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Page, T. E.Editorsecondary 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
Terzaghi, NicolaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vendrell, SalvadorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vliet, Johannes van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walsh, P.G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whibley, CharlesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The world grows stranger as we stare,
with vortices of maddening change.
How understand what we unbare
as through the ragged scene we range?

When transformations mock control
and the split atom is our all,
what monstrous faces crowd the soul.
The seed's corrupted by our fa.

It seems that Apuleius guessed
the curious things that happen when
the gap is widening betwixt
reality and the minds of men.

Now Isis cannot save us; yet
the answer's truly here explained:
redemption from the faceless threat,
and earth regained.
J. L.
First words
Business directed me into Thessaly.
We generally know little of the life of an ancient author if he did not happen to play some part in the political scene. (Introduction)
In this Milesian Tale, reader, I shall string together a medley of stories, and titillate your agreeable ears with a merrily whispered narrative, if you will not refuse to scan this Egyptian paper written with a subtle pen of Nilotic reeds. (Preface)
Cupid and Psyche (I)
'Once upon a time there lived a king and queen who had three very beautiful daughters.'
Now Cupid being more and more in love with Psyche, and fearing the sudden austerity of his mother, returned again to his tricks, and did pierce on swift wings into the heavens, and arrived before Jupiter to declare his cause: then Jupiter alter that he had eftsoons embraced his dear relation and kissed his hand, began to say in this manner:

‘O my lord and son, although thou hast not given due reverence and honour unto me as thou oughtest to do, but hast rather soiled and wounded this my breast (whereby the laws and order of the elements and planets be disposed) with continual assaults of terrene luxury and against all laws, yea even the Julian law, and the utility of the public weal, hurting my fame and name by wicked adulteries, and transforming my divine beauty into serpents, fire, savage beasts, birds, and bulls. Howbeit remembering my modesty, and that I have nourished thee with mine own proper hands, I will do and accomplish all thy desire. But still thou shouldest beware of spiteful and envious persons, and if there be any excellent maiden of comely beauty in the world, remember yet the benefit which I shall shew unto thee, by recompense of her love towards me again.’
Last words
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Disambiguation notice
This is translations of Apuleius' Metamorphoses (the Golden Ass), including editions that include both a translation and the Latin text. Please do not combine with Latin-only editions or with other works by Apuleius.
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Canonical DDC/MDS
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Wikipedia in English (2)

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.

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Apuleio, africano di Madaura, fu fondamentalmente estraneo alla cultura latina tradizionale ed è anche l'autore latino più sperimentale, sia nell'opera che nella vita. Roma per lui fu soltanto una tappa del suo continuo peregrinare. Superiore a tutti nell'arte del 'pasticcio' linguistico e stilistico, con "L'asino d'oro" scrive un'opera che suscita ancora perplessità per la sua composizione. Il narratore è Lucio che narra la sua trasformazione in asino e che alla fine del romanzo ritornerà persona, quando riuscirà a divorare una corona di rose portata in corteo da un sacerdote di Iside.
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