Jon's Reviews > The Golden Ass or Metamorphoses

The Golden Ass or Metamorphoses by Apuleius
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's review
Jun 18, 2012

really liked it

I read the E.J. Kenney translation, the current version in Penguin. The second-century story of one Lucius, who through a miss-cast spell becomes an ass and then suffers through 10 books of comic misfortune, including but not limited to vicious robbers, wily millers, lecherous wives, lecherous apprentices, stupid husbands, corrupt judges, horrifying witches, ghosts, the undead, and beautiful girls. Finally in book eleven he suddenly (and as far as I can tell) truly and sincerely has a vision of Isis, becomes devoted to her, is reborn (sheds his donkeyness and becomes fully human) and ends the novel miraculously beyond the reach of Fortune. This eleventh book is justly renowned for its (virtually unique) description of conversion and initiation in the pagan ancient world. The parallels with Christianity are many and astonishing. Lucius' reluctance to become chaste and abstinent exactly parallels St. Augustine's similar reluctance. (Augustine explicitly mentioned this book by his fellow north-African. He had obviously read it.) Lucius' adventures as a donkey are very, very explicit in both sex and violence, and this translation is accurate (unlike an old one by Jack Lindsay, which protects the reader's sensibilities with a lot of bland euphemism). Many readers find the books of comic adventure hilarious, but for me, while they're sort of amusing, they go on too long--pretty much like your average Saturday Night Live skit. For me, the eleventh book is the memorable part.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Snorri (new)

Snorri Sturluson Why is it ". . .Metamorpheses . . ." - plural?

message 2: by Jon (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jon I'd guess because Lucius changes first into an ass and then back into a (new and improved) human. There is also a witch who turns into an owl. I forgot to mention in my review that about an eighth of the whole work is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth for no particular narrative reason. It's just the story an old woman chooses to tell. But thematically I guess it's appropriate because the disobedient Soul must go through suffering and longing, but then after a period of penitence and devotion is returned by Love to a better place than she started. More or less what happens to Lucius in the last book in his devotion to Isis. Those too are metamorphoses, I guess.

Bill  Kerwin I read Lyndsay, maybe I should try Kenny. I remember one euphemism that was so obscure it baffled me for days.

I like all the stuff that leads up to Isis, and I really like the Isis stuff too. Perhaps the most marvelous metamorphosis of all for me is the way an obscene picaresque fiction turns into a serious account of religious conversion.

A unique experience, for sure.

message 4: by Jon (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jon I spent part of today checking on some of the things I alluded to in the review, and I learned that Apuleius was apparently sued by his wife's family for practicing magic. He successfully defended himself, but everything in the proceedings assumed that magic was real, even if he didn't do it. I was interested to see that St. Augustine, some 250 years later, wasn't sure about all this: "The Golden Ass...describes...that after taking a magic potion he became an ass, while retaining his human mind. But this may be either fact or fiction. Stories of this kind are either untrue or at least so extraordinary that we are justified in withholding credence." City of God 18.18.

Bill  Kerwin Great Augustine quote! Thanks for sharing it.

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