Authors: Lucius Apuleius

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Roman philosopher and rhetorician

c. 125

Madauros, Byzacium (now near Mdaourouch, Algeria)

After 170

Possibly Carthage (now in Tunisia)

Biography

Relatively little is known about the life of Lucius Apuleius , born at Madauros, in North Africa, about 124 c.e., the chief source of information being what he said about himself in his Apologia. As a young man, according to his own testimony, he was educated in rhetoric at Carthage and in philosophy at Athens. He early became interested in religion and spent some time traveling the ancient world, including Asia Minor, investigating the mysteries of the religions of his time, a somewhat unusual occupation for one who had become an ardent rationalist. Apuleius went to Rome and lived in that city for an indefinite time, apparently serving as a legal counselor. While on a journey to Africa, he was taken ill at Oea (modern Tripoli) and convalesced in the home of Sicineus Pontianus, who had been a fellow student years before. During his convalescence, Apuleius won the affections of his host’s widowed mother, Aemilia Pudentilla, and they were married in 155. Her family, outraged by the course of events, accused Apuleius of having won his wife’s affections by magical arts. Apuleius, brought before the Proconsul Claudius Maximus, successfully defended himself against the charges. His defense was summed up in the Apologia.

Lucius Apuleius.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Following his trial, Apuleius seems to have gone to Carthage to spend the remainder of his life, which he devoted to studying and writing in religion and philosophy. His fame as a writer rests on the Metamorphoses, which cannot be accurately dated. This work is often referred to as The Golden Ass, a title bestowed upon it by readers and critics in the ensuing centuries, rather than by its author, probably to differentiate between it and other works with the same title. In the Metamorphoses he seems to have used a well-known narrative used previously by Lucius of Patrae and by Lucian, but Apuleius turned the materials into a beautifully written prose romance in the picaresque style. Embedded in the story is the masterfully told fairy tale “Cupid and Psyche,” which gained major importance in art and literature beginning with the Renaissance. The ending of the story, in which the goddess Isis helps the hero return from the status of an ass to that of a man, illustrates Apuleius’s own interest in religious matters and the tendency of his time to turn to mystical religion. The work is full of wit, humor, and satire. Even today it remains a highly readable work. In the centuries that have passed since Apuleius’s time, his book has been an influence on such great writers of fiction as Miguel de Cervantes, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Giovanni Boccaccio, who found in the Metamorphoses materials and techniques that they made their own.

Author Works Long Fiction: Metamorphoses, second century (The Golden Ass, 1566) Nonfiction: Apologia, 158-159 c.e. (English translation, 1909) De Deo Socratis, second century (The God of Socrates, 1853) De mundo, second century Miscellaneous: The Works of Apuleius, 1853 Apuleius: Rhetorical Works, 2002 (S. J. Harrison, editor) Bibliography Franz, Marie-Luise von. The Golden Ass of Apuleius: The Liberation of the Feminine in Man. Rev. ed. New York: Random House, 1992. Presents an engaging Jungian perspective. Harrison, S. J. Apuleius: A Latin Sophist. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. A guide to Apuleius's works, providing historical context. Hijmans, Jr., B. L., and R. Th. van der Paardt, eds. Aspects of Apuleius’ Golden Ass: A Collection of Original Papers. Groningen, the Netherlands: Bouma’s Boekhuis, 1978. This essay collection gives a breadth of interpretations. James, Paula. Unity in Diversity: A Study of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, with Particular Reference to the Narrator’s Art of Transformation and the Metamorphosis Motif in the Tale of Cupid and Psyche. New York: Olms-Weidmann, 1987. Concentrates on structural and narratological aspects. Krabbe, Judith K. The Metamorphoses of Apuleius. New York: P. Lang, 1989. Concentrates on structural and narratological aspects. Londey, David, and Carmen Johanson. The Logic of Apuleius. New York: E. J. Brill, 1987. Makes a case for a little-known work, the Peri hermeneias, as a treatise on logic. Schlam, Carl C. The Metamorphoses of Apuleius: On Making an Ass of Oneself. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. Concentrates on structural and narratological aspects. Scobie, Alex. Apuleius and Folklore. London: Folklore Society, 1983. Uses a geographical-historical method. Tatum, James. Apuleius and the Golden Ass. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979. Provides a cultural-literary reading. Winkler, John J. Auctor and Actor: A Narratological Reading of Apuleius’s Golden Ass. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. Concentrates on structural and narratological aspects.

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