1 Origin 2 Plot 3 Inset stories
3.1 Aristomenes' Tale 3.2 Thelyphron's Tale 3.3 Tale of Cupid and Psyche 3.4 Tale of the Wife's Tub 3.5 The Tale of the Jealous Husband 3.6 The Tale of the Fuller's Wife 3.7 Tale of the Murderous Wife
4.1 Style 4.2 Final book
5 Adaptations and influence 6 See also 7 Footnotes 8 References
8.1 English translations 8.2 Further reading
9 External links
Lucius takes human form, in a 1345 illustration of the Metamorphoses (ms. Vat. Lat. 2194, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana).
The date of composition of the
Lucius spies Milo's wife transforming into a bird. Illustration by Jean de Bosschère
The next morning, Lucius is abruptly awoken and arrested for the murder of the three men. He is taken to court where he is laughed at constantly and witnesses are brought against him. They are just about to announce his guilt when the widow demands to bring out the dead bodies; but when the three bodies of the murdered men are revealed, they turn out to be puffed-up wineskins. It then turns out that it was a prank played by the town upon Lucius, to celebrate their annual Festival of Laughter. Later that day, Lucius and Photis watch Milo's wife perform her witchcraft and transform herself into a bird. Attempting to copy her, Lucius accidentally turns himself into an ass, at which point Photis tells him that the only way for him to return to his human state is to eat a rose. She puts him in the stable for the night and promises to bring him roses in the morning, but during the night Milo's house is raided by a band of thieves, who steal Lucius the ass, load him up with their plunder, and leave with him. Book Four On a break in his journey with the bandits, Lucius the ass trots over to a garden to munch on what seem to be roses (but are actually poisonous rose-laurels) when he is beaten by the gardener and chased by dogs. The thieves reclaim him and he is forced to go along with them; they talk about how their leader Thrasileon has been killed while dressed as a bear. The thieves then kidnap a young woman, Charite, who is housed in a cave with Lucius the ass. Charite starts crying, so an elderly woman who is in league with the thieves begins to tell her the story of Cupid and Psyche. Psyche is the most beautiful woman on earth, and Venus jealously arranges for Psyche's destruction, ordering her son Cupid to arrange for her to fall in love with a worthless wretch. An oracle tells Psyche's parents to expose her on a mountain peak, where she will become the bride of a powerful, monstrous being. Psyche is left on the mountain, and carried away by a gentle wind. Book Five The elderly woman continues telling the story of Cupid and Psyche. Cupid, Venus's son, secretly preserves Psyche; Cupid becomes Psyche's mysterious husband, who is invisible to her by day and only visits her at night. Psyche's jealous sisters arouse her curiosity and fear about her husband's identity; Psyche, against Cupid's commands, looks at him by lamplight at night; Cupid abandons Psyche, who wanders in search of him, and takes revenge on her wicked sisters. Book Six The elderly woman finishes telling the story of Cupid and Psyche, as Psyche is forced to perform various tasks for Venus (including an errand to the underworld) with the help of Cupid and an assortment of friendly creatures, and is finally reunited with her husband. Lucius the ass and Charite escape from the cave but they are caught by the thieves, and sentenced to death.
Charitë embraces Tlepolemus while Lucius looks on. From an illustration by Jean de Bosschère
Book Seven A man appears to the thieves and announces that he is the renowned thief Haemus the Thracian, who suggests that they should not kill the captives but sell them. Haemus later reveals himself secretly to Charite as her fiancé Tlepolemus, and gets all of the thieves drunk. When they are asleep he slays them all. Tlepolemus, Charite and Lucius the ass safely escape back to the town. Once there, the ass is entrusted to a horrid boy who torments him but the boy is later killed by a she-bear. Enraged, the boy's mother plans to kill the ass. Book Eight A man arrives at the mother's house and announces that Tlepolemus and Charite are dead, caused by the scheming of the evil Thrasillus who wants Charite to marry him. After hearing the news of their master's death, the slaves run away, taking the ass Lucius with them. The large group of travelling slaves is mistaken for a band of robbers and attacked by farmhands of a rich estate. Several other misfortunes befall the travelers until they reach a village. Lucius as the narrator often digresses from the plot in order to recount several scandal-filled stories that he learns of during his journey. Lucius is eventually sold to a catamite priest. He is entrusted with carrying the statue of a goddess on his back while he follows around the group of sinful priests. While engaging in lewd activity with a local boy, the group of priests is discovered by a man in search of a stolen ass who mistakes Lucius' braying for that of his own animal. The priests flee to a new city where they are well received by one of its chief citizens. They are preparing to dine when his cook realizes that the meat that was to be served was stolen by a dog. The cook, at the suggestion of his wife, prepares to kill Lucius in order to serve his meat instead.
Lucius encounters the murderous wife. Illustration by Jean de Bosschère
Book Nine Lucius' untimely escape from the cook coincides with an attack by rabid dogs, and his wild behavior is attributed to their viral bites. The men barricade him in a room until it is decided that he is no longer infected. The band of priests packs up and moves out. The narrative is interrupted by The Tale of the Wife's Tub. After the arrest of the priests Lucius is sold into labor, driving a baker's mill-wheel. Lucius, though bemoaning his labor as an ass, also realizes that this state has allowed him to hear many novel things with his long ass-ears. The Tale of the Jealous Husband and The Tale of the Fuller's Wife mark a break in the narrative. The theme of the two intervening stories is adultery, and the text appropriately follows with the adultery of the baker's wife and the subsequent murder of the baker. Lucius the ass is then auctioned off to a farmer. The Tale of the Oppressive Landlord is here told. The farmer duly assaults a legionary who makes advances on his ass (Lucius), but he is found out and jailed.
Lucius is returned to human form during the procession of Isis. From an Illustration by Jean de Bosschère
Lucius comes into the legionary's possession, and after lodging with a
decurion Lucius recounts Tale of the Murderous Wife. He is then sold
to two brothers, a confectioner and a cook, who treated him kindly.
When they go out Lucius secretly eats his fill of their food. At first
a source of vexation, when the ass was discovered to be the one behind
the disappearing food it was much laughed at and celebrated. Again he
was sold, and he was taught many amusing tricks. Rumor spread, and
great fame came to the ass and his master. As it happened, a woman was
so enamored of the sideshow ass that she paid off his keeper and took
him to bed with her. The Tale of the Jealous Wife is aired. The
murderess depicted in this tale is precisely she whom Lucius is made
to mate with at the Shows. After an enactment of the judgment of Paris
and a brief but important digression, the time comes for Lucius to
make his much awaited appearance. At the last moment he decides
against this, fearing for his life, and he runs away to Cenchreae
eventually to nap on the beach.
Lucius wakes up in a panic during the first watch of the night.
Considering Fate to be done tormenting him, he takes the opportunity
to purify himself by seven consecutive immersions in the sea. He then
offers a prayer to the Queen of Heaven, for his return to human form,
citing all the various names the goddess is known by to people
everywhere (Venus, Ceres, Paphos, Proserpine, etc.). The Queen of
Heaven appears in a vision to him and explains to him how he can be
returned to human form by eating the crown of roses that will be held
by one of her priests during a religious procession the following day.
In return for his redemption, Lucius is expected to be initiated
Psyche et L'Amour (Psyche and Amor). William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1889
Tale of Cupid and Psyche
Main article: Cupid and Psyche
In Book Four, an elderly woman tells the story to comfort the bandits'
captives. The story is continued through Books Five and Six.
Psyche, the most beautiful woman in the world is envied by her family
as well as by Venus. An oracle of Venus demands she be sent to a
mountaintop and wed to a murderous beast. Sent by Venus to destroy
her, Cupid falls in love and flies her away to his castle. There she
is directed to never seek to see the face of her husband, who visits
and makes love to her in the dark of night. Eventually, Psyche wishes
to see her sisters, who jealously demand she seek to discover the
identity of her husband. That night, Psyche discovers her husband is
Cupid while he is sleeping, but wakes and scars him with her candle.
Infuriated, he flies to heaven and leaves her banished from her
castle. In attempted atonement, Psyche seeks the temple of Venus and
offers herself as a slave. Venus assigns Psyche four impossible tasks.
First, she is commanded to sort through a great hill of mixed grains.
In pity, many ants aid her in completing the task. Next, she is
commanded to retrieve wool of the dangerous golden sheep. A river
god aids Psyche and tells her to gather clumps of wool from thorn
bushes nearby. Venus next requests water from a cleft high beyond
mortal reach. An eagle gathers the water for Psyche. Next, Psyche is
demanded to seek some beauty from Proserpina, Queen of the Underworld.
Attempting to kill herself to reach the underworld, Psyche ascends a
great tower and prepares to throw herself down. The tower speaks, and
teaches Psyche the way of the underworld. Psyche retrieves the beauty
in a box, and, hoping to gain the approval of her husband, opens the
box to use a little. She is put into a coma. Cupid rescues her, and
begs Jupiter that she may become immortal. Psyche is granted Ambrosia,
and the two are forever united.
The story is the best-known of those in
The Golden Ass
The Wife and her lover near the Tub. Illustration by Jean de Bosschère
In the course of a visit to an inn in Book Nine, a smith recounts an anecdote concerning his wife's deceit: During the day, her husband absent at his labors, the smith's wife is engaged in an adulterous affair. One day, however, the smith, work finished well ahead of schedule, returns home prematurely — obviously to his wife's great consternation. Panicked, the faithless woman hides her lover in an old tub. After absorbing his spouse's efforts at distraction, which take the form of bitter reproaches that his coming back so early betokens a laziness that can only worsen their poverty, the smith announces that he has sold the tub for six drachmae; to this his wife responds by saying that she has in fact already sold it for seven, and has sent the buyer into the tub to inspect it. Emerging, the lover complains that his supposed purchase is in need of a proper scrubbing if he is to close the deal, so the cuckolded smith gets a candle and flips the tub to clean it from underneath. The canny adulteress then lies atop of the tub and, her lover pleasuring her the while, instructs her hapless husband as to where he should apply his energies. To add insult to injury, the ill-used man eventually has to deliver the tub to the lover's house himself. The Tale of the Jealous Husband In Book Nine, a baker's wife of poor reputation is advised by a female 'confidant' to be wary of choosing her lover, suggesting she find one very strong of body and will. She relates the story of one of the wife's previous school friends: Barbarus, an overbearing husband, is forced leave on a business trip, and commands his slave, Myrmex, to watch his wife, Aretë, closely to assure she is being faithful during his time away. Barbarus tells Myrmex that any failure will result in his death. Myrmex is so intimidated that he does not let Aretë out of his sight. Aretë's looks, however, charm Philesietaerus who vows to go to any lengths to gain her love. Philesietaerus bribes Myrmex with thirty gold pieces and the promise of his protection for allowing him a night with Aretë. Becoming obsessed with gold, Myrmex delivers the message to Aretë and Philesietaerus pays Myrmex a further ten pieces. While Aretë and Philesietaerus are making love, Barbarus returns but is locked out of the house. Philesietaerus leaves in a hurry, leaving behind his shoes. Barbarus does not notice the strange shoes until the morning, at which point he chains Myrmex's hands and drags him through town, screaming, while looking for the shoes' owner. Philesietaerus spots the two, runs up, and with great confidence shouts at Myrmex, accusing him of stealing his shoes. Barbarus allows Myrmex to live, but beats him for the 'theft'. The Tale of the Fuller's Wife In Book Nine the baker's wife attempts to hide her lover from her husband, and entertains to her husband's story of the Fuller: While coming home with the Baker for supper, the Fuller interrupts his wife's love-making with a lover. She frantically attempts to hide her lover in a drying cage in the ceiling, hidden by hanging clothes soaked in sulphur. The lover begins to sneeze, and at first the Fuller excuses his wife. After a few sneezes, the Fuller gets up and turns over the cage to find the lover waiting. The Fuller is talked out of beating the young man to death by the Baker, who points out that the young man will shortly die from the sulphur fumes if left in the cage. The Fuller agrees and returns the lover to the cage. The tale is used to contrast the earlier tale told to the Baker's wife of high suspicion and quick judgments of character by her 'auntie' with the overly naive descriptions of nefarious people by her husband. Tale of the Murderous Wife In Book Ten a woman condemned to public humiliation with Lucius tells him her crimes: A man goes on a journey, leaving his pregnant wife and infant son. He commands his wife that if she bears a daughter, the child is to be killed. The child is indeed a daughter, and in pity, the mother convinces her poor neighbours to raise her. Her daughter grows up ignorant of her origin, and when she reaches a marriageable age, the mother tells her son to deliver her daughter's dowry. The son begins preparation to marry the girl off to a friend, and lets her into his home under the guise of her being an orphan to all but the two of them. His wife, however, is unaware the girl is his sister, and believes he keeps her as a mistress. His wife steals her husband's signet ring and visits their country home accompanied by a group of slaves. She sends a slave with the signet to fetch the girl and bring her to the country home. The girl, aware that the husband is her brother, responds immediately, and on arrival at the country home is flogged by the wife's slaves, and put to death by a torch placed 'between her thighs'. The girl's brother takes the news and falls gravely ill. Aware of suspicions around her, his wife asks a corrupt doctor for instant poison. Accompanied by the doctor, she brings the poison to her husband in bed. Finding him surrounded by friends, she first tricks the doctor into drinking from the cup to prove to her husband the drink is benign, and giving him the remainder. Unable to return home in time to seek an antidote, the doctor dies telling his wife what happened and to at least collect a payment for the poison. The doctor's widow asks for payment but first offers the wife the remainder of her husband's collection of poisons. Finding that her daughter is next of kin to her husband for inheritance, the wife prepares a poison for both the doctor's widow and her daughter. The doctor's widow recognizes early the symptoms of the poison and rushes to the Governor's Home. She tells the Governor the whole of the connected murders and dies. The wife is sentenced to death by wild beasts and to have public intercourse with Lucius the ass. Overview
The episodic structure of
The Golden Ass
The text is a precursor to the literary genre of the episodic
picaresque novel, in which Quevedo, Rabelais, Boccaccio, Cervantes,
Voltaire, Defoe and many others have followed. It is an imaginative,
irreverent, and amusing work that relates the ludicrous adventures of
one Lucius, a virile young man who is obsessed with magic. Finding
himself in Thessaly, the "birthplace of magic," Lucius eagerly seeks
an opportunity to see magic being used. His overenthusiasm leads to
his accidental transformation into an ass. In this guise, Lucius, a
member of the Roman country aristocracy, is forced to witness and
share the miseries of slaves and destitute freemen who are reduced,
like Lucius, to being little more than beasts of burden by their
exploitation at the hands of wealthy landowners.
The Golden Ass
Let us glance at some of the details of Apuleius' style and it will
become clear that English translators have not even tried to preserve
and carry over the least tincture of his manner ... Take the
description of the baker's wife: saeva scaeva virosa ebriosa pervicax
pertinax... The nagging clashing effect of the rhymes gives us
half the meaning. I quote two well-known versions: "She was crabbed,
cruel, cursed, drunken, obstinate, niggish, phantasmagoric." "She was
mischievous, malignant, addicted to men and wine, forward and
stubborn." And here is the most recent one (by R. Graves): "She was
malicious, cruel, spiteful, lecherous, drunken, selfish, obstinate."
Read again the merry and expressive doggerel of
Lindsay's own version is: "She was lewd and crude, a toper and a
groper, a nagging hag of a fool of a mule."
Sarah Ruden's recent translation is: "A fiend in a fight but not very
bright, hot for a crotch, wine-botched, rather die than let a whim
pass by – that was her."
Apuleius' vocabulary is often eccentric and includes some archaic
words. However, S. J. Harrison argues that some archaisms of syntax in
the transmitted text may be the result of textual corruption.
Further information: Mysteries of Isis
In the last book, the tone abruptly changes. Driven to desperation by
his asinine form, Lucius calls for divine aid, and is answered by the
goddess Isis. Eager to be initiated into the mystery cult of Isis,
Lucius abstains from forbidden foods, bathes and purifies himself.
Then the secrets of the cult's books are explained to him and further
secrets revealed, before going through the process of initiation which
involves a trial by the elements in a journey to the underworld.
Lucius is then asked to seek initiation into the cult of
^ St. Augustine, The City of God 18.18.2'
The Golden Ass
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References English translations
Apuleius; Adlington, William (Trans.) (1566). The Golden Ass.
Wordsworth Classics of World Literature, Wordsworth Ed. Ltd.: Ware,
GB. ISBN 1-85326-460-1
Apuleius; Taylor, Thomas (Trans.) (1822). The Metamorphosis, or The
Golden Ass, and Philosophical Works, of Apuleius. London: J. Moyes
(Suppressed (dirty) passages printed separately.)
Apuleius; Head, George (Trans.) (1851).
Carver, Robert H. F. (2007). The Protean Ass: The 'Metamorphoses' of
Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Golden Ass.
Project Gutenberg: The Golden Asse (Plain text.) Sacred Text Archive: The Golden Asse (Based on the preceding.) EServer: The Golden Asse (Based on earlier edition of the HTML version above.) The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche (Excerpt illustrated by Dorothy Mullock, 1914.)
The Golden Ass
The Golden Ass