Lucius Apuleius Platonicus (c. AD 123/125-c. AD 180), an utterly Romanized Berber who described himself as "half-Numidian half-Gaetulian", is remembered most for his bawdy picaresque Latin novel the Metamorphoses, otherwise known as The Golden Ass or, in Latin, the Aureus Asinus (where the Latin word aureus - golden - connoted an element of blessed luckiness).
He was born in Madaurus (now M'Daourouch, Algeria), a Roman colony in Numidia on the North African coast, bordering Gaetulia. This is the same colonia where Saint Augustine later received part of his early education, and, though located well away from the Romanized coast, is today the site of some pristine Roman ruins. Details regarding his life come mostly from his defense speech (see below) and a work entitled "Florida," which consists of snippets taken from some of his best speeches.
Apuleius inherited a substantial fortune from his father, a provincial magistrate. Apuleius studied with a master at Carthage (where he later settled) and later at Athens, where he studied Platonic philosophy among other subjects. He subsequently went to Rome to study Latin oratory and, most likely, to declaim in the law courts for a time before returning to his native North Africa. He also travelled extensively in Asia Minor and Egypt, studying philosophy and religion, burning up his inheritance while doing so.
Apuleius was an initiate in several cults or mysteries, including the Dionysian mysteries. He was a priest of Aesculapius and, according to Augustine, sacerdos provinciae Africae (i.e. priest of the province of Carthage).
After being accused of using magic to gain the attentions (and fortune) of the wealthy widow he married (the mother of a school chum from his days in Athens), he declaimed and then distributed a witty tour de force in his own defense before the proconsul and a court of magistrates convened in Sabratha, near Tripoli. This is known as the Apologia (A Discourse on Magic). The work has very little to do with magic, and a lot to do with making mincemeat of his opponents, with hilarity and panache. It is among the funniest works that have come down to us from Antiquity -- it is certainly the most entertaining example of Latin courtroom oratory to survive, though some fans of Cicero might disagree -- and firmly places Apuleius among the great humorists of his day.
His other works include On the God of Socrates, Apologia, Florida, On Plato and his Doctrine, and possibly On the Universe.
The Metamorphoses is the only Latin novel that has survived in its entirety. It is an imaginative, irreverent, and amusing work that relates the ludicrous adventures of one Lucius, who experiments in magic and is accidentally turned into an ass. In this guise he hears and sees many unusual things, until escaping from his predicament in a rather unexpected way. Within this frame story are found multiple digressions, the longest among them being the well-known tale of Cupid and Psyche.
The Metamorphoses ends with the hero, Lucius, eager to be initiated into the mystery cult of Isis, 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 Osiris in Rome, and eventually is initiated into the pastophoroi—a group of priests that serves Isis and Osiris.
- ^ As he proudly claims in his Apologia. (Winter, Thomas Nelson (2006) Apology as Prosecution: The Trial of Apuleius)
- ^ Florida 16.38 and 18.38
- ^ Augustine, Epistle 138,19.
- ^ Iles Johnson, Sarah, Mysteries, in Ancient Religions pp.104-5, The Belknap Press of Harvard University (2007), ISBN 978-0-674-02548-6
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