The Metamorphoses of Apuleius: On Making an Ass of Oneself

The Metamorphoses of Apuleius: On Making an Ass of Oneself

The Metamorphoses of Apuleius: On Making an Ass of Oneself

The Metamorphoses of Apuleius: On Making an Ass of Oneself

Synopsis

"This book examines the comic and philosophical aspects of Apuleius' Metamorphoses, the ancient Roman novel also known as The Golden Ass. The tales that comprise the novel, long known for their bawdiness and wit, describe the adventures of Lucius, a man who is transformed into an ass. Carl Schlam argues that the work cannot be seen as purely comic or wholly serious; he says that the entertainment offered by the novel includes a vision of the possibilities of grace and salvation. Many critics have seen a discontinuity between the comedic aspects of the first ten tales and the more elevated account in the eleventh of the initiation of Lucius into the cult of Isis. But Schlam uncovers patterns of narrative and a thematic structure that give coherence to the adventures of Lucius and to the diversity of tales embedded in the principal narrative. Schlam sees a single seriocomic purpose pervading the narrative, which is marked by elements of burlesque as well as intimations of an ethical religious purpose. As Schlam points out, however, the world of second-century Rome cannot easily be divided into the sacred and the secular. Such neat distinctions were largely unknown in the ancient world, and Apuleius' tales are part of a tradition, flowing from Homer, that addressed both religious and philosophical issues." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

There has been a wide divergence of judgments on the merit and the interpretation of Apuleius' Metamorphoses, or The Golden Ass, the Latin novel of the late second century of our era. Virtually lost during the Middle Ages, it came to be known and imitated in the fourteenth century as a work which undertakes to be both comic and serious, serio ludere. Beroaldus, the great Renaissance commentator on Apuleius, and Adlington , the first translator of the Metamorphoses into English, while delighting in the rhetoric and the comedy, saw the work as edifying and having religious depth.

The repute of the work fell to its lowest point in the scholarship of the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, with the inappropriate application of an ideal of the modern novel. Major research was carried out on the text of the Metamorphoses and on its sources, but the work was largely condemned as chaotic and its author as an emptyheaded patcher. A few scholars, however, maintained that the Metamorphoses had artistic integrity, and this view has now come to be fairly widely accepted.

The chief divide among more recent studies of the Apuleian novel has been over whether the comic or the serious is its more essential quality. Proponents of the comic see Apuleius as an entertainer whose stories can have no goal other than to amuse. They emphasize the rhetoric and playfulness of the work, its lack of unity, and the tone of the narrator, which is not that of a sober convert recounting the sinful journey of his former life. Interpretations which allow some seriousness to the work range from a maximally religious one, which posits an allegorical kernel as the essence and origin of the narrative, to a more moderate view, which sees Apuleius shaping a diversity of stories and connecting them thematically to a religious conclusion. Opposing assertions, however, of the author's real intent do little to advance our understanding. We can, perhaps, agree that the Metamorphoses, like most of ancient literature, includes both the comic and the serious, the utile and the dulce. The chief prob-

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