Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

"The Only Wife Worth Having"? Marriage and Storytelling in Apuleius' Metamorphoses

Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

"The Only Wife Worth Having"? Marriage and Storytelling in Apuleius' Metamorphoses

Article excerpt

In this paper I will argue that the two themes in its title--"Marriage" and "Storytelling"--are vital to an understanding of Apuleius' novel, and are to a certain extent inextricable from one another. Much has already been written on the complexities of narrative and narrator in the Metamorphoses, (2) so, to offer an alternative perspective, I intend to focus specifically on the inserted tales which are concerned with the theme of marriage. Tales form most of the novel, and marriage provides the subject-matter for a large number of these inset tales; including the story of 'Cupid and Psyche' (4,28,1-6,24,4), the narrative of Charite's fortunes after she and Lucius are separated (8,1,5- 14,5), and five tales of adultery and broken marriages witnessed or overheard by Lucius near the end of his adventures as an ass (9,5,1-7,6; 9,14,2-32,3; 10,2,1-12,5; 10,23,3-28,5). Also, the imagery and rituals of marriage are inserted into the main narrative (that is, Lucius' 'tale') at important moments in the novel's action. In particular, this is noticeable at the moment of Lucius' Isiac conversion and initiation in Book 11, (3) but wedding imagery is used elsewhere too. (4) In the view of many critics, however, the novel provides an overwhelmingly pessimistic view of marriage. (5) Most of the marriages depicted are unfaithful, deceitful, or end disastrously in one way or another. (6) In this paper, by way of contrast, I intend to examine the marriages in the novel which present the reader with an optimistic view of the institution. Which, if any, are the good marriages in the novel, and in a narratological sense, in what manner are they presented to the reader? Through this investigation, I hope to draw some conclusions on the nature of marriage and storytelling in the novel as a whole.

Firstly, then, I must clarify my definition of a 'good' marriage. By this term I mean a partnership in the novel represented as offering a firmly positive and optimistic view of marriage. For instance, it is not enough that the relationship should survive; the surviving marriages include several unpleasant ones, such as the couple in the 'Tale of the Tub' (9,5,1-7,6) and Barbarus and Arete (9,17,1-21,7). Nor can the apparent contentment of both husband and wife be the sole criterion, as this would include the marriage of Milo and Pamphile, witnessed at first hand by Lucius in Books 1-3; neither Milo, a husband in blissful ignorance of his wife's occult tendencies (e.g. 2,11,6), nor Pamphile, a powerful witch using her magic to pursue her adulterous desires (e.g. 3,15-16), are represented as particularly unhappy with their marriage (it seems to suit both parties), and theirs too survives. It is not an enviable relationship, though, and contributes nothing to an optimistic view of marriage. The only exceptional marriages in the novel, then, are those which are based on fidelity. In this respect, I would suggest that they purposefully stand in opposition to the repeated theme of infidelity in the novel, which first appears in Book 1, when Socrates is ruined after putting 'the pleasures of sex and a leather skinned whore before [his] wife and children,' (1,8,1) (7) and remains a frequent theme until Book 10, via numerous tales of adulterous marriages. Just as infidelity is such a prevalent crime in the novel, so fidelity is a rare quality. We are left with just four faithful marriages to examine: those of Cupid and Psyche (4,28,1-6,24,4), Charite and Tlepolemus (4,26,1-27,4; 7,52-15,3; 8,1,5-13,5), Plotina and her unnamed husband (7,6,2-7,4), and Lucius and Isis (Book 11). In light of the last couple, perhaps I should now clarify my definition of 'marriage'!

The relationship between Lucius and the goddess Isis can be read as representing that of a married couple. The final book of the Metamorphoses therefore provides the reader with a version of the climactic marriage found in the Greek ideal novel. As noted earlier, the passages of Lucius' conversion and initiation are littered with imagery and legal terminology relating to Roman marriages. …

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