Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Apuleius and Carthage

Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Apuleius and Carthage

Article excerpt

After his trial at Sabratha in 158/159 Apuleius of Madauros appears to have settled in the city of Carthage. There, chiefly it seems in the decade of the 160s, he delivered a series of public speeches which now are known from a collection of twenty-three highly coloured extracts preserved under the title of Florida. My purpose in this essay is to examine this collection, or rather the original speeches the collection represents, in its historical North African and especially Carthaginian context in an effort to promote understanding of the singularity of Apuleius as a figure in the Latin literary tradition. (1)

Critics and commentators conventionally regard Apuleius the Latin author, especially the author of the Metamorphoses, as a link in a literary chain that extends in a more or less straight, undeviating line from the early third century BC to the Antonine age and beyond, a tendency that has the effect of obscuring in my view a true distinctiveness that derives from the particular historical conditions that moulded and formed Apuleius and against which his life and activities as a cultural figure can be assessed. Elementary statements of the 'facts' of Apuleius' life are of course commonly provided in scholarly studies, and a sensitivity to a North African milieu can sometimes display itself in them. But what these facts mean is a question that seems hardly ever to be raised comprehensively, and often no more than a minimal connection is made with the discussions and analyses of Apuleius' writings offered. Historical material beyond the elementary, moreover, is often overlooked. (2)

Apuleius was born in Madauros about 125 and was educated as a child in Carthage. Both cities belonged to a region of the Roman Empire in which the language of governance was Latin, and in which many other aspects of Roman culture, not least architectural aspects, were on display. After his childhood education in Carthage, Apuleius travelled widely throughout the Mediterranean and spent several years of his early adulthood studying in Athens and Rome. By the time of his trial in Sabratha when he was in his early thirties, he had become a man of wide philosophical and literary learning--what Greeks called paideia but what Apuleius in his Latinate idiom termed doctrina--as the Apology, the published version of the speech of defence he gave at his trial makes clear. Before the proconsul Claudius Maximus, Apuleius accounted for the accusations brought against him by giving rational explanations of his behaviour that on several occasions allowed him to quote from, paraphrase, or refer to works of the Plato he regarded as his master (the Symposium, Timaeus, Parmenides, and Phaedrus among others), and he introduced at will any number of allusions to purely literary authors from Homer to Hadrian. (3)

The doctrina with which the years of travel and study had filled Apuleius is as evident in the Florida as it is in the Apology, and there is no doubt that Apuleius came to know the Latin literary tradition thoroughly. The conclusion that he should thus be regarded as a mainstream figure in the Latin literary tradition is easily comprehensible. This view becomes all the more persuasive, moreover, when the influence of the Second Sophistic is introduced, that feature of imperial Greek history so difficult to define but which is perhaps most easily understood through its practitioners: itinerant Greek orators whose habit it was to give speeches in the cities of the High Roman Empire, often ex tempore, demonstrating their erudition on the one hand and attempting to recapture the purity of classical Attic diction on the other. They were the purveyors of epideictic who people the pages of Philostratus' Lives of the Sophists. Apuleius does not appear in Philostratus' work, notably, but his quotation of ancient Roman poets in the Apology and the Florida is one illustration, it is said, of a widespread contemporary taste for archaism that, in part, allows him to be styled a Latin sophist. …

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