Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Dreams and Superstition: A Reinterpretation of Satire in Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11

Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Dreams and Superstition: A Reinterpretation of Satire in Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11

Article excerpt

The question of whether Book 11 of Apuleius' Metamorphoses is a sincere religious evocation or a satirical parody continues to animate discussion among scholars. (1) Indeed, many scholars believe that the text deliberately allows for both conclusions, following Winkler's idea of an 'unauthorized', indeterminate ending. (2) One such scholar, David Carlisle, emphasises the centrality of Lucius' dreams to any interpretation of Book 11. (3) It appears that if one accepts the dreams as true and meaningful, then the conclusion is edifying, just as Lucius presents it; but if the dreams are considered to be meaningless fantasies misinterpreted by Lucius, then the conclusion presents a gullible convert deceived by his priests, who themselves claim to experience instructional, god-sent dreams. I will argue, however, that this is a false dichotomy, for it is not the only way to approach the dreams as a key to interpreting Book 11. If the depiction of god-sent dreams could be seen to parody religious experience, then the existing view of satire in Book 11 might be modified significantly.

Since Winkler first proposed that the novel presents a satire of religious gullibility in Book 11, those who have argued likewise view it as analogous to the satire on priestly corruption in Books 8 and 9. During this episode, ass-Lucius witnesses his owners, Philebus and his troop of itinerant priests, rob a temple and deceive unsuspecting petitioners with all-purpose oracles. Likewise, in Book 11, the cult of Isis and Osiris is believed to manipulate a gullible Lucius into receiving ever more expensive initiations. Thus, the priests of Isis are 'rapacious vultures' and 'religious charlatans', whilst Lucius is a 'sucker', who is 'duped by his own gullibility' and 'allows himself to be plucked by the greedy priests of Isis and Osiris'. (4) He pays money 'for obvious religious fraud', which itself 'recalls the uncanny description of the vagabond priests of the Syrian Goddess in Books 8 and 9', thus forming a 'familiar satirical pattern'. (5) Ultimately, Lucius himself becomes a charlatan priest just like those whom he had earlier criticised. (6)

As noted above, this argument relies upon the notion that Lucius misplaces his trust in dreams. (7) Three main ideas inform this position: (1) the dreams are products of Lucius' desire, revealing his overeagerness for religious experiences; (2) the priests manipulate this desire, influencing or interpreting Lucius' dreams to their advantage; and, (3) Lucius is presented as gullible because he trusts his 'charlatan' priests and believes his 'self-generated' dreams, finding divine significance in unimportant details. (8) This emphasis upon deception occurs in the satire of superstitious religious behaviour by Lucian and Juvenal. (9) But this picture is not painted clearly in Book 11, for those who argue for such a satire also include the gods as playing an active role in the deception of Lucius, which implies that they are sending some of the dreams. (10) This, however, begs the question of which dreams are god-sent and which are self-generated, and how the reader is supposed to tell the difference between them. Significantly, recent studies on the dreams in the Metamorphoses have argued convincingly that, throughout the novel, dreams consistently convey meaningful content to the dreamer.11 Those who see Lucius' dreams as meaningless, however, have neglected to consider that the dreams of Books 1-10 inform how the reader understands such divination in the world of the novel prior to Book 11. (12) Indeed, the dreams of Books 1-10 follow the convention of those in narrative fiction (i.e. true dreams that function as storytelling devices). (13)

Likewise, the dreams in Book 11 can be shown to be god-sent by examining the first double-dream sequence of Lucius and the high priest, which prefigures Lucius' retransformation. (14) After Lucius prays to the moon on the beach at Cenchreae, he falls asleep and immediately beholds a vision of Isis, whose subsequent instruction can be substantiated. …

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