his knowledge of the various religious cults of his day and especially in his own conversion to the Egyptian cult of Isis and Osiris. In Book 8 of the Metamorphoses he describes the false ecstasy and masochistic excesses of the eunuch devotees of the Syrian goddess Atargatis, whose cult, widespread in Greece from the third century B.C.E. onward, had reached Rome by the first century C.E., numbering even the emperor Nero among its followers. Apuleius's unflattering portrait of the bald, greedy priests, “the meanest dregs of society” (The Golden Ass, trans. P.G. Walsh, 154), marching through the streets banging cymbals and shaking castanets is surpassed only by his depiction of the despicable woman who “possessed every conceivable wickedness in her mind…as in some filthy cesspool” (ibid., 170) and who believed in a divinity whom she proclaimed to be the only God. Here Lucius (or Apuleius) is attacking the adherents of either Judaism or Christianity. Given the relentless spread in North Africa of Christianity, a cult opposed to Apuleius's own religion of Isis and to the cult of Mithras, to which he alludes in Book 11, it is Christianity that seems the likelier target. Despite its author's obvious bias, the Metamorphoses is a testament to what Gwyn Griffiths called the “atmosphere of friendly syncretism” that characterized the second century.
Works by Apuleius
Selective Studies of Apuleius