Magic and Property: The Legal Context of Apuleius' Apologia *

By Taylor, Tristan | Antichthon, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Magic and Property: The Legal Context of Apuleius' Apologia *


Taylor, Tristan, Antichthon


ABSTRACT

This paper examines Apuleius' Apologia from the perspective of its legal context. The paper asks three questions: first, what was the legal situation in relation to the property issues central to the motivations of Apuleius' accusers? Second, what would the legal effects of a conviction have been on these property concerns? And, finally, what light do our answers to these questions shed on the Apologia itself? The applicable legal rules suggest both that some of the concerns of the prosecutors were ill-founded and that the prosecution would have achieved little in a legal sense in terms advancing their alleged ends. These observations suggest several potential conclusions: first, that Apuleius' accusers sincerely believed their accusation of magic and thought that it was only the magical skill of Apuleius that threatened their aspirations to Pudentilla's estate. Conversely, it may be that the accusers were simply ignorant about the law, vindictive towards Apuleius, or both. Third, that Apuleius has misrepresented his accusers' motivations. Finally, these conclusions on matters of law could even be taken to suggest that the speech does not represent a genuine case, but rather is a work of fiction concocted by Apuleius for literary purposes.

INTRODUCTION

If he is to be believed, in 158-9 CE Apuleius was charged by his step-son Pudens with magic.1 In his speech of self-defence, the sole intact work of forensic rhetoric from the Roman empire, Apuleius characterises his accusers as being primarily concerned with securing the property of his wife Pudentilla for themselves. This paper will shed new light on this speech for scholars of the Apologia and stimulate further discussion by looking at the speech from the perspective of its legal context.2 With almost no external evidence extant pertaining to Apuleius' trial, the law governing the issues central to the case is one of the few external touchstones we have for measuring what Apuleius has to say. Assuming for the sake of exploration that the speech represents a real legal dispute,3 we ask three key questions: first, what was the legal situation in relation to the property issues that Apuleius makes central to the motivations of his accusers? Second, we ask 'what if' Apuleius had been convicted?4 What would the legal effects of his conviction have been on these key property concerns? And, finally, what light do our conclusions to these first two questions shed on the Apologia itself? As it will appear, the applicable legal rules suggest both that some of the concerns of the prosecutors were ill-founded on the facts as they knew them and that such a prosecution as that which they embarked upon would have achieved little in a strict legal sense in terms advancing their alleged ends, other than removing Apuleius from the scene.5 These observations suggest several conclusions: first, that Apuleius' accusers sincerely believed their accusation of magic, and thought that it was only the magical skill of Apuleius that threatened their aspirations to Pudentilla's estate. Conversely, the fact that the prosecution would not have achieved the accusers' ends and that some of their concerns were legally groundless could indicate that they were simply ignorant about the law, vindictive towards Apuleius, or both. A third option is that Apuleius has simply misrepresented his accusers' motivations. Finally, the fact that the prosecution would not have fulfilled the accusers' desires and that some of their concerns lacked a legal basis could even be taken as suggesting that the speech does not represent a genuine case, but rather is a work of fiction concocted by Apuleius for literary purposes.

We proceed by first outlining the property issues at stake as they are characterised by Apuleius. Then we examine what penalties Apuleius may have undergone if he had been convicted, the relevant property laws and the legal ramifications of conviction upon the various parties' entitlements to property. …

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