Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In the fourth century, Saint Augustine called Metamorphoses “The Golden Ass,” and since then this name has become better known than the book’s actual title. The phrase “golden ass” may derive from the golden, or esteemed, status the book achieved; it may also contrast the opposite connotations of “golden” and “ass,” since the donkey had an ignominious reputation in Apuleius’s time, being associated in the Egyptian religion with the evil god Seth, an enemy of the god Isis.
Typical of second century authors, Apuleius does not invent his basic plot but shows his education by taking it from a Greek work, probably one written by Lucian, who was rewriting a tale by Lucius of Patrae or an earlier Greek author. Consequently, Apuleius begins by depicting his character Lucius as a Greek, who apologizes for his unfamiliarity with Latin. Such an apology also allows Apuleius to excuse any foreign—in his case, African—idioms that might have found their way into his novel, but its intention most probably is to make the readers wonder at his highly rhetorical mastery of the language and to serve as a disguise for him. Near the end, however, his narrator Lucius describes himself as a “Maudauran,” a reference to Apuleius’s birthplace, as if Apuleius were revealing himself to be the narrator, but just briefly enough to leave readers wondering if the word, inappropriate to the character Lucius, might be a scribal error.
(The entire section is 1182 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
When Lucius sets out on his travels in Thessaly, he happens to fall in with two strangers who are telling unusual stories of the mysterious life of the region. At the urging of Lucius, one of the strangers, a merchant named Aristomenes, tells of his strange adventure in Hippata, the chief city of Thessaly.
Aristomenes had gone to the market to buy honey and cheese, but he found that a rival merchant had been there before him and had bought up the supply. As he sadly turned away, he spied his friend Socrates, clad in rags, sitting on the ground. Socrates had fallen among thieves, who beat him and robbed him even of his clothes. Touched by his friend’s plight, Aristomenes led him to an inn, bathed and clothed him, and took him to his own chamber to sleep.
Socrates warned of the woman who kept the inn, a carnal woman possessed of magical powers. When she saw a comely man, she wanted him for a lover; if he refused, he was changed into a beast or bird. Aristomenes was a little frightened; he barred the door securely and moved his bed against it for safety. Socrates was already sleeping soundly.
About midnight two hags came to the door, which fell away at their approach. One bore a torch and the other a sponge and sword. While the landlady stood over Socrates and accused him of trying to get away from her, the two hags seized his head, thrust the sword into his throat, and reached in and took out his heart. They caught all of his blood...
(The entire section is 1330 words.)