Critical Evaluation

The Transformation of Lucius Apuleius of Madaura is another title of the picaresque story typically known, through William Adlington’s celebrated sixteenth century English translation, as The Golden Ass. From antiquity, the word “golden” has been added to the title, because a common custom for Roman storytellers was to demand payment for a “golden” story. In his “Address to the Reader,” Lucius Apuleius describes the literary conventions of his tale as Egyptian, but the major sources for the book—which may be called a prototype of the novel—are Lucius of Patra’s The Ass, of which no copy survives, or Lucian of Samosata’s (c. 120-after 180) Lucius, Or The Ass, a bawdy and comparatively crude tale that is still extant. Apuleius’s novel is much longer, richer in invention, and more fully detailed than Lucian’s. Moreover, it contains many stories left out of the source, including the splendid ironical tale, “Cupid and Psyche”; the stories of Aristomenes, Thelyphron, and others; the episode concerning the Festival of Laughter; and the conclusion, written in an elevated, religious manner, instead of the farcical version of the original. The tone of Apuleius’s Latin, for the most part intentionally archaic and odd, has been reproduced for generations of English readers in Adlington’s translation; among modern English translations, Robert Graves’s version has effectively captured the vigor, sly humor, and spontaneity of the author’s language.

The Golden Ass, taken as a whole, is robustly comical and satirical, so many readers may not fully appreciate the serious, religious parts of the novel. However, the...

(The entire section is 694 words.)