Born into a rich, influential family, Lucius Apuleius (LEW-shee-uhs ap-yuuh-LEE-yuhs) was educated in Carthage and Athens, where he mastered Latin and developed a broad knowledge of Greek poets, prose stylists, and philosophers. He traveled widely in the Mediterranean region, developing an interest in contemporary religious initiation rites (particularly Egyptian). His father, a chief magistrate, helped him gain admission to the town senate.
Falling ill on a journey to Alexandria, he was nursed by a rich widow, Aemilia Pudentilla, whom he married. Unfortunately, Pontianus, heir to Pudentilla’s fortune, died suddenly, and Apuleius was accused of murder. He defended himself successfully in a long, brilliant speech, which was later published as the Apologia (158-159 c.e.; English translation, 1909). He settled in Carthage, traveling to African towns, lecturing in Latin and philosophy.
Apuleius’s greatest work was the lively, highly polished Metamorphoses (second century; The Golden Ass, 1566), the only classical Latin novel to have survived in its entirety. It has many tales (including one about Cupid and Psyche) within its main tale of the strange and marvelous adventures of Lucius, a young sorcerer’s apprentice. Transformed into an ass, Lucius regains his human shape only through the intercession of the goddess Isis.