*Greece. Apuleius locates his action in the Greek portion of the Roman Empire, at its height during the Antonine era of the mid-second century c.e. Roman distrust of supposed Greek decadence and sharp dealing made the Greeks easy targets of a critical pen. Roman superstition and fear of sorcery made them both wary and respectful of Greek conjuring. Indeed, Thessaly itself Apuleius calls a crucible of the art of magic. In general, the eastern Roman Empire was also the home of both the Olympian gods, who appear in Apuleius’s stories, and the so-called mystery cults, which promised salvation through a life devoted to one of the eastern divinities, such as Cybele, Mithras, or, in Lucius’s case, Isis.
*Hypata. Capital of Thessaly; a resort for the wealthy where Lucius is taken in by the wealthy Milo and his witch-wife, Pamphile. Hypata vaguely piques Lucius’s fascination with magic, and indeed, he feels as if everything in the town is somehow touched by magic. In Milo’s house Lucius finds a willing sex partner in the servant Fotis, and his undoing as he dabbles in his hostess’s arts. Milo’s wealth draws robbers who seize both it and Lucius, who has been turned into an ass.
*Thessaly. Region of east-central Greece on whose countryside Apuleius’s critique of Roman society is focused. Rather than bucolic, Thessaly is filled with dangers of every sort, most of which stem from human greed, fear, ignorance, and general decadence. For example, the robbers’ cave is a brutal setting for brutish deeds. The people who live in the rural areas are uncultured, dishonest, violent, and oppressive when they can get an upper hand. Lucius’s sufferings at the hands of several of these people cause him to reflect on the “heavy storms” of fortune with which he is beset while on his journey to find the roses that will transform him back into human form. The very namelessness of most places at which he stops renders them beyond the pale of civilization.
*Corinth. City of southern Greece that was colonized by Romans in the first century c.e. and became more Hellenic again in the early second century. Corinth’s reputation for sexual immorality was unmatched in the Roman Empire. Apuleius uses this reputation by having Lucius—who is still in the form of an ass—couple with an eager free woman in private, then prepare and escape a second unnatural act in a public arena with a condemned woman. It is perhaps here more than at any other point that Lucius hits bottom and flees to what some might call a conversion experience, his fascinations with sex and magic both drained of life.
*Cenchreae (SENG-kree-ee). Small Greek port town, about six miles from Corinth, where Lucius has his vision of the goddess Isis/Venus. He follows her instructions to his mortal salvation, and joins her cult. The town’s Temple of Isis becomes Lucius’s new home and refuge—a place of “intense affection,” in which he undergoes the lessons and rituals that make him a devotee. Its stability not only replaces his own previous anomie as man and beast, but also contrasts sharply with the wandering devotees into whose service he was pressed.
*Rome. Capital of the Roman Empire that is Lucius’s final destination and the place where he will serve his new savior. Rome is a place as far from the superstitious and violent Greek countryside as can be imagined.
Anderson, Graham. Ancient Fiction: The Novel in the Graeco-Roman World . New York:...
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Barnes & Noble Books, 1984. A ground-breaking but accessible work that placesThe Golden Ass in the wider context of ancient prose fiction and that traces the form’s origins “to the earliest known Near Eastern civilisation.” Excellent bibliography.
Apuleius. The Golden Ass. Translated by Jack Lindsay. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962. The translator’s 24-page introduction is the best starting point. Also helpful explanatory notes in the text.
Haight, Elizabeth Hazelton. Essays on the Greek Romances. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat, 1965. Haight’s final essay compares and contrasts The Golden Ass (which was written in Latin) with its predecessors in Greek. Rates the work as “the greatest ancient novel extant.”
Tatum, James. Apuleius and “The Golden Ass.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979. Detailed but highly readable study. Supplemented with useful maps and illustrations, a good bibliography, and an appendix.
Walsh, P. G. The Roman Novel: The “Satyricon” of Petronius and the “Metamorphoses” of Apuleius. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1970. Considers the story of Cupid and Psyche, embedded in The Golden Ass, in a separate chapter, and includes an appendix discussing the career of Apuleius and the date of the composition of his best-known work.