Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*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...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Anderson, Graham. Ancient Fiction: The Novel in the Graeco-Roman World. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1984. A ground-breaking but accessible work that places The 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.