The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Two vital additions to Apuleius’ plot, in Lewis, are Orual’s two mentors and “father-figures,” Bardia and the Fox. The latter is introduced first. He is a Greek slave, bought by the King of Glome to tutor his daughters (and, he vainly hopes, his son). The Fox is characteristically Greek, a philosopher, a rationalist, devoid of the aggression shown by all the barbarians around him, preaching only self-mastery and the power of human potential. His blind spot is that he cannot understand anything religious at all. When the Priest of Ungit comes with the proposal to sacrifice Psyche as the Accursed (who has sinned against the gods by accepting divine honors) and as the country’s best and noblest (to avert the drought and plague), he says it is flat nonsense. How can Psyche be the worst and the best? he demands. There is no logic in it. Divine matters do not turn on logic, the Priest replies. Divine knowledge is not clear, like water, but thick, like blood. In mysteries many contradictions are reconciled. Orual, and through her the reader, is brought painfully to see that there is a kind of wisdom which the Fox, good man that he is, totally lacks.

Some of this is lent to Orual by her other counselor, Bardia, captain of the guards, who is soldierly, barbarous, practical, and superstitious where the Fox is philosophical, Greek, logical, and powerless. Whereas the Fox thinks that Psyche has been taken from her stake by a bandit, Bardia thinks that she...

(The entire section is 490 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Orual, or Maia (MAY-yah), the narrator, the eldest princess of Glome and finally its queen. She is caught between her love of learning as presented in the ideals of Greek philosophy and poetry and her earthy, passionate nature. So ugly as to have no hope of romantic love, Orual attaches herself fiercely to her Greek tutor and her divinely beautiful half sister, Istra/Psyche, while secretly cherishing a love for the soldier who teaches her swordsmanship. Each love is marred by her inability to release its object, a fault most evident with Istra, who is doomed to exile through Orual’s possessive jealousy. Orual rules Glome well: She is brave in battle and wise in council. The story is told in her old age, as an accusation against gods and their inscrutable cruelty, and covers Orual’s life from childhood. Visions and dreams cause the book to end in understanding and acceptance of the paradox of divinity as Orual dies.


Istra, or Psyche (SI-kee), the youngest princess of Glome, the lovely child of the king’s second wife. She fills Orual’s hungry heart but is too beautiful for a mortal; she is sacrificed to the “Shadow Beast,” a manifestation of the son of Glome’s patron goddess, Ungit. Ungit is understood as a cultural alternate form of Aphrodite (Venus), and her son is the Glome Eros (Cupid). Thus Istra/Psyche and Ungit’s son tie this tale to the Cupid-Psyche myth of antiquity. The princess’ sacrifice is also a wedding, and Psyche lives in an invisible palace with a divine husband whom she must never see. When Orual forces a betrayal of...

(The entire section is 684 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Readers meet the protagonist Orual, as an old woman, preparing to die, stating that she will write down her accusations against the gods. As...

(The entire section is 742 words.)