Lucius Apuleius Biography


Relatively little is known about the life of Lucius Apuleius (ap-yuh-LEE-yuhs). Since no ancient sources report “Lucius” as Apuleius’s first name, it may be a guess by some Renaissance scholars, based on his use of it for the main character of Metamorphoses (second century c.e.; The Golden Ass, 1566). Aside from his place of birth, the earliest information known about him is that his father, a wealthy magistrate in Madauros, Byzacium (now near Mdaourouch, Algeria), left him a large inheritance, which Apuleius spent on education, including initiations into mystery religions, probably including those of the gods Dionysus and Isis. Even these details, along with almost all other biographical information, come from his own report of his trial, which is not the most reliable source. His defense, however, does demonstrate how he wished to be seen: a handsome, profoundly knowledgeable, aristocratic young philosopher, educated at Carthage and Athens and with legal experience in the courts of Rome.

Apuleius was tried for marrying the widow Aemilia Pudentilla, aged about forty, when he was presumably in his early thirties. Not only was this marriage unconventional for the time, but his wife’s relatives charged that she was more than sixty years old and thus forbidden to wed by Roman law. He also was accused of marrying her for her money after bewitching her—a serious crime, punishable by death, if he were convicted. The best evidence that he won the case is that he circulated his defense, Apologia (158-159 c.e.; English translation, 1909), as proof of his rhetorical skills, something he could not have done if he had lost.

In his Apologia, Apuleius relates how he was traveling near Oea (now Tripoli, Libya), when he became ill and his former fellow student, Sicineus Pontianus, invited Apuleius to convalesce with him. Pontianus also suggested that Apuleius marry his (Pontianus’s) mother, Pudentilla. Pontianus later became...

(The entire section is 836 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Because in the second century, writing itself seemed magical to a largely illiterate public, Lucius Apuleius was one of the intellectuals playing with a situation that allowed the literate to serve as physicians, philosophers, counselors, and storytellers—roles for which the earliest models were medicine men and magicians. Particularly in The Golden Ass, this playfulness skillfully rouses his audience’s desire for secret knowledge, even while showing how dangerous such a desire may be, thereby making reading all the more exciting. Especially as the earliest extant source for the story of Cupid and Psyche, The Golden Ass was a major influence on many later works, including Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s play Ni amor se libra de amor (pb. 1664; love enslaved to love), Thomas Heywood’s play Love’s Mistress (pr. 1634, pb. 1636), Walter Pater’s Marius the Epicurian: His Sensations and Ideas (1885), and C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (1956).


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Relatively little is known about the life of Lucius Apuleius (ap-yuh-LEE-yuhs), born at Madauros, in North Africa, about 124 c.e., the chief source of information being what he said about himself in his Apologia. As a young man, according to his own testimony, he was educated in rhetoric at Carthage and in philosophy at Athens. He early became interested in religion and spent some time traveling the ancient world, including Asia Minor, investigating the mysteries of the religions of his time, a somewhat unusual occupation for one who had become an ardent rationalist. Apuleius went to Rome and lived in that city for an indefinite time, apparently serving as a legal counselor. While on a journey to Africa, he was taken ill at Oea (modern Tripoli) and convalesced in the home of Sicineus Pontianus, who had been a fellow student years before. During his convalescence, Apuleius won the affections of his host’s widowed mother, Aemilia Pudentilla, and they were married in 155. Her family, outraged by the course of events, accused Apuleius of having won his wife’s affections by magical arts. Apuleius, brought before the Proconsul Claudius Maximus, successfully defended himself against the charges. His defense was summed up in the Apologia.

Following his trial, Apuleius seems to have gone to Carthage to spend the remainder of his life, which he devoted to studying and writing in religion and philosophy. His fame...

(The entire section is 450 words.)