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...
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