Lucius Apuleius Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Born into a rich, influential family, Lucius Apuleius (LEW-shee-uhs ap-yuuh-LEE-yuhs) was educated in Carthage and Athens, where he mastered Latin and developed a broad knowledge of Greek poets, prose stylists, and philosophers. He traveled widely in the Mediterranean region, developing an interest in contemporary religious initiation rites (particularly Egyptian). His father, a chief magistrate, helped him gain admission to the town senate.

Falling ill on a journey to Alexandria, he was nursed by a rich widow, Aemilia Pudentilla, whom he married. Unfortunately, Pontianus, heir to Pudentilla’s fortune, died suddenly, and Apuleius was accused of murder. He defended himself successfully in a long, brilliant speech, which was later published as the Apologia (158-159 c.e.; English translation, 1909). He settled in Carthage, traveling to African towns, lecturing in Latin and philosophy.

Apuleius’s greatest work was the lively, highly polished Metamorphoses (second century; The Golden Ass, 1566), the only classical Latin novel to have survived in its entirety. It has many tales (including one about Cupid and Psyche) within its main tale of the strange and marvelous adventures of Lucius, a young sorcerer’s apprentice. Transformed into an ass, Lucius regains his human shape only through the intercession of the goddess Isis.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Apuleius wrote popularizations of Greek philosophy, but his fame rests on The Golden Ass, which is representative of a tradition in classical literature extending from Greek poet Homer to French writer François Rabelais, Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes, and Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

How does the story of “Cupid and Psyche” differ from some version of Beauty and the Beast or of the film King Kong?

In Metamorphoses, what is Lucius Apuleius’s attitude toward women?

In Metamorphoses, what is Apuleius’s attitude toward magic?

Discuss religious allegory in Metamorphoses.

Does Apuleius seem to be a sincere religious teacher, a con man, or some combination of the two?

In Metamorphoses, what does Lucius learn?

How does the dark humor in Metamorphoses fit into (or work against) its religious purpose?


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Franz, Marie-Luise von. The Golden Ass of Apuleius: The Liberation of the Feminine in Man. Rev. ed. New York: Random House, 1992. Presents an engaging Jungian perspective.

Harrison, S. J. Apuleius: A Latin Sophist. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Hijmans, Jr., B. L., and R. Th. van der Paardt, eds. Aspects of Apuleius’ Golden Ass: A Collection of Original Papers. Groningen, the Netherlands: Bouma’s Boekhuis, 1978. This essay collection gives a breadth of interpretations.

James, Paula. Unity in Diversity: A Study of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, with Particular Reference to the Narrator’s Art of Transformation and the Metamorphosis Motif in the Tale of Cupid and Psyche. New York: Olms-Weidmann, 1987. Concentrates on structural and narratological aspects.

Krabbe, Judith K. The Metamorphoses of Apuleius. New York: P. Lang, 1989. Concentrates on structural and narratological aspects.

Londey, David, and Carmen Johanson. The Logic of Apuleius. New York: E. J. Brill, 1987. Makes a case for a little-known work, the Peri hermeneias, as a treatise on logic.

Schlam, Carl C. The Metamorphoses of Apuleius: On Making an Ass of Oneself. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. Concentrates on structural and narratological aspects.

Scobie, Alex. Apuleius and Folklore. London: Folklore Society, 1983. Uses a geographical-historical method.

Tatum, James. Apuleius and the Golden Ass. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979. Provides a cultural-literary reading.

Winkler, John J. Auctor and Actor: A Narratological Reading of Apuleius’s Golden Ass. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. Concentrates on structural and narratological aspects.