Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Golden Ass

I am reading The Golden Ass, a picaresque novel from the end of the 2nd century CE (or AD for you old-school types), written by an Algerian Roman citizen named Apuleius. The proper name for this work is The Metamorphosis but I prefer Augustine's title because when I think of The Metamorphosis I am put in mind of Kafka (or Ovid) and I don't need the confusion. Where was I?

Oh, Apuleius and the story of Lucius, a randy little traveler who runs foul of possessed wine skins, a witch, a gang of robbers and others. What larks, I tell you. This is one of those books that I know by excerpts or allusions, and I'm finally getting around to reading the whole thing and gosh, it's a lot of fun. A lot of bawdy fun and the farther along I get in the narrative, the more I suspect that this ancient tale was known to a great many other authors I've read. Certainly Laurence Sterne knew it, and Cervantes steals the assault on the wine skins scene for Quixote, and the general tone and sexual punning of James Branch Cabell's "Poictesme" books comes straight from Apuleius. Voltaire doubtless read The Golden Ass. Did Kafka? I wonder.

Right now, poor Lucius is tied up outside the robbers' cave, listening to the tales of one gang of thieves as related to another gang. (Yes, it's one of those books that contains a lot of shorter tales, but at least in this one, the frame story is interesting all on its own.) Lucius has been in the guise of an ass for a few days now. Who among us hasn't?


  1. Are you reading it in the original Latin?

    I ask in jest, but if anyone I know had the intellect to actually do that, I think it would be you.

  2. I read excerpts in Latin, way back in the day. Latin's not a language for smart people, just for people who studied Latin. My latin is very rusty; I tell myself that I'm going to brush up on it but right now I'm brushing up on my Russian. Maybe in a couple of years I'll crack open those volumes of Henle again.

  3. Exactamente. Between Apuleius and his contemporary Lucian, many mysteries of early modern (and later) fiction are explained, or at least pushed back 1500 years.

  4. Oh, Lucian: now there was a funny guy. A True Story, indeed. Now we have to add Raspe to the list.

    I wonder who Homer stole his stories from? Though the "Homer" character is thought to be made up nowadays, isn't he?