Apuleius

By Julie Scully

A Platonic philosopher, orator, scholar, and writer with a curiosity for the mystical, Apuleius was born around 125CE in the city of Madauros in Roman North Africa (modern day Mdaourouch, Algeria). Growing up the son of a chief city magistrate, he received his education in Carthage (the capital of Roman North Africa) and was later sent to Athens to continue his studies. While in Athens, he began his study of Platonic philosophy, an interest that would follow him throughout his life.

He traveled extensively through much of the Mediterranean, even spending time in Rome as an orator and teaching rhetoric. Returning to the city of Carthage, he became a philosophical orator and a high-standing, well-respected citizen. He was an initiate in several mysteries, including the Dionysian Mysteries, and a priest of Asclepius. It is thought that during this period in his life Apuleius wrote his Metamorphoses (The Golden Ass).

On one of his many journeys, Apuleius found himself ill in the town of Oea (modern day Tripoli), where he met Pudentilla, a wealthy widow. He married Pudentilla with the consent of one of her sons, whom he had known in Rome. Due to Pudentilla’s vast wealth, however, their marriage ignited jealousy in the eyes of her other family members. This eventually led to Apuleius being brought up on a charge a of sorcery, alleging he had seduced Pudentilla with his magic (a charge punishable by death).

He refuted these accusations in his defense speech, which later became one of his most renowned accomplishments, Apologia (De Magia) [Apology (On Magic)]. The contents of this speech would later become a significant source of information about ancient magical practices. He calls upon his experience as a philosopher to defend himself, criticizing his accusers for confusing the practices of a philosopher with those of a sorcerer. This speech led to his eventual acquittal.

Upon his final return to Carthage, he became a notable public figure once more, even holding the chief priesthood of the province. Very little is known about the rest of his life, though he is thought to have died around the year 180CE.

Fig. 4 - Biographical Section
Anonymous Italian, Apuleius (Lucius Apuleius). 1685. Engraving. The Warburg Institute Library, London. Available from: ARTstor, http://www.artstor.org (accessed May 2, 2017).

 

The Works of Apuleius

By Julie Scully

Listed below are the works of Apuleius that survive in their entirety. This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything he wrote in his lifetime, as a majority have not survived.

The Golden Ass – The only extant Latin novel to survive in its entirety. Also known as the Metamorphoses, the story is based on the Greek Onos (The Ass), by the sophist Lucian, and the Metamorphoses of Lucius of Patras. The tale follows a man, Lucius, as he is transformed into an ass as a result of his curiosity for magic. He then finds himself traveling throughout Greece with various characters, including a band of thieves, a cruel boy, a soldier, and a gardener. During his journey, Lucius hears many stories, including the tale of Cupid and Psyche. Ultimately he is transformed back into a mortal by the goddess Isis and devotes the rest of his life to serving her.

Latin text available from:
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Apul.%20Met 
http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/apuleius/apuleius1.shtml

English translations available online:

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1666/1666-h/1666-h.htm W. Addlington (1566)
https://archive.org/stream/goldenassbeingme00apuliala/goldenassbeingme00apuliala_djvu.txt W. Addlington (1566, revised 1915)
(2013) Kline: http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/TheGoldenAssI.htm
(1903) Stuttaford and Mothersole: https://books.google.com/books?id=h0NiAAAAMAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

Apologia (A Discourse on Magic) – Apuleius’ courtroom defense of himself, after being accused of using magic to win the love of a wealthy widow. Serves not only as his own autobiography, but also as a source of knowledge for the magical practices of the time. Originally given orally, The Apology is known as a masterful piece of rhetoric and is often praised as a literary masterpiece.

Latin text available from:

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2008.01.0501
https://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/apuleius/
http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/apuleius/apuleius.apol.shtml 

English translations available online:

https://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/apuleius/text.trans1.html Georgetown University (1996)
http://classics.mit.edu/Apuleius/apol.html H. E. Butler (1910)

 

FloridaA collection of highlights from twenty-three orations of Apuleius, delivered primarily in Carthage. Another source for biographical information on Apuleius and his interest in Platonism.

Latin text available from:
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Apul.%20Fl.
http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/apuleius/apuleius.florida.shtml

English translations available online:

http://www.attalus.org/translate/florida.html H. E. Butler (1909)
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/26294/26294-h/26294-h.htm H. E. Butler (1909)

 

De Platone et Dogmate Eius (On Plato and his Doctrine) – Divided into three parts (Book I: On Natural Philosophy, Book II: On Moral Philosophy, Book III: On the Philosophy of Reasoning), the piece reformulates elements of Platonic philosophy regarding physics and ethics. Also included is a biography of Plato himself.

Latin text available from:
http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/apuleius/apuleius.dog1.shtml

English translation:
https://archive.org/stream/WorksOfPlatoV6/WorksOfPlato_v6#page/n337/mode/2up Burges (1854)

Audio of an English translation:
https://archive.org/details/luciusapuleius Burges (1854) 

 

De Deo Socratis (On the God of Socrates) – Apuleius’ take on an introduction to ancient demonology, focusing on the existence of demons (daemones) as intermediaries between gods and mortals. He discusses their main characteristics, the place they occupy in the world, as well as the various types of demons. With heavy reference to and discussion of the “daimonion of Socrates in Plato’s The Apology of Socrates.

Latin text available from:
http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/apuleius/apuleius.deosocratis.shtml

English translation available online:
http://catalog.perseus.org/catalog/urn:cts:latinLit:phi1212.phi004.opp-eng1

 

De Mundo (On the Universe) – Translation of a Greek original with an unknown author, who wrote under the pseudonym Aristotle. A philosophical text, it tackles the topic of religion, focusing on the existence of a supreme god of the universe. The text also retouches upon the subject of demons as intermediaries, and even as semi-divine. The debate is ongoing as to whether Apuleius is the true translator of this work, as the translation itself includes grammatical mistakes thought to be too simple for someone of Apuleius’ knowledge.

Latin text available from:
http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/apuleius/apuleius.mundo.shtml

 

A Bit About Apuleius’ Travels

By David Bicknell

Apuleius was born in Madauros, a city within the Numidia province of Roman North Africa, and traveled to Carthage, and later to Athens, Rome, and Alexandria, to begin his formal education. Sometime after his education, Apuleius traveled extensively throughout Asia Minor and Egypt. He later returned to Carthage. He then attempted another journey to Alexandria, but fell ill and resided in Oea for a time. Eventually, he returned to Carthage, where he died.

Apuleius' Travels - Map of Mediterranean - Further Out
Provinces of the Roman Empire. 1:1,000. From: Apuleius, The Golden Ass, 2nd century CE. Translated by E.J. Kenney. London: Penguin Books, 2004.

 

 

For a sitemap of The Golden Ass, click here.

For a sitemap of Cupid and Psyche, click here.

For thoughts on similarities between Lucius, the main character of The Golden Ass, and Apuleius, the author, with additional commentary on what that means about interpreting Isis in Book XI, click here. For thoughts on similarities between Lucius and Psyche, the protagonist of the Cupid and Psyche story, click here.
For a map of Lucius’s travels, click here.

For a reading list of all things The Golden Ass, Cupid and Psyche, and Apuleius, click here.

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