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The Golden Ass (Oxford World's Classics)
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
We are very lucky to have Professor Walsh's witty and salty translation of Apuleius' second-century picaresque novel. The only Roman novel to survive the ravages of time in its entirety, the story--also called "Metamorphoses"--tells how a young man of good family, through curiosity about magic and women, becomes transformed into a donkey in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word. The narrative, which abounds with tales within tales within tales that unfold according to the crazy logic of dreams and nightmares, follows Lucius on his adventures in both his human and animal forms, as he wanders the Roman world, seeking the remedy through the goddess Isis, which will allow him to resume his human persona.

During the course of Lucius' asinine adventures, which he likens to an Odyssey-gone-wrong, he encounters all manner of characters, including witches, robbers, and pretty women, who either threaten him, or lead him down false paths, deterring him from reaching his final destination. Then, in the midst of the violence of one of the robber's tales, Apuleius inserts the romance of Cupid and Psyche, an enchanting metaphor that reflects Lucius' own curiosity.

Apuleius' novel is more than an entertainment, however; despite the story's fantastic framework, it lends us insight into the customs, beliefs, superstitions, rituals, and the stories that entertained upper class readers of the Roman Empire (Apuleius was a well-to-do Roman citizen of North Africa, who studied rhetoric in both Carthage and Athens). The very survival of the text in its entirety testifies to its readability. Indeed, the novel, which will often have one laughing out loud, has delighted readers through the ages, influencing the narratives of Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare and the art of the Pre-Raphaelites, as well as tickling the imagination of us ordinary mortals who appreciate reading one good story after another.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 16 February 2010
Written in the C2nd CE, this is the only complete Latin novel which we have. Picaresque in style, it tells the story of Lucius who is so fascinated by magic that he interferes in occult matters and gets turned into a donkey. In his quest to return to his shape as a man, he gets involved in a whole series of other adventures and hears a range of stories from other people on his journey.

With its tales of witches, spells, strange transformations, walking corpses and grave robbers, this is by turns witty, bawdy and often very funny. The central tale of Cupid and Psyche is lovely, but they all contribute to the central philosophical questions posed by the novel: can we ever know the divine, and what is the difference between 'good' and 'bad' knowledge and curiosity?

It is perfectly possible to read this as just a good read and bypass the metaphysical speculations hidden beneath the surface, just as it's possible to read Shakespeare's adoption of Lucius in the Bottom/Titania scenes in A Midsummer Night's Dream as just a comedy routine, but both probe ideas of divine epiphany in interesting ways.

This translation doesn't capture any of the linguistic texture of the Latin original which is full of alliteration, assonance and other devices but, like the other OWC books, contains an excellent introduction, notes and bibliography. Well worth reading whether you're interested in the esoteric or simply in a good story.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2012
It depends what you want. There's a long and interesting and dense introduction, I'm sure the translation is very accurate, and the notes erudite. I saw a criticism of the Robert Graves translation because of the liberties which he took with the text. But Robert Graves was a much better story teller - so if you want authenticity then this is the version, if you want a ripping good yarn go for the Robert Graves translation. Me, I prefer the ripping good yarn. But I'm glad I got this.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Apuleius, sometimes known as Lucius Apuleius African, wrote this book around 124 A.D., in Latin. On a journey to Alexandria he fell ill and was nursed by a rich widow, Aemilia Pudentilla, whom he later married and settled with at Carthage. His interests centred on religion, philosophy and magic, and all of these interests are reflected in this book. It is something of a travelogue and was unusual among the sophists in that he preferred Latin to Greek, After going to school in Athens, he went to Rome where he studied privately, teaching himself Latin.

He begins his tales with his travels in Thessaly by recounting how he intervened in a conversation between other travellers. One man was being mocked by others for telling "absurd, incredible lies" but Lucius was desirous to hear more of the fantastic tale - and this is how his journey continues, with story within story in a felicitous kind of labyrinth that ends with him turned into an ass, as a result of using a special ointment that his lover Fotis, a witch as well as a slave, procures for him. He believes the ointment will turn him into an owl because he longs to fly, but - no such luck. Poor Lucius, for this is where his problems begin. The stories he collects range from wonderful myths such as the story of Cupid and Psyche - a beautiful and romantic story that pits a young girl against the might of Venus, Cupid's mother, who has no intention of allowing her son to associate with such a person. Together, Cupid and Psyche, foil all her plots against them and Psyche is rewarded for her steadfast love by the gift of immortality. Some of the art work which has been created around this story is absolutely magical and it was partly through looking at these works that made me want to pursue the original tales. They are bawdy, irreverent, funny and in one or two cases downright pornographic. I was reminded of Boccaccio who in 1358 completed his great work The Decameron, which was partly imitated by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Knight's Tale in his seminal work later that century, Canterbury Tales.

Apuleius is undoubtedly the first writer in Latin to put down these earthy, intelligent and remarkably recognisable set of stories. The translation of my edition is an early one by W Adlington done in 1566, and it read well to my (admittedly untutored) ear. In fact this is one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read. One quickly becomes used to the rhythms of the prose - and yes, it is antiquated, but not excessively so. The people in these stories live life closer to the edge of criminality; they may be set upon by thieves; they may have their wives coveted, or be cuckolded, or worse; and how a poor ass is supposed to put up with all his trials, when he used to be a human being is - well, it's inhuman!
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