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I knew nothing about this book other than that it was very popular among the dead people whose libraries are catalogued on LibraryThing (including C.S. Lewis, Lawrence Durrell, T. E. Lawrence, William Faulkner, W.B. Yeats, Robert E. Howard, and Danilo Kiš). It turns out to be a very entertaining story of one Lucius, who witnesses (or hears about, or participates in) various fantastic escapades, most of them involving sex, mostly after he has been turned into a donkey, written some time around 160 AD and set in Thessaly (though the author lived in north Africa). The most famous bit is the story of Cupid and Psyche. It is apparently the only full novel to survive from classical times (which makes you think).

It was obviously a source for Bocaccio, who puts several incidents from it straight into the Decameron (and whose personal manuscript copy survives in Florence). It was also (from the list above) obviously popular in the early twentieth century, but skipped over by earlier celebrated bibliophiles - presumably too risqué for eighteenth and nineteenth century tastes.

It is less directly a source for Shakespeare. A lot of people see it as a direct source for A Midsummer Night's Dream, but I am not wholly convinced: Bottom is no Lucius to whom things just happen, but a glorious creation in his own right; only his head is transformed, as a result of a spell cast by someone else rather than a magic ointment administered by himself, and most crucially Titania's ridiculous infatuation with the semi-human Bottom has no real parallel - Lucius as donkey does become a sex object but the circumstances are completely different. Where I do see some direct influence on Shakespeare, it's the soap operas of fake poisons and sexual deception; Much Ado About Nothing seems to me the most Apuleian of Shakespeare plays, though there are bits of it in most of the middle period of comedies.

It occurred to me that with its multiple shifts of narrative voice and setting, The Golden Ass would make a great graphic novel. I was excited to discover that the Italian artist Milo Manara has done just that. Manara's version is probably a good way of getting people interested in the classics, but doesn't really do the original justice; he has stripped the narrative down to the most erotic parts of the original text, in a setting thronged with nubile and improbably nude young women. Rather oddly, he injects a couple of political reflections into Lucius' thought processes which I did not really find in the original. It's fun but not the real thing.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 25th, 2009 07:41 am (UTC)
"Behold Lucius I am come, thy weeping and prayers hath mooved mee to succour thee. I am she that is the naturall mother of all things, mistresse and governesse of all the Elements, the initiall progeny of worlds, chiefe of powers divine, Queene of heaven! the principall of the Gods celestiall, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the ayre, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be diposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners, in variable customes and in many names."
May. 25th, 2009 08:07 am (UTC)
VERY rude! Fun though. and culturally very interesting and influential (rather like Ovid). I got a twofer once at a book fair on an handsome C19th edition of Apuleius and Daphnis and Chloe which manages to be both extremely rude and right up its arse with Victorian prudery. Quite an achievement really. Cannot imagine that the man on the book stall knew what he was selling me. The editions even have pornographic lithos in them.
May. 25th, 2009 08:53 am (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed this. By coincidence, I've just finished reading Petronius' Satyricon, which I've intended to read ever since reading The Golden Ass last year. Petronius is actually quite a lot ruder, if anything, and obviously less coherent given the fragmentary nature of the text - but if you enjoyed Apuleius, I would recommend giving Petronius a go, too.

Incidentally, I should also point out that Apuleius' novel is not the only full surviving novel from Classical times - it is merely the only full surviving Latin novel from Classical times. There are a number in Greek, such as Longus' Daphnis and Chloe. They tend to be more-or-less-forgettable romances, but you might very well enjoy Lucian's True History if you haven't read it before. Alas, this one doesn't seem to be entirely complete, but it is highly fantastical, including a trip to the moon amongst other things, and is on my own to-read list!
May. 25th, 2009 11:07 am (UTC)
Also an opera. Libretto by Robertson Davies, music by Randolph Peters.
May. 25th, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC)
Roberston Davies, eh? That does sound interesting!
May. 25th, 2009 01:42 pm (UTC)
It was commissioned by Canadian Opera Company and performed in the 1999 season. I've been unable to find any evidence that it has had subsequent productions though it got quite good reviews.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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