Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis: 'The Metamorphoses,' aka 'The Golden Ass' (circa 165 A.D.)

The first complete novel still in existence, so far as I know, is Apuleius' The Metamorphoses, also called Asinus aureus / The Golden Ass; it dates to about 165 A.D. (or C. E.) -- 1,852 years before the time of this post. 

Lucius comes to town and stays at the house of Milo and his wife Pamphile. While out and about, he is beckoned by Byrrhena, his aunt, who tries to ward him off Pamphile, a genuine witch. Lucius is more curious than fearful, and soon develops an attraction to Milo and Pamphile's servant woman, Photis (aka Fotis). Milo is a dummy and has little clue that his wife really is a witch. 

In between social obligations, Lucius banters with Photis. Lucius (as first person narrator) notes, "my courage came upon me which before was scant." From Apuleius, The Golden Ass or; the Metamorphoses, translated (in 1566 A.D.) by W. Adlington, New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004, page 23.

Photis responds playfully: "'Depart, I say, wretch, from me; depart from my fire, for if the flame thereof do never so little blaze forth it will burn thee inwardly, and none can extinguish the heat thereof but I alone, who know well how with daintiest seasoning to stir both board and bed.'" (page 24). 

Lucius is immediately smitten. Eventually she comes into his room, having already stocked it with "dainty meats" and wine. 

"[G]enerous cups were filled half full with liquor, leaving room only for enough water to temper and delay the wine, the flagon stood ready prepared, its neck opened with a wide and smooth cut, that one might the easier draw from it, and there did nothing lack which was necessary for the preparation of Venus." (page 28).

Soon Lucius is "dying" for her embrace, "wherewithal she made no long delay, but set aside all the meat and wine, and then unapparelled herself and unattired her hair, presenting her amiable body unto me in manner of fair Venus, when she goeth under the waves of the sea."

"'Now,' quoth she, 'Is come the hour of jousting, now is come the time of war, wherefore shew thyself like unto a man, for I will not retire, I will not fly the field; see then thou be valiant, see thou be courageous, since there is no time appointed when our skirmish shall cease . . .'" (page 29).
Later, after the completion of several "jousts and skirmishes" together, Lucius asks Photis to help him acquire some of Pamphile's magic ointments, something that will make him be able to fly like a bird. Photis is dubious, but eventually complies; however, Lucius employs what turns out to be a potion that turns him into a donkey instead of a bird. Photis has gotten the wrong vial by mistake, but Lucius blunders into it by his own foolish choice. 

And so the novel continues, with Lucius trying to survive as a beast of burden, finding himself among various people who are none too concerned with either animal or human welfare. It's a novel that has stuck with me like a memorable dream sequence, or a surreal memory. 

p.s. Not to be confused with Ovid's poetry volume, Metamorphoses (8 A.D.), but not entirely unrelated to it, either. 

Today's Rune: Possessions. 


Charles Gramlich said...

Gonna try to pick this up. I should have read it ages ago

the walking man said...

Perhaps instead of an ointment to make him fly he should just have gotten a script for Viagra?

Actually portions of what you wrote remind me of The Idiot by Dostoevsky