When Apuleius’ story of The Golden Ass popped up as I scrolled through the Book Outlet classics section, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I don’t know whether it was the title of the book, the classical antiquity cover art, or the overall curiosity of this unheard classic, but something was grabbing my attention and not letting me go.
Upon further investigating, (aka reading the description), I discovered this story follows a man named Lucius who is turned into an ass after meddling with uncertain witchcraft. As he awaits his final human transformation, Lucius the ass finds himself in the midst of chaotic events and comical misadventures.
The Golden Ass was written towards the end of the second century AD in Italy, and it is broken up into 11 Books (much like Milton’s Paradise Lost). The edition I acquired is published by Penguin Classics and translated by E. J. Kenny. Apuleius’ hilarious text is one of the only and funniest stories still left from classical antiquity.
This book made me literally laugh out loud so many times, and do you realize how rare that is to come by for me?
Within the first Book, Lucius in his pre-ass form meets Socrates, who is later almost completely beheaded by a group of witches (I promise this is not a spoiler; it happens within the first 15 pages.), to which they then pop a squat over Lucius and take a piss.
May I remind you, this was all within the first 20 pages.
I didn’t realize what I had gotten myself into by picking up this strange collection of stories from the perspective of an ass, but I truly enjoyed it and gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
I couldn’t let myself give Apuleius’ The Golden Ass 5 stars because it seemed like the pacing of the story started to slow down in the middle. I’m thinking my mood had a lot to do with losing interest in certain parts since I read most of it at work. Sometimes I would have to put the book down multiple times to help with customers and stocking, so I felt distanced and pulled a little from the story.
However, even with distractions and small reading slump moods, I couldn’t quit picking this up. Because of The Golden Ass, I now have formed the habit of getting to work early just to have time to read. I wasn’t able to find a lot of time to read at home with chores and other things to occupy my time, so I took it upon myself to make time to fit this book into my schedule.
With all of the chaos and gloomy moods from the COVID pandemic, I need some type of comedic relief. Thankfully, Apuleius had my back.
Along with Lucius’ metamorphis journey, Apuleius has also sprinkled little anecdotes and classic tales throughout The Golden Ass. My favorite story within the text had to be the tale of Cupid and Psyche, and it was quite a nice size chunk of the book (35 pages, to be exact). Because I was constantly having to stop in the midst of paragraphs while reading this, I feel like I only skimmed the surface of this engrossing narrative of the Cupid and Psyche’s stressful love story. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back soon and read it uninterrupted so I’m able to fully digest its themes and moral compass.
Fortune is also mentioned a lot throughout Lucius’ troubling metamorphis journey, seeing that Fortune isn’t exactly lending him a helping hand. Whenever Lucius seemed to be having a small string of good luck, Fortune made sure to put him back in his place. Rather than causing me a lot of stress, these little touches added a lot of humor to the writing.
In conclusion, this book had me hooked and snickering to myself in the back of a liquor store from the beginning. The small anecdotes and hilarious misfortunes happening to poor Lucius made it impossible not to put down, as well as keeping a straight face.
Extra Thoughts and Comparisons
The Golden Ass reminded me some of Dante’s Inferno, where Dante the Pilgrim witnesses many unfortunate souls and events that eventually lead him to personal and spiritual development. However, rather than Dante’s serious approach to cruel Fortune’s powers, Apuleius takes a comical leap and 100% achieves just that. Could this heroic journey be a staple of classic Italian antiquity?
(Possible spoiler alerts ahead!)
Even though these two are very independent from one another and differ in their own unique ways, some traits, although differing content, resemble one another when comparing Dante and Apuleius’ character-driven stories.
After all of Lucius’ mishaps, he decides to dedicate his life to the goddess Isis, much like Dante worships Love and God at the end of Purgatorio. Both Dante and Lucius drastically flip their own selfish habits to actions of worship and love. For both characters to achieve these holy endeavors, they must undergo some form of change/initiations. Dante is shaped by his time in Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, while Lucius’ goes through multiple initiations for Isis, as well as being admitted to office as an advocate by the main god Osiris.
While both Dante and Lucius are experiencing their own personal journeys, their spiritual journeys seem to run parallel to one another. On the bright side of this, if you don’t feel like committing a lot of time to complete Dante’s complex and dense Divine Comedy, it could be possible to get a similar story in a short 214 pages. Don’t get me wrong, Apuleius’ text is also pretty dense, but a 200 page book beats a trilogy, no?
Until Next Time…
Have you ever heard of Apuleius’ The Golden Ass? If so, what were your thoughts on it? I’d love to discuss this insane story with someone who’s read it, but it doesn’t seem like many people know the story of the man who once morphed into an ass and later found spiritual enlightenment.