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Lucius Apuleius Platonicus, from 'Crabbes Historical Dictionary', published in 1825 (C19).jpg
Depiction of Apuleius
Born c. 124
Died c. 170 (aged 45–46)
Occupation Novelist, writer, public speaker
Notable works The Golden Ass

Apuleius (/ˌæpjᵿˈləs/; also called Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis; c. 124 – c. 170 AD)[1] was a Latin-language prose writer. He was a Numidian Berber who lived under the Roman Empire[2] and was from Madaurus (now M'Daourouch, Algeria). He studied Platonist philosophy in Athens, travelled to Italy, Asia Minor, and Egypt and was an initiate in several cults or mysteries. The most famous incident in his life was when he was accused of using magic to gain the attentions (and fortune) of a wealthy widow. He declaimed and then distributed a witty tour de force in his own defense before the proconsul and a court of magistrates convened in Sabratha, near ancient Tripoli, Libya. This is known as the Apologia.

His most famous work is his bawdy picaresque novel, the Metamorphoses, otherwise known as The Golden Ass. It is the only Latin novel that has survived in its entirety. It relates the ludicrous adventures of one Lucius, who experiments with magic and is accidentally turned into a donkey.


Apuleius was born in Madaurus (now M'Daourouch, Algeria), a Roman colony in Numidia on the North African coast, bordering Gaetulia, and he described himself as "half-Numidian half-Gaetulian."[3] Madaurus was the same colonia where Saint Augustine later received part of his early education, and, though located well away from the Romanized coast, is today the site of some pristine Roman ruins. As to his first name, no praenomen is given in any ancient source;[4] late-medieval manuscripts began the tradition of calling him Lucius from the name of the hero of his novel.[5] Details regarding his life come mostly from his defense speech (Apology) and his work Florida, which consists of snippets taken from some of his best speeches.

His father was a provincial magistrate (duumvir)[3] who bequeathed at his death the sum of nearly two million sesterces to his two sons.[6] Apuleius studied with a master at Carthage (where he later settled) and later at Athens, where he studied Platonist philosophy among other subjects. He subsequently went to Rome[7] to study Latin rhetoric and, most likely, to declaim in the law courts for a time before returning to his native North Africa. He also travelled extensively in Asia Minor and Egypt, studying philosophy and religion, burning up his inheritance while doing so.

Apuleius was an initiate in several cults or mysteries, including the Dionysian mysteries.[8] He was a priest of Aesculapius[9] and, according to Augustine,[10] sacerdos provinciae Africae (i.e., priest of the province of Carthage).

Not long after his return home he set out upon a new journey to Alexandria.[11] On his way there he was taken ill at the town of Oea (modern-day Tripoli) and was hospitably received into the house of Sicinius Pontianus, with whom he had been friends when he had studied in Athens.[11] The mother of Pontianus, Pudentilla, was a very rich widow. With her son's consent – indeed encouragement – Apuleius agreed to marry her.[12] Meanwhile, Pontianus himself married the daughter of one Herennius Rufinus; he, indignant that Pudentilla's wealth should pass out of the family, instigated his son-in-law, together with a younger brother, Sicinius Pudens, a mere boy, and their paternal uncle, Sicinius Aemilianus, to join him in impeaching Apuleius upon the charge that he had gained the affections of Pudentilla by charms and magic spells.[13] The case was heard at Sabratha, near Tripoli, c. 158 AD, before Claudius Maximus, proconsul of Africa.[14] The accusation itself seems to have been ridiculous, and the spirited and triumphant defence spoken by Apuleius is still extant. This is known as the Apologia (A Discourse on Magic).

Apuleius accused a profligate personal enemy of turning his house into a brothel and prostituting his own wife.[15]

Of his subsequent career we know little. Judging from the many works of which he was author, he must have devoted himself assiduously to literature. He occasionally gave speeches in public with great applause; he had the charge of exhibiting gladiatorial shows and wild beast events in the province, and statues were erected in his honour by the senate of Carthage and of other senates.[16]


Frontispiece from the Bohn Library 1902 edition of The Works of Apuleius: a portrait of Apuleius flanked by Pamphile changing into an owl and the Golden Ass

The Golden Ass

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The Golden Ass (Asinus Aureus) or Metamorphoses is the only Latin novel that has survived in its entirety. It is an imaginative, irreverent, and amusing work that relates the ludicrous adventures of one Lucius, who experiments with magic and is accidentally turned into an ass. In this guise he hears and sees many unusual things, until escaping from his predicament in a rather unexpected way. Within this frame story are found many digressions, the longest among them being the well-known tale of Cupid and Psyche.

The Metamorphoses ends with the (once again human) hero, Lucius, eager to be initiated into the mystery cult of Isis; he abstains from forbidden foods, bathes, and purifies himself. He is introduced to the Navigium Isidis. Then the secrets of the cult's books are explained to him, and further secrets are revealed before he goes through the process of initiation, which involves a trial by the elements in a journey to the underworld. Lucius is then asked to seek initiation into the cult of Osiris in Rome, and eventually is initiated into the pastophoroi – a group of priests that serves Isis and Osiris.[17] The adventures of the ass stand at the beginning of the Picaresque novel tradition which eventually produced The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling.[18]

Other works

His other works are:

  • Apologia (A Discourse on Magic). Apuleius' courtroom defense. The work is a stylish defence against his opponents, with little reference to magic.
  • Florida. A compilation of twenty-three extracts from his various speeches and lectures.
  • De Dogmate Platonis (On Plato and his Doctrine). An outline in two books of Plato's physics and ethics, preceded by a life of Plato
  • De Deo Socratis (On the God of Socrates). A work on the existence and nature of daemons, the intermediaries between gods and humans. This treatise was roughly attacked by Augustine. It contains a passage comparing gods and kings which is the first recorded occurrence of the proverb "familiarity breeds contempt":[19]<templatestyles src="Template:Blockquote/styles.css" />

    parit enim conversatio contemptum, raritas conciliat admirationem
    (familiarity breeds contempt, rarity brings admiration)

  • On the Universe. This Latin translation of the work De Mundo is probably by Apuleius.

Apuleius wrote many other works which have not survived. He wrote works of poetry and fiction, as well as technical treatises on politics, dendrology, agriculture, medicine, natural history, astronomy, music, and arithmetic, and he translated Plato's Phaedo.[20]

Spurious works

The extant works wrongly attributed to Apuleius are:[21]

Apuleian Sphere

The Apuleian Sphere, also known as 'Columcille's Circle' or 'Petosiris's Circle',[22] is a magical prognosticating device for predicting the survival of a patient.[23]


  1. "Lucius Apuleius". Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  2. "Berbers: ... The best known of them were the Roman author Apuleius, the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, and St. Augustine", Encyclopedia Americana, Scholastic Library Publishing, 2005, v.3, p. 569
  3. 3.0 3.1 Apuleius, Apology, 24
  4. P. G. Walsh, (1999) The Golden Ass, page xi. Oxford University Press.
  5. Julia Haig Gaisser, (2008), The fortunes of Apuleius and the Golden Ass: a study in transmission and Reception, page 69. Princeton University Press.
  6. Apuleius, Apology, 23
  7. Apuleius, Florida, 17.4
  8. As he proudly claims in his Apologia. (Winter, Thomas Nelson (2006) Apology as Prosecution: The Trial of Apuleius)
  9. Apuleius, Florida 16.38 and 18.38
  10. Augustine, Epistle 138.19.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Apuleius, Apology, 72.
  12. Apuleius, Apology, 73
  13. Apuleius, Apology, 53, 66, 70, etc
  14. Apuleius, Apology, 1, 59, 65
  15. Apuleius, Apology, 75–76; Rebecca Flemming (1999), "Quae corpore quaestum facit: The Sexual Economy of Female Prostitution in the Roman Empire," Journal of Roman Studies 89, p. 41.
  16. Apuleius, Apology, 55, 73; Florida, iii. n. 16; Augustine, Ep. v.
  17. Iles Johnson, Sarah, Mysteries, in Ancient Religions pp. 104–5, The Belknap Press of Harvard University (2007), ISBN 978-0-674-02548-6
  18. The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 6th Edition. Edited by Margaret Drabble, Oxford University Press, 2000 Pp 35
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  20. P. G. Walsh, (1999) The Golden Ass, pages xiv–xv. Oxford University Press.
  21. Mark P. O. Morford, (2002), The Roman philosophers, page 227. Routledge.
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  • Carl C. Schlam, The Metamorphoses of Apuleius: On Making an Ass of Oneself (Chapel Hill-London, 1992).
  • Gerald Sandy, The Greek World of Apuleius: Apuleius and the Second Sophistic (Leiden, Brill, 1997).
  • Finkelpearl, Ellen D. Metamorphosis of Language in Apuleius: A Study of Allusion in the Novel (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1998).
  • O. Pecere, A. Stramaglia, Studi apuleiani. Note di aggiornamento di L. Graverini (Cassino: Edizioni dell' Università degli Studi di Cassino, 2003).
  • Lucia Pasetti, Plauto in Apuleio (Bologna: Patron Editore, 2007).
  • Frangoulidis, Stavros. Witches, Isis and narrative: approaches to magic in Apuleius' Metamorphoses (Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008) (Trends in classics – Supplementary volumes, 2).
  • Apuleius : Rhetorical Works. translated and annotated Stephen Harrison, John Hilton, and Vincent Hunink. edited Stephen Harrison. (New York : Oxford University Press, 2001).

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