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Sketch of Apuleius
Born c. 125
Died c. 180
Occupation Novelist, writer, public speaker
Notable work(s) The Golden Ass

Apuleius (sometimes called Lucius Apuleius; c. 125 – c. 180) was a Latin prose writer. He was a Berber,[1] from Madaurus. 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 Tripoli. 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 an ass.



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."[2] 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;[3] late-medieval manuscripts began the tradition of calling him Lucius from the name of the hero of his novel.[4] 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)[5] who bequeathed at his death the sum of nearly two millions of 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 oratory 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.[12] The mother of Pontianus, Pudentilla by name, was a very rich widow. With the full consent, or, rather, at her son's behest, Apuleius agreed to marry her.[13] Meanwhile Pontianus himself was united to the daughter of a certain Herennius Rufinus, who being indignant that so much 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.[14] The case was heard at Sabratha, near Tripoli, c. 158 AD, before Claudius Maximus, proconsul of Africa.[15] 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).

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

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 multiple 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. Then the secrets of the cult's books are explained to him, and further secrets revealed before going 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]

Other works

His other works are:

  • Apologia (A Discourse on Magic). Apuleius' courtroom defense. The work has very little to do with magic, and a lot to do with making mincemeat of his opponents, with hilarity and panache. It is among the funniest works that have come down to us from Antiquity, and one of the most entertaining examples of Latin courtroom oratory to survive.
  • Florida. A compilation of twenty-three extracts from his various speeches and lectures.
  • 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.
  • 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.[18]

Spurious works

The extant works wrongly attributed to Apuleius are:[19]

Apuleian Sphere

The Apuleian Sphere, also known as 'Columcille's Circle' or 'Petirosis's Circle' [20]is a magical prognosticating device for predicting the survival of a patient.[21]

External links


  1. ^ "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
  2. ^ Apuleius, Apology, 24
  3. ^ P. G. Walsh, (1999) The Golden Ass, page xi. Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Julia Haig Gaisser, (2008), The fortunes of Apuleius and the Golden Ass: a study in transmission and Reception, page 69. Princeton University Press.
  5. ^ Apuleius, Apology, 24
  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. ^ Apuleius, Apology, 72.
  12. ^ Apuleius, Apology, 72.
  13. ^ Apuleius, Apology, 73
  14. ^ Apuleius, Apology, 53, 66, 70, etc
  15. ^ Apuleius, Apology, 1, 59, 65
  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. ^ P. G. Walsh, (1999) The Golden Ass, pages xiv-xv. Oxford University Press.
  19. ^ Mark P. O. Morford, (2002), The Roman philosophers, page 227. Routledge.
  20. ^ Kalesmaki, Joel. "Types of Greek Numerology". Retrieved 2009-06-26. 
  21. ^ Rust, Martha Dana (1999). "Art of Beekeeping Meets the Arts of Grammar: A Gloss of "Columcille's Circle"". Philological Quarterly 78. 


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Lucius Apuleius (c. 125 – c. 180) was a Roman philosopher, orator and romance-writer, of Berber North African origin. Apuleius' best-known work is his Metamorphoses, usually known in English as The Golden Ass.


English quotations and page-numbers are taken from the anonymous translations in The Works of Apuleius (London: Bohn’s Classical Library, 1853).

  • Parit enim conversatio contemptum; raritas conciliat admirationem.
    • Familiarity breeds contempt, but privacy gains admiration.
      • De Deo Socratis (On the God of Socrates), ch. 4; p. 355.
    • Variant: Familiarity breeds contempt, but concealment excites interest.
  • Ad vivendum velut ad natandum is melior qui onere liberior.
    • It is with life just as with swimming; that man is the most expert who is the most disengaged from all encumbrances.
    • Apologia; seu, Pro Se de Magia (Apologia; or, A Discourse on Magic), ch. 21; p. 268.
  • Sanus est, qui scit quid sit insania, quippe insania scire se non potest, non magis quam caecitas se videre.
    • But he who knows what insanity is, is sane; whereas insanity can no more be sensible of its own existence, than blindness can see itself.
    • Apologia; seu, Pro Se de Magia (Apologia; or, A Discourse on Magic), ch. 80; pp. 326-7.

Metamorphoses (The Golden Ass)

  • En adsum tuis commota, Luci, precibus, rerum naturae parens, elementorum omnium domina, saeculorum progenies initialis, summa numinum, regina manium, prima caelitum, deorum dearumque facies uniformis, quae caeli luminosa culmina, maris salubria flamina, inferum deplorata silentia nutibus meis dispenso: cuius numen unicum multiformi specie, ritu vario, nomine multiiugo totus veneratus orbis.
    • Behold me, Lucius; moved by thy prayers, I appear to thee; I, who am Nature, the parent of all things, the mistress of all the elements, the primordial offspring of time, the supreme among Divinities, the queen of departed spirits, the first of the celestials, and the uniform manifestation of the Gods and Goddesses; who govern by my nod the luminous heights of heaven, the salubrious breezes of the ocean, and the anguished silent realms of the shades below: whose one sole divinity the whole orb of the earth venerates under a manifold form, with different rites, and under a variety of appellations.
    • Bk. 11, ch. 5; p. 226.
  • Nam cum coeperis deae servire, tunc magis senties fructum tuae libertatis.
    • For when you have once begun to serve the Goddess, you will then in a still higher degree enjoy the fruit of your liberty.
    • Bk. 11, ch. 15; p. 233.
  • Accessi confinium mortis et calcato Proserpinae limine per omnia vectus elementa remeavi, nocte media vidi solem candido coruscantem lumine, deos inferos et deos superos accessi coram et adoravi de proximo.
    • I approached the confines of death, and having trod on the threshold of Proserpine, I returned therefrom, being borne through all the elements. At midnight I saw the sun shining with its brilliant light; and I approached the presence of the Gods beneath, and the Gods of heaven, and stood near, and worshipped them.
    • Bk. 11, ch. 23; pp. 239-40.
    • Describing initiation into the mysteries of Isis.

External links

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




  • enPR: ăpo͞olāŏs

Proper noun




  1. An ancient Platonist and a Sophist.


See also

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