Hot on such esteemed heels we now come to the only Latin novel that is extant in its entirety.
Not only that, but it is probably the only substantial piece of prose from the ancient world that can hold its own in the modern sense. It does not largely (or solely) rely on being ‘of interest’ or ‘historical importance’, but is instead that most elusive and wonderful of things: a elegant piece of literature and entertainment in its own right.
At this point regular readers will be expecting the almost stock-phrase: ‘Unfortunately we have almost no biographical information about [inset name] and what we do have is highly dubious’.
The fact that the bride was enormously wealthy, as well as significantly advanced in years, convinced the family he had bewitched her and poisoned him.
Apuleius’ tongue-in-cheek (and victorious) legal defense, A Discourse on Magic, is his other, significant, surviving work.
- A nobleman engages in activities not worthy of his station
- He dabbles in the dark arts
- He is accidentally transformed into a donkey
- This incarnation allows him to spy on private conversations and see all sorts of ribald behavior
- He suffers greatly before regaining human form
“A nobleman should not play with black magic: he should satisfy his spiritual needs by being initiated into a respectable mystery cult along with men of his own station”.
However, it is the last step to which Apuleius gives his most serious attention.
It seems the black magic accusations against him caused some to see The Golden Ass as a literal memoir rather than an amusing recruitment tool… or indeed a work solely of wit and whimsy.
The Christian community, or at least its intelligentsia, were apparently genuinely troubled that Apuleius’ miraculous exploits were perceived as even more wonderful than those of Christ. Indeed, several centuries later, the Inquisition did their utmost to transform The Golden Ass once and for all into ashes.