Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

(circa AD 125-?   ) Latin writer, often credited with the name of Lucius (of which there is, in fact, no record), born in North Africa, active in Carthage, Athens, Rome and elsewhere; he remains best-known for his Metamorphoseon sue de Asino Aureo Libri XI (written circa AD165; trans William Adlington as The xi Bookes of the Golden Asse, Containing the Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius 1566 UK; many trans since; good modern trans by Robert Graves 1950 and by P G Walsh 1994), normally known as The Golden Ass. Within an elaborate Frame Story various episodes and tales are recounted, the most famous being that of Cupid and Psyche, which is the first Literary Fairytale. The frame story itself – which may be in part borrowed from Lucian's Lucius, or The Ass (written circa AD150) – is also of considerable interest. It is narrated by Lucius, a Greek who on a visit to Thessaly stays in the house of a sorcerer, whose wife Pamphile is able to metamorphose into a Bird. Avid to learn about Magic and disregarding clear warnings (contained in stories he has heard) about the dangers of uncontrollable curiosity, Lucius asks the servant he has been sleeping with to give him the ointment necessary for the feat; but she gives him the wrong ointment and he is transformed into an Ass. Only when he manages to eat a rose will he become human again; but before he can find one he is stolen by thieves, and his Picaresque adventures begin in earnest. During their course he hears the story of "Cupid and Psyche", enters a Circus, and has Sex with a woman. Eventually he escapes his various captors and begs the aid of Isis (see Goddess), who initiates him into the mystery Religion devoted to her. He is then transformed back into a man, Lucius Apuleius.

Almost inevitably, a tale so subversive and licentious at any literal level has been treated as Allegory; early Christian exegetes – despite A's dislike of Christianity – tended to conceive of it as an allegorical justification of Christian morality, and the "Cupid and Psyche" tale (more plausibly) a description of the testing and growth of the Soul (see Beauty and the Beast). The frame story is, certainly, a Fable, and the narrator does grow spiritually through his taxing Night Journey; but the equipoise and fixity of allegory is missing. Inventive, bawdy, hilarious and terrifying, The Golden Ass – the only Roman novel to survive intact – is an essential Taproot Text for fantasy. [JC]



This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.