The Purpose of the Novel "The Golden Ass"

“The Golden Ass” is a novel that revolves around the protagonist’s (Lucius) insatiable desire and curiosity to watch and practice magic. While attempting to do a spell to transform into a bird, Lucius accidentally becomes an ass. This becomes the beginning of a long journey with the in-set tales. Lucius, a Roman traveler through Greece, goes through the close calls and adventures in an attempt to find an antidote for his condition. Finally, he finds redemption through the intervention of a goddess whose cult he joins. The goddess sets him towards the direction of dedication to virtues, a path that is different from his life of gratification (Apuleius, 2007).

The novel opens with Lucius’ journey to Hypata, where he stays as a guest of Milo. Though people warn the young man against Milo’s wife behavior (practicing witchcraft and being a mistress of all kinds of necromancy), his curiosity tempts him to try magic. He aims to imitate his hostess, but his attempts land him in misfortunes.  Such failures follow each other as people chase, beat and steal the ass. However, in the middle of this escapade, Apuleius changes the development and incorporates a story within a story, an expensive interlude in the novel.  “Ones upon a time” begins an old woman, who relates a tale of Cupid and Psyche, a forerunner of the popular story, “The Beauty and the Beast.”

Apuleius is a charming raconteur who enjoys the opportunity for a long digression. As a matter of fact, the readership comes to share his enthusiasm for such colorful asides. In addition to this, the fluid transformation of the human beings into animals ultimately serves as the fodder for several modernist works including “The Metamorphosis.”

There is an exceptionally strong connection between Apuleius’ The Golden Ass and genre fiction. In this novel, the reader finds fantasy, comedy, suspense, romance, travel, adventure, horror and mystery.  Sometimes, Apuleius jumbles them together in a manner that seems modern many centuries later. However, classifying this literary work under a single label would compel one to classify it under storytelling because this label is the broadest and most felicitous. Besides, the writer does not pay more attention to the conventions of genre fiction and the purity of literary forms than plotting, pacing and holding the interest of the readership.

While all myths are sacred, not all myths are solemn. This is what “The Golden Ass” seeks to justify. Its characters range from the agents of self interest to dreadful societal dregs; Apuleius tells it, not as a classic clash of heroes and heroines but an absurd adventure of an unfortunate fool. The setting of the novel is not an archaic empire but a Greek province. Having read the book, I realized that Apuleius is unnervingly familiar to a modern eye. His continuous blending of the mystery cults, frolicking humor, platonic references and sexuality make “The Golden Ass” a novel that is worth repeating. It is a masterpiece and a good read; whether a reader treats the book as a philosophical piece or reads it for humor, it meets the need.

In conclusion, The Golden Ass is Apuleius’ greatest legacy to us; it is a magical realism novel that remains a valid model today. Apuleius’ translator describes the writer as a street corner story teller who would tell the passengers to give him a copper, and he would give them golden stories. The best the readership can do is to turn to the writer for a sense of the spell that the early tellers must have cast on their readership. If I would be right in seeing a return to storytelling as a primary development, the writer of The Golden Ass would be timelier than ever.

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