Scholia Reviews ns 17 (2008) 9.

Luca Graverini, I Metamorfosi di Apuleio: Letteratura e Identità. Pisa: Pacini Editore, 2007. Pp. 262. ISBN 978-88-7781-869-0. Euro16.00.

Anita Stella Degli Esposti
Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

Graverini’s work is aimed at placing Apuleius’ Metamorphoses in its literary and cultural context. His hypothesis is that Apuleius was obviously influenced historically by previous literary genres, by the geographical position he found himself in, and, most of all, by his reading public. The author acknowledges (p. v) that his method is rather arbitrary and selective.

The first chapter of the text (pp. 1-56) is dedicated to the prologue of the Metamorphoses. The author’s objective is to find clarity in the terminology used by Apuleius. He suggests that various factors could have influenced him, such as the views of Hellenistic and Augustan poets on genre and poetic styles, the polemic on rhetoric on the correct pronuntiatio of the orator, and the idea that epic poetry connects to music and to heroic rhetoric. The author states that this kind of romantic novel is a narration full of fantasy, it is seductive and is very detached from the utilitas which characterises most of the literary production of the period. The author also argues that the terminology used by Apuleius in the prologue is the type of rhetoric used by Latin authors such as Petronius, which was in vogue at the time. He adds that the initial words of the prologue (at ego) is a common combination of words often used in burlesque fiction. Graverini compares the dulce found in fantasy with the utilitas found in satire. He concludes the chapter by stating (p. 53) that this novel was clearly aimed at entertaining the reader, who would find it an evasion, a way to break away from reality into a fantasy world that had some links with reality with which the reader could relate.

Critics have debated whether Apuleius’ novel hides philosophical and religious lessons behind the entertainment. Graverini feels that Apuleius encourages the reader to find more than the aesthetic enjoyment promised in the prologue. In the second chapter, 'Old Wives Tales and Servile Pleasures' (pp. 57-150), the author analyses the main part of the text, using the literary and cultural contexts as basis for his argument. He uses the definition of anilis fabula for the part on Love and Psyche and serviles voluptates for Mithras. Like other critics before him, he links Apuleius’ novel to Latin satire. According to Graverini, Apuleius adds comic elements to a generic moral and philosophic message.

Graverini feels that the Metamorphoses should be seen as a whole and that the text has an ironic tone from the beginning to the end. Lucius preserves, even after his retransformation and his conversion, the same characteristics which had made him the victim of magic in Book 3. This means that the text should be seen as a serio-comic text rather than a satire on religious beliefs. Graverini discusses the ambiguities of the name of Mithras which mixes the cults of Isis and Mithras. The underlying hints on the amount of money spent on religious cults and on religious practice are not sufficient for Graverini to define it as religious satire. In this chapter there is also a discussion on the narrative tradition of Phaedrus and Aesop. The Metamorphoses can clearly be called an anilis fabula, whose protagonist is an ass, but, unlike Aesop’s fables, there is the lack of a final explicit moral. Moreover, the evident self-irony places this novel in the burlesque genre. Graverini concludes that this novel contains a very generic lesson compared to the Platonic dialogues, but this gives more credit to this type of novel and reflects the hermeneutic difficulties this novel presents.

In the third chapter, 'The Metamorphosis of the Genres' (pp. 151-86), the author compares the Metamorphoses to other literary genres. He analyses the structures of various texts and concludes that philosophical dialogue, history, epic poetry, and theatrical genres can be traced in Apuleius’ text. Graverini also compares Lucius to Socrates. Firstly he states that the baldness of Socrates and Lucius is similar and so are some of their actions. For example, in the Phaedrus of Plato, Socrates covers his head, exposing the rest of his body. Lucius (1.2.6) likewise eavesdrops hiding his curiosity by saying that he is merely making his journey more pleasant by listening to the conversations of others. Graverini continues comparing Lucius to Ulysses. He concludes (p. 185) by quoting Fowler (2001): ‘the ”we” of incipimus is on one level, the “we” of the imagined company of actors who are putting on the fabula for us, the performers we are to watch. At another level, the “we” associates author and reader in the joint production . . . that is the act of reading.’[[1]]

The last chapter, 'Greece, Rome, Africa' (pp. 187-232), discusses the cultural identity that emerges from Apuleius’ novel. Graverini questions the involvement of the reader and feels that an African author, who has used a Greek novel as basis for his text, and whose protagonist is a Corinthian who has stopped travelling and settles in the capital of the Empire to follow a rhetorical career, can only lead to the asking of many questions about Apuleius and the cultural background in which the novel was produced, as well as the social composition and geographical distribution of the reading public for whom the novel was written. Graverini aims to show that the process of ‘Romanness’ imposed on the initial Greek story about an ass functions as a discourse between the Greek and Roman cultures. In order for the novel to have been accepted by educated audiences in antiquity the multicultural identities of Apuleius and his reading public must have coincided at least on some aspects. Fundamentally, Apuleius’ culture is Roman and this is evident in his attack on the cult of the Syrian Goddess and in his use of actual Roman toponyms. Apuleius mentions the forum cupidinis at Ipata three times (1.24.3; 1.25.1; 2.2.1). This seems a very cultured allusion to an archaic forum cupidinis which existed in Rome three centuries before Apuleius. The metae Murtiae in the Circus Maximus are mentioned at 6.8.2, when Mercury states that Venus will give eight kisses to the person who will reveal the hiding place of Psyche. The meeting place is the metae Murtiae -- so called because of the closeness to the temple of Venus Murtia (p. 204f.). These still existed in Apuleius’ time. Moreover, the reference to Corinth, which was renowned for its wealth, moral corruption, and cult of Isis, is also significant, as it provides a definite contrast to Cenchreae, the site of Lucius’ transformation and conversion. Graverini notes that Corinth had been destroyed by the Romans and rebuilt by Julius Caesar and Augustus, and thinks that the use of both Corinth and Carthage strengthened Roman feelings of superiority, dominance, and pride in their victory. This leads Graverini to assume that the text was aimed mainly to readers in Rome. He also quotes Dowden (1994) who argues that the prime audiences for authors at the time were the elite of Rome.[[2]] Graverini adds that the absence of any reference to Carthage in the novel gives this theory more validity. In this way Apuleius tried to evade a charge of provincialism. Furthermore archaeological studies carried out by Coarelli[[3]] demonstrate that Apuleius was in Ostia in 150 A.D. and that Asinus Marcellus named in Met. 11.27.7 could have been the same one mentioned on an epigraph in Ostia dated A.D. 148. Graverini concludes this chapter by discussing Apuleius’ reading public, stating (p. 227) that it was obviously a rather restricted cultural and social elite. This is suggested by the complex narration and by the philosophical and religious contents which characterizes the novel. As Hägg (1994) suggests ‘it is probable that the . . . dissemination of the novels down the social scale, as far as it did take place, was primarily by mean of recitals within the household, among friends and even publicly.’[[4]] However, Graverini feels that the general public would have been unable to grasp the fine literary and philosophical allusions. He concludes (p. 232) that most probably Apuleius wanted his fame and his works to be known throughout the Roman world and for this reason he looked to the reading public in Rome from his celsa Carthago.


[[1]] Don Fowler, 'Writing with Style: The Prologue to Apuleius' Metamorphoses between Fingierte Mündlichkeit and Textuality' in Ahuvia Kahane and Andrew Laird (edd.), A Companion to the Prologue of Apuleius' Metamorphoses (Oxford 2001) 225-30.

[[2]] Ken Dowden, 'The Roman Audience of the Golden Ass' in James Tatum (ed.) The Search for the Ancient Novel (Baltimore and London 1994) 419-34.

[[3]] Filippo Coarelli, 'Apuleio a Ostia?' Dialoghi di Archeologia 6 (1989) 27-42.

[[4]] Tomas Hägg, 'Orality, Literacy, and the "Readership” of the Early Greek Novel' in R. Eriksen (ed.), Contexts of Pre-Novel Narrative: The European Tradition (Berlin 1994) 47-81.