1001 Reads

Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years

Thursday, January 31, 2008

6. Apuleius - The Golden Ass (first edition 1469)


Francisco: A pretty great read, The Golden Ass is at the same time funny, rude, sexy and also quite deep and meaningful. Although the deep bit is a bit tacked on at the end it still contextualises the story of Lucius from just a funny story and propells it into a deeper level.

This deeper level of the novel has all to do with Isis' mistery religion, it is actually a very interesting document from a religious studies point of view. Still, this is not the strong point of the book. The strong point is the simple fact that it is so entertaining and the main carachter is an ass, in more than one way. The story follows Lucius who is transformed into an ass and his quest to regain normality, which he eventually achieves.

One criticism of the story is that it could have done with some editing, but clearly the art of novel writing wasn't fully perfected. There is for example a big interlude with the story of Cupid and Psyche, which although very good and interesting diverts the story from Lucius into a completely different field. You are reading Cupid and Psyche, but you really want to go back to Lucius. Honestly this is a compliment to the main character more than a criticism.

Essential Reading.

Vanda: I really, really liked this book, and it was bloody refreshing after all the tragedies that came before.

It's rather funny, enjoyable read, and pretty darn racy at times - bestiality (the main character, Lucius, gets transformed into a donkey pretty early - hence the title - and this seems to be pretty irresistible to both catamites and society ladies alike) and anal sex galore, including a husband who buggers his wife's lover all through a night as a punishment. Hum.

There are also plenty of different tales intermingled with the main plot, of magic and deceit, and although they seem tacked on a bit, they still make very good reading. The poor ass gets mistreated quite a lot, but this is never portrayed a big tragedy, since Lucius pretty much keeps his spirits high, due mainly to his rather curious nature (who led to the transformation in the first place).

The only letdown in this book is the ending, where he obtains redemption through the Goddess (mainly portrayed as Isis), which leads to his transformation back into a human being, but also to a lot of gushing about divine powers and how he was so special he was initiated three times and so forth. It's a bit of a dissapointment, but you should read the book anyway. As Mafalda put it, they were very modern, these ancients.

Final Grade

Francisco: 8/10
Vanda: 8/10


This title always reminds me of a Brazilian nudist beach.

From Wiki:

In 1517, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote his own version of the story, as a terza rima poem.

In the 20th Century, T. E. Lawrence carried a small copy of the "Golden Ass" in his saddlebags all through the Arab Revolt. It was Lawrence who first introduced the book to his friend Robert Graves, who later translated the work.

In April 1999, the Canadian Opera Company produced an operatic version of the "Golden Ass", the libretto for which was written by celebrated Canadian author Robertson Davies.

In 2002, Shakespeare's Globe theatre for the first time rehearsed the drama The Golden Ass or the Curious Man (starring Mark Rylance as Lucius) written by Peter Oswald after Apuleius' novel, while performing A Midsummer Night's Dream during the same season, thus showing connections, and how Shakespeare used ancient literature as a source for his comedy (Bottom accidentally being transformed into an ass).

Batshit crazy theories:

5. Water Margin / Outlaws Of The Marsh (Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn - 水滸傳) (compiled in the 16th Century)


Francisco: From now on, my wife will only review the books she feels like, she has a lot less of a sense of self-sacrifice, and she's not as OCD as I am and therefore feels no necessity to finish a book or even give it too much time if she just isn't getting into it. I will always review the books, she may or may not. It all depends.

Well this was more interesting than the Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, for a while at least. The structure of the book starts by following the individual stories of characters which very smartly intersect with other characters and the you follow their story. Eventually, however, about 1000 pages into it, still less than half the way through, all the 108 main characters of the book get together at the Marsh of the book title and it becomes extremely confusing.

This is my problem with these two Chinese classics, they kind of demand a cultural context which is not mine, if I had grown up hearing the names of these characters, like I believe a lot of Chinese readers have, and if I was better at recognising Chinese names when I read them this would be a different story.

When you get to the point in the book where what happens is "A did this, B did that, C the other, ZY so forth, X so on" you have no idea what the hell is happening, the whole thing just gets dispersed in your head. The first half of the book when it is more focused is however very funny and the loose morals of it are actually quite surprising. Water Margin is a much more humorous book than Three Kingdoms, and that makes it a more interesting read, at least for half of it.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

Water Margin is vaguely based upon the historical bandit Song Jiang and his 36 companions. The group was active in the Huai River region and eventually surrendered to government troops in 1119. They are recorded in the Song Shi (Chinese: 宋史 - "History of the Song Dynasty) (1345), the name of Song Jiang appearing in the chapter of Emperor Huizong, the activities of the gang in the chapter for Zhang Shuye (Chinese: 張叔夜). Folk stories about Song Jiang circulated during the Southern Song. The first text to name Song Jiang's thirty-six companions was the 13th century Guixin Zashi (Chinese: 癸辛雜識 - "Miscellaneous Observations from the Year Guixin") by Zhou Mi (Chinese: 周密) (1232 - 1298). Among the thirty-six are Lu Junyi, Guan Sheng, Ruan Xiaoer, Ruan Xiaowu, Ruan Xiaoqi, Liu Tang, Hua Rong and Wu Yong. Some of the characters to later become associated with Song Jiang also appeared around this time. They include Sun Li, Yang Zhi, Lin Chong, Lu Zhishen and Wu Song.

The Water Margin was also a cult TV series in the 70's and 80's in the UK and Australia, from a Japanese adaptation of the story. here's the show's intro: