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.
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.
This title always reminds me of a Brazilian nudist beach.
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: