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Apuleius (sometimes called Lucius Apuleius; c. 125 – c. 180) was a Latin prose writer. He was a Romanized Berber, from Madaurusmarker. He studied Platonist philosophy in Athensmarker; travelled to Italymarker, Asia Minormarker and Egyptmarker; and was an initiate in several cults or mysteries. The most famous incident in his life was when he was accused of using magic to gain the attentions (and fortune) of a wealthy widow. He declaimed and then distributed a witty tour de force in his own defense before the proconsul and a court of magistrates convened in Sabrathamarker, near Tripolimarker. This is known as the Apologia.

His most famous work is his bawdy picaresque novel, the Metamorphoses, otherwise known as The Golden Ass. It is the only Latin novel that has survived in its entirety. It relates the ludicrous adventures of one Lucius, who experiments with magic and is accidentally turned into an ass.


Apuleius was born in Madaurusmarker (now M'Daourouchmarker, Algeriamarker), a Roman colony in Numidia on the North African coast, bordering Gaetulia, and he described himself as "half-Numidian half-Gaetulian." Madaurus was the same colonia where Saint Augustine later received part of his early education, and, though located well away from the Romanized coast, is today the site of some pristine Roman ruins. As to his first name, no praenomen is given in any ancient source; late-medieval manuscripts began the tradition of calling him Lucius from the name of the hero of his novel. Details regarding his life come mostly from his defense speech (Apology) and his work Florida, which consists of snippets taken from some of his best speeches.

His father was a provincial magistrate (duumvir) who bequeathed at his death the sum of nearly two millions of sesterces to his two sons. Apuleius studied with a master at Carthagemarker (where he later settled) and later at Athensmarker, where he studied Platonist philosophy among other subjects. He subsequently went to Romemarker to study Latin oratory and, most likely, to declaim in the law courts for a time before returning to his native North Africa. He also travelled extensively in Asia Minormarker and Egyptmarker, studying philosophy and religion, burning up his inheritance while doing so.

Apuleius was an initiate in several cults or mysteries, including the Dionysian mysteries. He was a priest of Aesculapius and, according to Augustine, sacerdos provinciae Africae (i.e. priest of the province of Carthage).

Not long after his return home he set out upon a new journey to Alexandriamarker. On his way there he was taken ill at the town of Oeamarker (modern-day Tripolimarker) and was hospitably received into the house of Sicinius Pontianus, with whom he had been friends when he had studied in Athens. The mother of Pontianus, Pudentilla by name, was a very rich widow. With the full consent, or, rather, at her son's behest, Apuleius agreed to marry her. Meanwhile Pontianus himself was united to the daughter of a certain Herennius Rufinus, who being indignant that so much wealth should pass out of the family, instigated his son-in-law, together with a younger brother, Sicinius Pudens, a mere boy, and their paternal uncle, Sicinius Aemilianus, to join him in impeaching Apuleius upon the charge that he had gained the affections of Pudentilla by charms and magic spells. The case was heard at Sabrathamarker, near Tripoli, c. 158 AD, before Claudius Maximus, proconsul of Africa. The accusation itself seems to have been ridiculous, and the spirited and triumphant defence spoken by Apuleius is still extant. This is known as the Apologia (A Discourse on Magic).

Of his subsequent career we know little. Judging from the many works of which he was author, he must have devoted himself assiduously to literature. He occasionally gave speeches in public with great applause; he had the charge of exhibiting gladiatorial shows and wild beast events in the province, and statues were erected in his honour by the senate of Carthage and of other senates.


Frontispiece from the Bohn Library 1902 edition of The Works of Apuleius: a portrait of Apuleius flanked by Pamphile changing into an owl and the Golden Ass

The Golden Ass

The Golden Ass (Asinus Aureus) or Metamorphoses is the only Latin novel that has survived in its entirety. It is an imaginative, irreverent, and amusing work that relates the ludicrous adventures of one Lucius, who experiments with magic and is accidentally turned into an ass. In this guise he hears and sees many unusual things, until escaping from his predicament in a rather unexpected way. Within this frame story are found multiple digressions, the longest among them being the well-known tale of Cupid and Psyche.

The Metamorphoses ends with the (once again human) hero, Lucius, eager to be initiated into the mystery cult of Isis; he abstains from forbidden foods, bathes and purifies himself. Then the secrets of the cult's books are explained to him, and further secrets revealed before going through the process of initiation which involves a trial by the elements in a journey to the underworld. Lucius is then asked to seek initiation into the cult of Osiris in Rome, and eventually is initiated into the pastophoroi—a group of priests that serves Isis and Osiris.

Other works

His other works are:
  • Apologia (A Discourse on Magic). Apuleius' courtroom defense. The work has very little to do with magic, and a lot to do with making mincemeat of his opponents, with hilarity and panache. It is among the funniest works that have come down to us from Antiquity, and one of the most entertaining examples of Latin courtroom oratory to survive.
  • Florida. A compilation of twenty-three extracts from his various speeches and lectures.
  • On Plato and his Doctrine. An outline in two books Plato's physics and ethics, preceded by a life of Plato
  • De Deo Socratis (On the God of Socrates). A work on the existence and nature of daemons, the intermediaries between gods and humans. This treatise was roughly attacked by Augustine.
  • On the Universe. This Latin translation of the work De Mundo is probably by Apuleius.

Apuleius wrote many other works which have not survived. He wrote works of poetry and fiction, as well as technical treatises on politics, dendrology, agriculture, medicine, natural history, astronomy, music, and arithmetic, and he translated Plato's Phaedo.

Spurious works

The extant works wrongly attributed to Apuleius are:

Apuleian Sphere

The Apuleian Sphere, also known as 'Columcille's Circle' or 'Petirosis's Circle' is a magical prognosticating device for predicting the survival of a patient.

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