Apuleius, Metamorphoses II.21-30 (abridged and adapted)
About the author
To find out about Apuleius' life and works, click here
- The Golden Ass
The Anthology selection "sagae Thesselae" - "the Witches of Thessaly" - comes from the only complete Roman novel to have survived: the Metamorphoses ("Transformations"), also known to the Romans and to us today as the Asinus Aureus - "The Golden Ass" was written by Lucius Apuleius in the mid 2nd-century AD.
It tells the story of Lucius, whose fascination with sex and magic results in his transformation into an ass. After suffering many trials and humiliations he is ultimately transformed back into human shape by the kindness of the goddess Isis. Blending adventure, romance, magic and religion into a fast-paced novel, the Golden Ass is one of the most influential novels in Western literature.
The term "golden" implies neither the metal itself nor its colour, but rather its associated qualities; thus a more apt and witty title may be: The Amazing Ass.
Roman fresco in the Louvre depicting a donkey (which is a type of domesticated ass) and a deer next to the chariot they were pulling.
Bronze statuette of an old donkey which probably decorated a piece of furniture or carried a pack-saddle used a food-holder. From a "Vesuvian city"; now in the Naples Archaelogical Museum.
In situ at InFrom the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina, Sicily.
- sagae Thesselae: The Witches of Thessaly
Witches - female practitioners of magic - were common in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, and those inhabiting the part of northern Greece known as Thessaly
were infamous for being able to "draw down the moon" and eating the flesh of dead bodies.
According to one interpretation this shows a man buying a potion from a sorceress.
A Roman wall-painting from the Houes of the Dioscuri at Pompeii; now in the Naples Archaeological Museum.
Exceptional mosaic portraying a scene from a Greek comedy play - perhaps Aristophanes' comedy Synaristoi - it shows three actors wearing female masks seated around a table. The presence of vases on the table suggests that the old hag, a sorceress, may be preparing love potions.
From the so-called Villa of Cicero at Pompeii; now in the Archaeological Museum, Naples.
The Roman poet Lucan gives a lurid account of Thessalian witchcraft, including the practice of biting off the tongue of an unburied corpse, in Book VI of his epic "Civil War". Scroll to line 603 for juicy bits.
Here's an audio version
Thessaly was renowned in Greek and Roman times for its witchcraft. THet radition may be traced back perhaps to the presence there of Medea, the most famous of all sorceresses, who settled there with Jason after his return with the Golden Fleece.
The image shows Medea painted by Frederick Sandys, c.1890, in Birmingham City Art Gallery, UK.
Latin Texts and English Translations
Here you can read a well-regarded translation by P.G. Walsh of "The Golden Ass". This link takes you to the start of Book II; scroll down to Chapters 21 - 30 to see the complete and unadapted passages that form the basis of the Anthology's "sagae Thessalae" extract.
Here, Amazon.co.uk's Reader let's you read the first few pages of Book I of Apuleius' "The Golden Ass". Translation is again the acclaimed modern version by P.G. Walsh in the Oxford World Classics series.
In this link you can read the first few pages of "The Golden Ass".
The complete and unadapted Latin text of Apuleius' Metamorphoses or Golden Ass.
The link takes you to Book II, chapter 21 which forms the beginning of the Anthology extract sagae Thessalae which adapts chapters 21-30.
Part of an informative article by Warren Smith; the "Tale of Thelyphron" (pp.1578-1582) relates to the Anthology extract.
Hyperlinked articles from Wikipedia.
Created in 1996 and so the design and interactivity creaks along a bit, but the information is solid. Lots of illustations too.
Greeks and Romans tended to wear dark, sombre colours, though not necessarily black, to express their grief and mourning.
In this photo from the BBC/HBO drama Rome, Brutus and Servillia "mourn" Julius Caesar.
Roman relief sculpture showing the "display" of the dead body. For those of status and money this involved the corpse being laid down in the atrium of the house, with feet towards the door; lamps and flowers were distributed around, perfumes were burnt, a slave fanned the corpse while the women of the family or the paid mourners cried, screamed and ripped their cheeks and friends came to pay a last visit.
Relief now in the Gregorian Profane Museum in the Lateran Palace of the Vatican Museum.
Wikipedia provides a thorough, hyperlinked entry.Theoi.com
goes into greater detail and includes plentiful images from anicent sources.
Our two favourite ancient images of Apollo are:
The Olympian Apollo sculpture
from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia dating to c.460 BC (now in the Olympia museum)...and
The Delphian Apollo cup
from Delphi, dating to c.480-470 BC (now in the museum at Delphi).
Relief sculpture on a sarcophagus...
The dead person lies reclined on a couch; in some cases the dead person was propped up to sit in a chair. Any information as to the provenance of this piece would be greatly received.
Not requiring the violence and blood associated with hand weapons or the strength of hand-to-hand struggle, societies have often identified poison as the weapon of choice for women who would murder.
There was also a long literary tradition of wives poisoning their husbands to get their hands on their wealth. Indeed, some ancient sources imply that Emperor Claudius
was poisoned in in AD54 by his wife Agripinna via a plate of poison mushrooms, thus enabling her son Nero to quickly take the throne as emperor.
Mosaic from the so-called Villa of Cicero at Pompeii; now in the Archaeological Museum, Naples. It is thought to show a love-potion being prepared - but you never know...!
The act of summoning dead spirits - necromancy - was practised to various extents in the ancient world. Here, Apuleius gives this role to an "Egyptian prophet" - perhaps a priest of Isis, an Egyptian cult popular in Roman times, in which magic spells played an important part and probably necromancy too since Isis resurrected her brother-husband Osiris.
In this wall-painting from Herculaneum, priests of Isis perform the daily ceremony of worshipping water from the River Nile. Now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
The most famous of the five rivers of the Underworld, and usually associated with Charon the Ferryman of Dead Souls...
The waters of this Underworld river caused forgetfulness.
Information from the Ashmoleon on Romans and Ghosts.