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The Golden Ass

The Golden Ass

4.5 4
by Apuleius

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In the ancient world of Thessaly, a young adventurer betrays a priestess of the White Goddess and is turned into an ass. How he resumes human form makes up this tale abounding in lusty incident and bawdy wit. In all of literature, there are few books with the vitality of THE GOLDEN ASS. Here is Robert Graves's masterful translation from the original Latin.


In the ancient world of Thessaly, a young adventurer betrays a priestess of the White Goddess and is turned into an ass. How he resumes human form makes up this tale abounding in lusty incident and bawdy wit. In all of literature, there are few books with the vitality of THE GOLDEN ASS. Here is Robert Graves's masterful translation from the original Latin.

Editorial Reviews

The Observer - Philip Pullman

“Sarah Ruden’s superb translation of Alpuleis’s The Golden Ass illuminates this wonderful story with a brilliant modern wit.”—Philip Pullman, The Observer

Garry Wills

Praise for Sarah Ruden's translation of the Aeneid:

"Robert Fagles, shortly before his death, set the bar very high for translating the Aeneid. Yet already the scholar-poet Sarah Ruden has soared over the bar. . . . The translation is alive in every part. . . .This is the first translation since Dryden's that can be read as a great English poem in itself."—Garry Wills, New York Review of Books

Richard Garner

Praise for Sarah Ruden's translation of the Aeneid:


"Fast, clean, and clear, sometimes terribly clever, and often strikingly beautiful. . . . Many human achievements deserve our praise, and this excellent translation is certainly one of them."—Richard Garner, The New Criterion

Mary Lefkowitz

Praise for Sarah Ruden's translation of the Aeneid:


"By conveying the emotional force of the Latin, Ruden makes the Aeneid newly vivid, exciting, and relevant. This translation proves why, for centuries, Virgil's remarkable epic has been required reading."—Mary Lefkowitz, author of Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn From Myths

Bookseller's Buyer's Guide

“This new translation of Apuleius’s novel stands alone for its accuracy and cleverly farcical rendering.”—Bookseller’s Buyer’s Guide
National Review - Tracy Lee Simons

“A rollicking ride well worth the fare . . . marvelously, sidesplittingly ridiculous. . . . It’s a story, not a homily, and Sarah Ruden has re-bestowed it with artful aplomb.”—Tracy Lee Simmons, National Review

Choice - D. Konstan

“The most immediately entertaining work of Latin literature . . . Ruden gives the reader a rich blend of the colloquial and the elevated . . . [in] a very American translation that captures much of the fun of the original.”—D. Konstan, Choice

New York Review of Books - G. W. Bowersock

“A cause for celebration on many counts . . . We owe Sarah Ruden a great debt of thanks for [this] English translation that is no less inventive, varied, and surprising than the original.”G. W. Bowersock, New York Review of Books

Times Literary Supplement - Emily Wilson

“[B]rilliantly executed. . .Sarah Ruden’s new translation of Apuleius’ neo-platonist romp about a guy who magically turns into a donkey. . .conveys how truly bizarre the style of the original is.”—Emily Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

From the Publisher
"An execllent introduction and an accurate...translation."—Jim Williams, SUNY at Genesco

"This translation deserves the highest praise. It is idiomatic whenever possible, clear and effective throughout; I am more impressed with it than with three others that I have sampled. The introduction is informative and balanced in judgment."—Philip F. O'Mara, Bridgewater College

"This is a good edition. The translation flows, the introduction is thorough."—Richard Mason, George Mason University

"[A] fresh, funny, evocative translation that captures Apuleius at his most uncanny."—W. Gardern Campbell, Mary washington College

"Walsh's new rendering—which on every page, improves upon the commonly used and dated translations of Jack Lindsay and Robert Graves—appears at a time when this ever popular novel is even more greatly appreciated by social historians for the window it provides on provincial life among real imperial subjects in the second century CE. This edition is enhanced by an excellent introduction, a select bibliography, explanatory notes, and an index and glossary of names....It should quickly become the obvious choice for Latin-less readers."—Religious Studies Review6R

"This translation is literal enough to come to a scholar's aid, and at the same time scholarly enough to use without embarrassment."—Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"P.G. Walsh has given us an excellent translation, contemporary without being too trendy, as well as a superb introduction that gives the historical, philosophical, and religious background of the work....Oxford's World's Classics has done it again, has produced a useful edition and superior translation of a work that has needed it for several generations."—CAES Newsletter

"Splendid volume, living up to the scholarly accuracy that makes the World's Classics series."—Professor John R. Lenz, Drew University

"OUP's decision to commission a new translation of Apuleius' novel by a scholar who has made a significant contribution to Apuleian studies is a welcome move. This is without doubt the translation I would prescribe for students studying the work in English."—Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"The best scholarly introduction and notes among the currently available paperback editions and a very high standard of accuracy in representing the Latin original."—Professor Robert Lamberton, Washington University

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The Golden Ass

By Apuleius, Jack Lindsay

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 1960 Jack Lindsay
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-20036-5



Business directed me into Thessaly. For it was from Thessaly that my mother's family originated, the line being traced back to Plutarchus, – that notable man, and Sextus, his philosophic nephew – a genealogy highly honourable to us. After I had traversed the tops of mountains and the slides of valleys, the dews of the grass and the furrows of the fields, I noticed that my horse, a milk-white thoroughbred of the country, was somewhat blown. Feeling sore from the ride myself, I leaped out of the saddle, to shake the stiffness from my limbs by walking. I carefully wiped the sweat from the horse with a handful of greenery, and stroked his ears, and unbridled him, and walked him along at a quiet pace to give nature a chance to muster her usual resources.

And now while the horse, bending down his head and sideways crunching the grass, was engaged in this ambling breakfast, I saw a short way ahead two fellow-travellers, with whom I presently made a third. I pricked up my ears to learn the theme of their conversation, when one of them with a pointed laugh explained, 'Enough of this. Please don't tell me any more such ridiculous monstrous lies.'

At this I, always thirsty for every sip of novelty, interrupted, 'Excuse me, but I should like very much to be informed what you are discussing – not because I mean to pry, but because I want to know everything in the world ... or at least a good part of it. Besides, a light gay-tale will carry us more smoothly over the ruggedness of this hill that we are just ascending.'

The man who had laughed answered me, 'This fabrication is about as true as if a man should choose to assert that mutterings of magic can make swift rivers run backwards, the ripples be flattened out of the sea, the winds dribble and die, the sun stop dead, the moon drop her venomfoam1 upon the earth, the stars be plucked-out, day vanish, and night fall over all things.'

I replied to this in rather a confident tone, 'Come on, you the story-teller, don't feel sorry you've started, and don't flinch at going on.' And turning to the other, I said, 'But for you, sir, with the dense ears and the firm prejudice, you are rejecting a story which may very well be true. By Hercules, you are ignorant that man's debased intelligence calls all those matters lies which are either seldom seen or heard, or which exist on heights beyond the narrow cast of his reason. And yet if you probe these matters closely, you will find them not only understandable and clear, but even easily beheld. Why, last evening I was trying to out-eat the others who were with me at supper, and I took a large bite at a barley-cheesecake in my hurry. It was so soft and glutinous that it stuck in the bottom of my windpipe and all but choked me. And yet not long ago at Athens, before the Porch named the Poecile, I saw with these identical two eyes a juggler who swallowed a horseman's sharp double-edged broadsword, tip-first, right down to the hilt-and then, for a few miserable coppers, he rammed home a hunting-spear until he had the point with all its deadly threat buried deep in his entrails. But you should have seen our gapes of surprise when over the spear blade, about the place towards the back of the head where the weapon had been shoved in down his throat, there climbed a pretty little boy, who wriggled and turned about as if he hadn't any bone or gristle in his body. He looked like that noble Serpent which clings with slippery coils to the knotted staff, with its half-clipped twigs, that the God of Physic bears. So, you that were telling the story, begin anew. I shall believe you, even if your friend won't, and in return for your trouble I should like you to dine with me at the first inn we encounter.'

The man replied, 'Thanks. It's a fair offer and I'll be pleased to begin my story all over again for you. And first I swear to you by the light of this Sun, the all-seeing God, that every word I relate is my true experience. Indeed, you won't have any doubt left when you come to the next Thessalian city. You'll find the tale on everybody's lips there, for the events are publicly known.'

The Tale of Aristomenes

First, as to who and what I am – I am from Aegina – and as to my business, I travel the country in every direction through Thessaly and Aetolia and Boeotia, to buy honey and cheese and other foodstuffs for retail to the shopkeepers. Now, hearing that at Hypata, the capital of Thessaly, there were available fresh cheeses of a particularly fine flavour at a very moderate rate, I dashed off to see if I couldn't snap up the whole market.

But – the usual bad luck – I'd put my worst foot forward, for Lupus, a wholesale merchant, had cleared the stock on the day before. I was fatigued by the unprofitable speed of my journey; and so, early in the evening, I proceeded to the baths. There, whom did I see but my old comrade Socrates. He was sitting on the ground, barely covered with a ragged apology for a cloak, almost wanned into another man, and so disfigured by emaciation that he looked like one of those parings of fortune who whine for alms at street corners. I was still in doubt as I approached him, although he had once been a bosom friend and daily companion.

'My Socrates,' I cried, 'what does this mean? this change! What is your sin? Lord, how you've been lamented at home. You're counted as dead. The provincial magistrate has appointed guardians for your children; and now that your wife has completed her mourning-period – wasted away she was by grievous and continual sorrow, and her eyes all but wept into utter blindness – she is being solicited by her parents to brighten up the benighted house with the pleasures of a new marriage. And here you rise up like a ghastly ghost to the unseemly confusion of our plans.'

'Aristomenes,' he answered, 'now I see indeed that you are unaware of the sliddery twists, the freakish whirligigs, the ceaseless vicissitudes of Fortune.'

And with that he hid his face, which was blushing for shame, in his darned patch-work cloak, leaving his body naked from the navel downwards. I couldn't bear to see this spectacle of calamitous misery another moment-I caught hold of him and tried to lift him from the ground. But, with his face still hidden, he wailed, 'Leave me alone, leave me alone. Let Fortune still gloat over the trophy she has erected.'

However, I compelled him to follow me. I pulled off one of my two garments and clothed – or rather covered him – and haled him at once to a bath. There I took on myself the jobs of anointing and scrubbing him. Diligently I peeled off the scurf of dirt; and then, having tended him properly, tottering with my own weariness, I supported his debilitated steps till we reached my inn. I laid him to rest on a bed, I filled him with food, I slaked him with wine, and I soothed him with the news. At last our conversation began to flow freely, and we bandied jests and witticisms. Our banter was going fast and furious, when he fetched a tormented sigh from the depths of his breast and beat his forehead with demented fist.

'Wretch that I am,' he cried, 'I rushed eagerly to see some widely canvassed Gladiatorial Games, and I fell into this Misfortune. For as you know very well, I had gone on a business-trip to Macedonia, and I was on my way back, flush with cash, after having been detained there some ten months. Well, just before I came to Larissa, while making a detour to bring these games into my itinerary, I was suddenly beset by a ravening horde of robbers in a wild and broken valley. I escaped with my life, but lost everything else. Left in this sad fix, I had recourse to one Meroe, who kept a tavern – an old woman, but not without a charming touch. I told her the whole tale of my lengthy journey, of my harassed home-coming, and of my recent unfortunate robbery. She treated me very consolingly, provided a fine supper gratis – and then, pricked by carnal heat, laid me in her own bed. And I, unhappy man, lay there acquiescent, and after that one intercourse with her I succumbed to the pestilential drag of a hag. I gave her even such clothes as the robbers had been kind enough to leave me to hide my nakedness, and what small earnings I was able to make, while still sound, by carrying bags – till at last this good woman and bad luck harried me into that decrepitude and rags in which you have just now found me,'

In good faith,' I answered, 'you deserve the worst you can get, if there is anything worse than this, for preferring the festivals of the flesh and the wrinkles of a whore to your fame and your family.'

'Hush, hush,' he exclaimed, placing his forefinger on his lips and sitting stupefied. Then he looked about for any eavesdroppers. 'Beware how you get up against so inspired a woman, or you'll be hurt yourself with your rash tongue.'

'What's this?' I asked. 'What kind of a woman is this redoubtable Queen of a tavernkeeper?'

'She is a witch,' he said. 'She is superhuman, able to drag down the heavens or to lift up the earth, to harden running water or to dissolve mountains, to raise the dead or to tumble down the gods, to poke out the stars or to light up the darkness of hell.'

'Now, now,' said I, 'please draw the tragic curtain, and dispense with the drop-scene, and speak plainly.'

'Would you like,' he asked, 'to hear one or two, yes, or a long list of her practices? As for drawing not only the whole countryside flockmell sniffing after her, but also the Indians and Ethiopians and even the Antipodeans, such tricks are but the merest sprigs and flim-flams of her art. For listen, and I'll tell you what many witnesses can deliver.

'A lover of hers who had rashly ravished another woman, she changed with a single word into a beaver – because when that beast fears captivity, he frees himself from his pursuers by self-castration, and she wished that penalty to slash the man for his enjoyment of another than herself.

'In the same way she bewitched a neighbouring innkeeper, who was her rival in trade, into a frog; and now the poor old man swims about in one of his own winecasks, or ensconced in the dregs he calls out at his previous customers with a hoarse croak, quite in the way of business.

'Another man, a lawyer of the Forum, who had pleaded in a case against her, she turned into a horned ram; and you can still see him as a ram butting and rebutting.

'Again, she laid a spell on the wife of one of her lovers, because the woman had propagated some scandal about her. This woman was baggaged with a child, and the witch barricaded her womb and doomed her to a perpetual pregnancy. By the general calculation, it's now eight years since the poor woman began to swell with the load, as if she were bringing an elephant to birth.

'After this outrage and many others, public indignation was noisily excited, and the townsfolk resolved next day to execute condign judgement upon her by stoning her to death. But by the power of her enchantments she foiled this decision. For as Medea, after being granted one day's truce by Creon before her departure, burned in the garlanding flames his whole house, his daughter, and the old man himself, so here by conjurations and by raising of the dead in a ditch-she told me the full story a few days back in a burst of drunken talk – this witch used the noiseless bulk of her demons to block everybody up in their own houses. And for two days the inhabitants could not break through the barriers, or open the doors, or even make holes in the walls. So at last, after exhorting each other, the citizens with one voice besought her mercy and swore by all the most sacred oaths that they would never molest her with so much as a little-finger, and that if anyone should conceive such an assault they would all rally to her aid.

'So they propitiated her, and she unloosed the whole city. But about midnight she swung aloft the chief instigator of the plot, and all his house – I mean the very ground and all the foundations – and carried it, with all its doors shut, a hundred miles away to another town situated on the top of a rocky mountain and consequently lacking all water-supplies. And the buildings there were all packed so tightly together that there was no room left for the new house; so she dropped it down in front of the city gate and departed.'

'A strange story,' I replied, 'and a cruel one, dear Socrates, is this you tell me. In fact, you have stricken me with no small anxiety. I might even call it panic – and not a mere thorn-scratch but a bad spear-jab – that this old woman might use the deputed ears of some demon to learn our conversation. So let us lie down to sleep, early as it is, and after a night's rest has cleared away the worst of our weariness, let us get out before dawn as far as we can.'

In the midst of my advice the worthy Socrates fell fast asleep, and snored aloud, succumbing to the unusually plenteous wine and the day's exertions. I closed the door of the room, and drove home the bolts; I pushed my bed hard against the hinges, and heaped it up; and then I lay down to rest. At first the fear that kept buzzing in my mind gripped me awake; but as midnight came on, I dozed fitfully.

At last I was dropping into heavy slumber, when suddenly the door crashed open with greater violence than any robbers' shoulders could have produced. The hinges snapped with a crack and were torn out, and the door was flung flat. The bedstead, which was rather narrow, lame of one foot and rotten, was knocked upside-down by the furious impact. I went topsy-turvy, hurled upon the floor; and the bed, rolling over, neatly covered and muffled me in the wreckage.

At that moment I experienced the truth that, under great strain, Nature expresses herself by contradictions. Just as tears are oft shed for joy, so in this extremity of terror I could not restrain a peal of laughter at finding myself, Aristomenes, become a tortoise. And while I lay where I had been pitched, I peeped out under the rim of the enveloping bed to see what was the matter.

I saw two women of advanced age – one bearing a flashing lantern, the other a sponge and naked sword. Thus charactered, they took their stand about Socrates, who had slept peaceably through the whole commotion. The woman with the sword spoke first.

'Look at him, sister Panthia. Look at my beloved Endymion, my sweet Catamite, who day and night has abused my youthful body. Look at him who sets my love beneath him, who not only defames me scandalously but also prepares for wriggling out of my clutch. And I shall be deserted by this Ulysses in his craftiness. I shall be a Calypso wailing in eternal desolation.'

Then she lifted her right hand and pointed me out to her friend Panthia. 'And look at that fine fellow, his counsellor Aristomenes, who suggested this defalcation and who now quakes himself to death, flung prostrate beneath his bedstead. He is spying on all our movements and thinks to get off with his insults unrevenged. But I will make him repent someday, soon – in fact, at once – for his late reckless speeches and his present peeping-eye.'

When I heard this, cornered as I was, a cold sweat broke out all over me, and my bowels quavered and opened, till the very bed shook and rattled above my palpitating spine.

'But why not rip him,' remarked Panthia, 'to shreds as the bacchanals do, or let us set up the mark of his manhood and knock it off?'

But Meroe (for this was clearly the heroine of Socrates' story) answered, 'No, he must survive to dump the corpse of this wretch under a sprinkle of earth.'

Then she laid Socrates' head over on one side, and drove the sword into the left part of his throat up to the hilt, and caught the spout of blood in a leathern bottle which she held ready, so carefully that not a single drop was left visible. And more, I saw Meroe – to omit no correct detail of the sacrificial rite, I suppose – thrust her hand down through the wound into the very entrails, and, after groping about, finally wrench out the heart of my unhappy comrade. And he, with his gullet slit by the impact of the blade, uttered a cry through the wound (or rather a broken gurgle), and bubbled out his ghost.

Then Panthia stopped the big wound in his throat with a sponge, and cried, 'Beware O sponge born of the salt-sea, beware that you pass not through a running stream.'

After this declaration they raised up the bed and straddled above my body, emptying their bladders till I was drenched to the skin with filth.


Excerpted from The Golden Ass by Apuleius, Jack Lindsay. Copyright © 1960 Jack Lindsay. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

P. G. Walsh is Professor Emeritus of Humanity at the University of Glasgow.

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The Golden Ass 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"The Golden Ass" is a rowdy, bawdy book with the exquisite myth of Cupid and Psyche retold in the middle. I've loved Robert Graves' translation for years, but Sarah Ruden's translation is lively and luscious. It's an excellent read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago