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“This new translation of Apuleius’s novel stands alone for its accuracy and cleverly farcical rendering.”—Bookseller’s Buyer’s Guide
"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
"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
Now to my preface. Who the heck am I, you'd like to know. Briefly: my ancient stock is from Attic Hymettus and the Ephyrean Isthmus and Spartan Taenarus. All that fertile sod has been immortalized by books more fertile still. There, as my boyhood began, I served my first tour of literary duty in the Athenian tongue. Then as a foreigner in the Latian city I invaded the speech native to the Quirites' curriculum, settled on it, and worked it for all it was worth—and it was harrowing, as I had no teacher walking ahead and pointing out what to do.
So here I am, pleading in advance to be let off if I commit some offense, as I'm still a greenhorn: to me, the speech of the Roman forum is outlandish. But this very change of language suits the genre-jumping training I have undertaken. The story we are starting has a Greek original, you see. Give heed, reader: there is delight to be had.
2. To Thessaly—for there lie the foundations of my family on my mother's side, which we're so proud of, with the famous Plutarch and then his nephew Sextus the philosopher—well, I was going to Thessaly on business. Mounted on an all-white horse bred in these very regions, I emerged from the cragginess of the mountains and the slickness of the valleys, the dewiness of the turf and the cloddiness of the fields. My horse was pretty tired, and to dispel my own sedentary fatigue by some invigorating strides, I jumped down onto my feet. Carefully I scraped the sweat from the animal's brow, stroked his ears, took off his bridle, and walked ahead, leading him forward at a tender pace, a little at a time, until he strained out the stuff with which, according to his natural habit, he had buttressed his stomach, which had become uncomfortable now that he was weary.
And then, while he twisted his face to the side, aiming head down for breakfast on the stroll, I joined two wayfarers who happened to have passed me a little before. As I listened to the banter they bandied, one of them gave a forceful snort and said, "Cut it out! Those are monstrous, ridiculous lies you're telling."
I always wanted to gulp down anything unfamiliar, so when I heard this I said, "Share your conversation with me! It's not that I'm excessively inquisitive—I just want to know everything, or at any rate as much as I can. At the same time, the suave pleasures of storytelling will be the lever that lifts up this ridge's load of ruggedness."
3. But the speaker I just quoted interposed: "I kid you not," he said. "That fairy tale of his is essentially a claim that hocus-pocus mumbo-jumbo makes bounding brooks reverse their course, that the sea can be tied up and all but immobilized, that winds can have the wind knocked out of them even though they're inanimate, that the sun is held back from rising, the moon has its dew drained out, the stars are ripped from the sky, daylight's snatched away, and night's clamped in place."
But this only increased my assurance, and I said, "Come on, you who were speaking before: I hope it's not too annoying or tedious to round out the narrative." Turning to the other, I continued, "You, on the other hand, have got stopped-up ears and a totally closed mind. You spit back in his face what might be a true story. By Hercules, it's not too shrewd of you to throw the weight of your bigotry around this way, calling lies whatever's new to your ears or unfamiliar to your eyes, or maybe just seems too steep for your thinking to grapple up onto. If you inquired in a little more detail, you'd find that these things are not only authenticated on the evidence but actually easy to do.
4. "There is my own experience, for example. Yesterday evening at a dinner party we were seeing who could eat more, and my gullet was fighting to dismember a hunk of cheesy barley that was rather a bit too big. What with this squishy glop sticking to my throat and stopping up my windpipe, I was within an inch of extinction.
"Yet recently at Athens, in front of the Painted Portico, beneath this twin-eyed gaze of mine a traveling entertainer took a double-edged cavalry sword with a sharpened, perfect, imminent-death point, and he gobbled the thing right up. And just a handful of change induced the same man to bury the end of a murderous hunting spear clear down in his guts. And—heck!—there above the blade that had slipped into his gullet, the shaft of the upturned spear was sticking out over his head, and a rather limp-wristedly good-looking boy climbed up on that shaft. He performed a twisting, knotting dance—it seemed as if he had no muscles or bones in him, and everybody there was amazed. You know the staff with the little half-lopped branches that the doctor god carries? You'd have said this guy was the cult snake, hanging and sliding and twining around it.
"But you, please—start your story again from the beginning. If this guy doesn't believe you, then at least I will, and at the first inn we come to, your lunch is on me. You can take that to the bank."
5. "Okay," he replied. "That seems like a fair deal; but let me go back and begin right from the beginning. First of all, I swear to you solemnly by this Sun above, a god who sees everything, that the story I'm telling is true—and I ought to know. To do away with any doubts you may still have, when you come to the nearest town, which is where these events took place—and they took place out in public—you'll find them under general discussion.
"So here goes. To let you know whence I hail: it's Aegium. And here's my livelihood and upkeep: back and forth and up and down across Thessaly, Aetolia, and Boeotia I trot, with honey and cheese and other tavern wares of those sorts.
"At one time, news was that at Hypata, the most important town in all of Thessaly, a fresh cheese with an unusually fine flavor was being sold piecemeal at quite an advantageous price. I posted there with speed, determined to get the whole lot for myself. But wouldn't you know—I must have started out on the wrong foot, because the hope of profit deluded me. Wolf the wholesaler had chomped everything down the day before. So as far as that went, I'd hurried and worn myself out for nothing. Just as the evening star was rising, I set out for the baths.
6. "And whom should I see there but my old pal Socrates? He was sitting on the ground, half-dressed in the shreds of a cheap cloak. He was so sickly yellow that at first I thought it couldn't be him, and a pathetic skinniness had distorted his body. He was like those cast-offs of Fortune begging for change at the crossroads. Since he was in that state, I approached him dubiously, although he was an intimate friend and eminently recognizable.
"'Well, Socrates,' I asked, 'what is this? Look at you! What a disgrace! At home, you know, you've been bewept and bewailed, your children have been assigned guardians by decree of the provincial magistrate, and your wife has completed the funereal offices. In fact, prolonged mourning and sorrow spoiled her beauty, and she did so much crying that it nearly blinded her, but now her parents are forcing her to cheer up their stricken house with the joy of a fresh marriage. Can't you think how embarrassing it is for me to see you here? You're the very image of a ghost.'
"'Aristomenes,' he replied, 'you must not be familiar with luck's slippery mazes and erratic attacks and radical ups and downs.' His face was scarlet, and as he spoke he covered it out of shame with his meager cloak, which had little more than the seams left; this movement denuded his body from the navel down to the genitals. I couldn't bear such a debased show of misery, so I took hold of him and struggled to drag him to his feet.
7. "But he wouldn't move. His head still covered, he said, 'Stop, stop! Let Fortune go on gloating over the victory spoils she's nailed up on display with her own hands.' I contrived to drag him along, taking off my cloak and hastily clothing or at least covering him. I delivered him straight to the public baths and personally supplied the necessaries for oiling him and rubbing him down. With much labor, I scoured off the delta of filth that had stuck on his skin. When this was satisfactorily taken care of, I took him to an inn. He was so exhausted that I, tired myself, could barely hold him up. I bundled him up in my cot, filled him with food, soothed him with booze, and cheered him up with conversation. Soon it was an unresisting coast down companionship's hill, and I heard jokes and sharp banter and fearless sarcasm from him, but then he fetched a tortured sigh from deep within his breast and gave his forehead slap after ferocious slap.
"'I'm done for!' he exclaimed. 'I stumbled into this misery when I went off chasing fun—gladiator games that were the word on the street at the time. You of course know that I set out on a business trip to Macedonia. I stayed nine busy months and was returning with quite a chunk of change. Approaching Larissa, I planned to see the games on my way through. There, in a trackless, cratered ravine, I was set upon by a veritable whirlwind of bandits. I escaped at last, though plundered of everything I had.
"'I was desperately shaken. I made my way to a woman named Meroe, an innkeeper, old but still rather fetching. I told her why I'd been away so long, and how anxious I now was to get home after the deplorable looting I'd suffered. She then undertook to treat me very thoughtfully: she gave me a good feed without a fee, and then, an itch now being aroused in her, she steered me into her bed. From that moment, it was hopeless. As soon as I lay down with her, I was caught in a pestilent slavery that could last as many years as she's been alive. I handed over to her even the clothing the high-minded bandits had let me keep to cover my nakedness; I gave her the day wages I earned as a porter while my strength remained—until my good new consort and evil Fortune reduced me to the condition in which you saw me just now.'
8. "'By Pollux, you deserve the worst, if in fact there's anything worse than your condition since then. You preferred cavorting carnally with an old leather-hide whore to your own home and children!'
"But he had frozen in terror. 'Quiet, quiet!' he whispered, putting a finger to his lips and looking around in case someone should overhear. 'This is a supernaturally endowed lady you're talking about, so leave it alone, or your reckless tongue will do you serious damage.'
"'Oh, really?' I asked. 'What sort of woman is this? An empress among landladies, I guess.'
"'She's a witch,' he said, 'with the power of a god. She can bring down the sky, hang the land in the air, turn springs to cement, wash away mountains, loft the dead, snuff out the stars, and light up the realm of Tartarus itself.'
"'Please strip your tragic stage of its curtain, roll up the backdrop, and give me your story in plain language.'
"'You want to hear one or two things she's done,' he asked, 'or a whole batch? It's not only the locals she fills with lunatic lust for herself but also people as far away as the Indians and the Ethiopians—both kinds—and the Antichthonians. And that's just the scraps and trivia of her profession. Just listen to what she pulled off with crowds of people looking on.
9. "'When a lover of hers had the audacity to make a move on another woman, she turned him into a wild animal—a beaver, to be precise, the species that, in fear of captivity, escapes its pursuers by nipping off its own private parts: such was this man's punishment for entertaining a desire for another woman.
"'Another innkeeper was Meroe's neighbor and thus her competitor. She transmuted him into a frog, and now the old man paddles in the dregs of his own wine barrel, greeting his old customers officiously with husky honks. There was another man, a lawyer by profession: he opposed her in a suit, and she changed him into a ram, so now it's in the form of a ram that he pleads his cases. One of her lovers had a wife who made a glib joke about this woman. The wife was already hauling around the baggage of a pregnancy, so this witch sewed her womb shut and held the fetus up, condemning the mother to perpetual expectancy. The consensus count says she's carrying eight years' worth of load, and she's as swollen as if she were on the verge of giving birth to an elephant.
10. "'Given Meroe's repeated crimes and many victims, public indignation spread. The most severe punishment—stoning—was decreed, to be inflicted the next day. She foiled this plan with her overpowering spells. The fabled Medea secured from Creon a reprieve of one short day, and she used it to incinerate the old man's whole household, along with himself, by means of a combustible garland. Our local witch proceeded in a similar way. As she recently told me when she was in her cups, she performed some sepulchral sorcery in a ditch, and through the silent force of the demons she summoned she shut the entire town inside their houses. For two whole days, the bolts couldn't be shattered or the gates torn off or even the walls bored through. The people yelled urgently back and forth until they reached a solution: in a chorus of cries, they swore the holiest oaths to keep their hands off her and, if anybody should think up another scheme, to render her rescuing aid.
"'She was propitiated; she let off the populace and released them from their homes, except that in the dead of night she took the convener of the meeting and his entire house—I mean the walls and floor and the whole foundation—intact and sealed tight a hundred miles away to the top of a rugged mountain barren of water. The dense-set dwelling places allowed no room for the guest arriving, so she dashed the house down in front of the town gate and departed.'
11. "'That's amazing, and pretty horrifying too, Socrates,' I said. 'Now I'm awfully worried as well—or more like terrified. You didn't jab but stab me with this information. I'm afraid supernatural beings will serve the old woman similarly in finding out what we've been talking about. Let's get ourselves to bed early, relieve our lassitude, and in advance of dawn make a break hence and remove ourselves as far as possible.'
"I hadn't finished advocating this course of action before Socrates, assailed by unaccustomed drunkenness and prolonged fatigue, dropped off into a deep, snoring sleep. I shut the door and shot the bolt firmly, set a cot by the hinges and pushed it tight against them, and made it my refuge. I stayed awake a short while out of fear, but then, around the time of the third watch, my eyes fluttered shut. I hadn't been asleep long when suddenly the door came unbarred with a crash even louder than you'd think bandits could have caused. Its hinges were actually broken and wrenched from their sockets, and the thing fell on its face. The little abbreviated cot, rotten and foot-fractured before, could not withstand such a violent assault and also bit the dust. I was slung out onto my back, and the cot fell back on me upside down, hiding and protecting me.
12. "Then it struck me how at certain times we feel the opposite of the way we should. Much as tears of joy have been known to flow, so even in my excessive terror I could not suppress a laugh at the thought of a turtle constructed out of yours truly, Aristomenes. There I was, tossed into the dung, in the handy fortress of my paltry bed, peering out sideways and waiting to see what would happen. I spied two quite agèd women, one of whom held a luminous lamp, the other a sponge and a naked sword. Thus equipped, they stood on either side of Socrates in his sound slumber.
"The one with the sword began: 'Panthia, sister, look! Here he is, my darling Endymion, my Ganymede. Ah, the long days and nights he spent toying with my innocent youth! And now, disdaining my love, he not only insults and defames me; he has even devised an escape. I dare say the fate of Calypso, deserted by cunning Ulysses, shall be mine: I shall bewail my solitude forever.'
"Then, extending her hand, she pointed me out to her companion Panthia. 'And this gentleman, his adviser Aristomenes, who originated this plan of flight, is lying prostrate in the dirt and near death beneath his tiny cot: he takes this scene in and thinks he can spread slanders about me with impunity. I'll fix that. In a bit—but why wait? Actually, how about this instant?—he'll regret his bygone jibes and present curiosity.'
13. "When I heard this, a cold sweat washed over my miserable person. I was shaking clear through to my guts, and the cot did a frightened, jolting dance over my convulsions. But the good lady Panthia said, 'Then why don't we get him first, Meroe dear, rip him to pieces like Bacchants, or lash him down helpless and cut off his manly parts?'
"Meroe—I realized her name accorded with the story Socrates had told—answered her, 'No! Let him survive, if only to inter the corpse of this wretch, casting a little earth over it.' She then wrenched Socrates' head to one side and sank her entire sword blade clear to its hilt into his throat from the left. She held up a little vial and caught the gush of blood, and not a drop was to be seen fallen anywhere.
"This I watched with my own eyes. Moreover—I think she was wary of diverging from the correct sacrificial ritual—the worthy dame Meroe thrust her hand into the wound, deep into the entrails, rummaged around, and brought forth my poor companion's heart. Her weapon, on impact, had cloven through his gullet, and yet now he gave voice—or rather an indistinct wheeze—and gave up the ghost. Panthia thrust a sponge into the broad gash and said, 'Sponge, born in the sea, take care that you never cross a river.'
Excerpted from THE GOLDEN ASS by Apuleius Copyright © 2011 by Sarah Ruden. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted April 17, 2001
Reading this book was one of the highlights of my ancient history class. Apuleius paints a vivid picture of Roman society while telling this 'Grecian' tale. While there are innumerable sexual episodes that may be shocking to a modern reader, they were quite the norm at the time and make the book that much more interesting. As well as being extremely entertaining, this book is a witty social commentary that demonstrates typical male Roman attitudes. Sexist? A bit. Obscene? At times. Worth reading? Absolutely.
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Posted April 23, 2012
"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!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 3, 2011
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Posted March 16, 2011
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