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date: 10 June 2023


writer and orator, b. c. 125 CE


writer and orator, b. c. 125 CE
  • Stephen J. Harrison


  • Latin Literature

Updated in this version

Bibliography updated to reflect current scholarship; keywords added.

Apuleius was born of prosperous parents (Apol. 23) at Madaurus in Africa Proconsularis, and educated in Carthage, Athens, and Rome (Flor. 18, 20, 16); at Athens he gained enough philosophy to be called philosophus Platonicus by himself and others. He claims to have travelled extensively as a young man (Apol. 23), and was on his way to Alexandria (1) when he arrived at Oea, probably in the winter of 156 ce. The story from that point is told by Apuleius himself in his Apologia, no doubt in the most favourable version possible; at Oea he met a former pupil from Athens, Pontianus, who persuaded him to stay there for a year and eventually to marry his mother, Pudentilla, in order to protect her fortune for the family. Subsequently, Apuleius was accused by various other relations of Pudentilla of having induced her to marry him through magic means; the case was heard at Sabratha, near Oea, in late 158 or early 159. We can deduce from the publication of the Apologia (see below) that he was acquitted. The Florida (see below) make it clear that Apuleius was active as a public speaker and philosophical lecturer in Carthage in the 160s ce, and he seems to have been made priest of the imperial cult for his province (Flor. 16); nothing is known of him after 170, though the disputed De mundo and De Platone are both addressed to the (unnamed) writer’s son Faustinus. Of Apuleius’s undisputed writings, only the Apologia and the Florida can be dated with any accuracy; scholars disagree on whether the Metamorphoses is a late or early work, though more think it late than early.



The Apologia, Apuleius’s speech of defence against charges of magic (see above), sometimes called De magia in older editions and later manuscripts, is an extraordinary rhetorical tour de force. In rebutting the charges Apuleius digresses hugely in order to show a vast range of literary and other learning, and presents himself as a committed intellectual and philosopher. The title recalls Plato (1)’s Apology, and the argumentation Cicero at his most colourful.


The Metamorphoses, sometimes called the Golden Ass, is the only Latin novel which survives whole. On an epic scale (eleven books) and full of narratological cleverness, erotic, humorous, and sensational by turns, it is a remarkable and fascinating work. The basic story is that of the young man Lucius, who through his curiosity to discover the secrets of witchcraft is metamorphosed into an ass and undergoes a variety of picaresque adventures before being retransformed through the agency of the goddess Isis. This plot is punctuated by a number of inserted tales, which have in fact a close thematic relation to the main narrative; the most substantial and best-known of them is that of Cupid and Psyche (‘Soul’ in Greek, see psyche), which parallels the main story of Lucius by presenting a character (Psyche) whose disastrous curiosity causes troublesome adventures before her rescue through divine agency. The last book provides a much-discussed and controversial double twist: after his rescue by Isis, Lucius’s low-life adventures are interpreted in a new religious and providential light (11.15.1–5), and the identity of the narrator seems to switch from Lucius to Apuleius himself (11.27.9), a final metamorphosis. The novel’s literary influences are various, including much Greek and Latin poetry; the main ass-tale is partly paralleled by the Onos dubiously ascribed to Lucian (which has no Isiac conclusion or inserted tales but is evidently an epitome), and the two may well have a common source in the lost Greek Metamorphoses of “Lucius of Patrae” (Phot. Bibl. cod. 129). Many of the stories may derive from the tradition of bawdy Milesian Tales (see aristides (2)), and that of Cupid and Psyche, with its element of Platonic allegory, may owe at least something to a Greek source (cf. Fulg. Myth. 3. 6).


The Florida are a short collection, derived from a longer one, of choice excerpts from Apuleius’s showy declamations given at Carthage in the 160s, containing passages of narrative, description, and anecdote which show considerable rhetorical and stylistic talent.


The De deo Socratis is a declamation on the daimonion of Socrates, probably based on a Greek original (note Plutarch’s similar De genio Socratis), showing Apuleius’s Platonic interests as well as his oratorical skills. For the daimonion see socrates.


Lost works: collections of speeches from which the Florida are a selection, other speeches and poems, Ludicra (minor poems), De proverbiis, Hermagoras (another novel), Phaedo (version of Plato), Epitome historiarum, De republica, De medicinalibus, De arboribus, Eroticus (cf. ps.-Lucian Amores), Quaestiones conviviales, and works on astronomy, zoology, agriculture, music, and arithmetic.


Disputed works: controversy continues on the authenticity of two extant works ascribed to Apuleius. (a) De dogmate Platonis or De Platone are two books of mediocre exposition of the philosophy of Plato; The extant Περὶ ἑρμηνείας‎ (On Interpretation), a treatise on formal logic, has been by some ascribed to Apuleius as the third book of this work, but many regard it as spurious. (b) De mundo is a translation of the pseudo-Aristotelian Περὶ κόσμου‎.


Spurious works: Asclepius, Herbarius, De remediis salutaribus, Physiognomonia. Of these the Asclepius has some interest as a Latin version of a Hermetic treatise.

The style of Apuleius is admired by many; it owes little to his African origin (the idea of “African Latin” is now largely discredited), but is the apex of Asianism in Latin, full of poetic and archaic words and apparent coinages, rhythmical and rhyming cola, and coloured with colloquialism and Graecisms; it is best seen in the great set pieces of the Metamorphoses (e.g. 11. 1–6). His literary personality is strongly projected in all his works, and in the extraordinary range they cover: proud of his abilities as a speaker and writer, possessed of certitude and a vast if indiscriminate and vicarious learning, he is best seen as a Latin sophist, matching in the Roman west the extraordinarily extrovert and self-promoting characters who were his contemporaries in the Greek Second Sophistic. Some of his subsequent fame is initially owed to Saint Augustine, his fellow African, who was aware of Apuleius’s prestige in his home province and was careful to attack him, but the Metamorphoses have been deservedly popular from the early Renaissance on.


Texts and Translations
  • Metamorphoses. Edited and translated by D. S. Robertson and Paul Vallette. 3 vols. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1940–1945.
  • Opera quae supersunt. Edited by Rudolf Helm. Leipzig: Teubner, 1908–1931.
  • Metamorphoses. Edited by John Arthur Hanson. 2 vols. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.
  • Metamorphoseon Libri XI. Edited by Maaike Zimmerman. Oxford Classical Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. The Golden Ass. Translated by P. G. Walsh. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.
  • The Golden Ass; or, Metamorphoses. Translated by E. J. Kenney. New York: Penguin, 1998.
  • Apologia and Florida. Edited by Paul Vallette. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1925.
  • Florida. Edited by Rudolf Helm. Leipzig: Teubner, 1910. De deo Socratis and doubtful works: J. Beaujeu (Budé, 1973).
  • Apuleius: Rhetorical Works. Edited by S. J. Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. See especially translations of Apologia (V. Hunink), Florida (J. Hilton) and De Deo Socratis (S. J. Harrison). De philosophia libri. Edited by Claude Moreschini. Leipzig: Teubner, 1991. Includes Asclepius.
  • Asclepius. In Hermès Trismégiste, vol. 2. Edited by Arthur Darby Nock. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1945.
  • Metamorphoses. bk. 1. Commentary by W. H. Keulen. Groningen: Forsten, 2007.
  • bk. 2. Commentary by Danielle van Mal-Maeder. Groningen: Forsten, 2001.
  • bk. 3. Commentary by Rudi T. van der Paardt. Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1971.
  • bk. 4. 1–27. Commentary by B. L. Hijmans et al. Groningen: Forsten, 1977.
  • Cupid and Psyche. bk. 4.28–6.24. Commentary by E. J. Kenney. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • Commentary by Maaike Zimmerman et al. Groningen: Forsten, 2005.
  • bk. 6. 25–7. Commentary by B. J. Hijmans et al. Groningen: Forsten, 1981.
  • bk. 8. Commentary by B. J. Hijmans et al. Groningen: Forsten, 1985.
  • bk. 9. Commentary by B. J. Hijmans et al. Groningen: Forsten, 1995.
  • bk. 10. Commentary by Maaike Zimmerman. Groningen: Forsten, 2000.
  • bk. 11. Commentary by J. Gwyn Griffiths. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1975.
  • bk. 11. Commentary by W. H. Keulen et al. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015.
  • Apologia. Commentary by Vincent Hunink. Amsterdam: Gieben, 1997.
  • Florida. Commentary by Vincent Hunink. Amsterdam: Gieben, 2001.
  • Florida. Commentary by Benjamin Todd Lee. New York: de Gruyter, 2005.
  • Bernhard, Max. Der Stil des Apuleius von Madaura. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1927. Callebat, Louis. Sermo Cotidianus dans les Métamorphoses d’Apulée. Caen: Université. de Caen, 1968.
  • Harrison, Stephen J. Framing the Ass. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. See especially 13–56.
General Criticism
    • Harrison, Stephen J., ed. Oxford Readings in the Roman Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
    • Harrison, Stephen J. Apuleius: A Latin Sophist. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
    • Harrison, Stephen J. Framing the Ass. Oxford: Oxford University Press, , 2013.
    • Hijmans, B. J., Maaike Zimmerman, and W. H. Keulen, eds. Aspects of Apuleius’ Golden Ass. 3 vols. Groningen: Forsten; Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1978–2012.
    • Schlam, Carl C. The Metamorphoses of Apuleius. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
    • Tatum, James. Apuleius and the Golden Ass. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979.
    • Walsh, P. G. The Roman Novel. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
    • Winkler, John J. Actor and Auctor: A Narratological Reading of Apuleius’ Golden Ass. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
    • Carver, Robert H. F. The Protean Ass. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
    • Gaisser, Julia Haig. The Fortunes of Apuleius and the Golden Ass. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.
    • Hagendahl, Harald. Augustine and the Latin Classics. Gothenburg: Wiksell, 1967.
    • Haight, Elizabeth Hazelton. Apuleius and his Influence. New York: Longmans, Green, 1927.
    • Harrison, Stephen J.Apuleius.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Classics, edited by Dee L. Clayman. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
    • Schlam, Carl C., and Ellen D. Finkelpearl. A Review of Scholarship on Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, 1970–1998. Lustrum 42. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000.