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Pro Se De Magia (Apologia)

edited by Vincent Hunink
Gieben, Amsterdam 1997 (2 vols.)

x y

I text  / II commentary

Apuleius of Madauros was not a beginner when he found himself confronted with a charge of magic, in the middle of the 2nd century AD. By then, his reputation as a philosopher and a public speaker was already well established. Most likely he had often acted as an advocate in court, defending the interests of others. Now, he could fully profit from this experience.

The speech which Apuleius delivered in defence of himself, commonly known as the Apology, is a unique example of Roman oratory, being one of the very few Latin speeches from the Imperial Period which have come down to us completely. In fact, it is the only judicial speech in Latin from antiquity after Cicero: the other Roman speeches from this period, the Panegyricus of Pliny and the late eulogies known collectively as the Panegyrici Latini, all belong to the demonstrative genre of rhetoric.

Already for this reason, Apuleius' speech is an interesting document. It is a useful source for our knowledge in a wide range of areas, like Roman law, magic, middle Platonism and contemporary medical science. But there is more to it: this self-defence may properly be called a literary masterpiece, which displays many characteristics of the Second Sophistic. It is literally crammed with learned and playful references to earlier literature and philosophy, and uses countless rhetorical techniques, not excluding outright sophisms and distortions, insults and mean invective. The numerous and often exotic themes which it deals with, the brilliant handling of language and the fascinating erudition of the speaker, all make this a highly entertaining work of literature.

Nonetheless, the speech has been rather neglected by classical scholars in our century. Scholars who manage to overcome prejudice against the age of Apuleius, with its characteristically `un-Ciceronean' and archaizing tendencies, commonly focus on his famous novel Metamorphoses. Lately, this enigmatic work seems to become even popular as an area of research, something which may also be said for the genre of the ancient novel as a whole.

Modern scholars consult the Apology mainly for biographic details on the author and his career or to some specific subject matter. For example, historians regularly cite from this speech where it provides bits of information on the social and economic circumstances in 2nd century Roman Africa. It is also regularly used in studies on ancient magic, another area of increasing modern interest. Those who study Roman law and Platonism equally tend to isolate passages from the speech, if they include it in their material.

Special studies on the Apology as a whole are scarce. The ample bibliography included in the present volume may prove somewhat misleading. As a matter of fact, only a small minority of items is devoted to the speech as a whole, and as something more than merely a piece of documentary evidence or a philological puzzle.

Though translations of the Apology continue to be published in several modern languages (except, curiously, English), the latest full commentary on the text, by Butler and Owen, dates from before the First World War and was published in 1914.

Considering all this, time seemed ripe to write a new, comprehensive commentary on the text as a work of literature in its own right. That is what the present volume proposes to do. Basically, it is not intended to replace Butler/Owen (from here: B/O), which is still useful for many matters of style and grammar, but to supplement it.

The commentary attempts to dig into the text where it has been left closed, to question it where it is taken for granted, to bring to the surface its inner structure or, preferably, its inconsistencies and self-contradictions. In particular, it aims at extending the analysis to the level of the speaker's strategy. So, it concentrates on the smoke screens Apuleius raises, on the points which remain vague and dubious or even seem misleading, and it tries to follow the speaker's tracks in the wide field of literature and philosophy with which he shows himself so familiar. Of course, the commentary serves other aims too: explaining difficult words and phrases, solving philological problems, providing relevant information on realia and references to standard works and scholarly literature. In particular, from c.66 onward, it also aims at reconstructing as precisely as possible events which must lie behind the text, that is: to tell the tale of what happened with Apuleius and Pudentilla. The main aim of the book, however, is to shed some light on Apuleius as a skilful orator and as a man of literature.

The commentary is preceded by a full Latin text, based on the Teubner edition by Helm, but applying his principles somewhat more `strictly orthodox'. In accordance to the practice followed in the Groningen Commentaries on Apuleius, the text of our main MS, Laurentianus 68,2 (F) has been defended wherever possible, even if this results in unclassical or inconsistent spelling. In this respect the Latin text is traditional and conservative. On the other hand, I also wished to produce a text which is pleasant to read. The typography, the division in paragraphs and the interpunction of the text have all been carefully arranged to serve this aim.

Volume I contains the introduction, Latin text, bibliography and indexes. Volume II contains the commentary. Full text as PDF's see further belown.

The research for this edition was my main research project in the period 1994-1997.



Latin text from this edition, made available on-line at the Latin Library

Latin text from this edition, made available on-line at the Bibliotheca Augustana

Dutch translation (Amsterdam 1992), free ONLINE 


Twenty years after its publication as a book, the full text of the 1997 edition has been scanned and put online, for  free use by readers and researchers.

Volume 1 (Introduction, Text, Bibliography, Indexes) [16,2 Mb]

Volume 2 (Commentary) [29,1 Mb]

Please add a proper bibliographical reference if you use any of this material in a new publication.



go to edition with commentary of the Florida (2001)

go to English translation Apuleius, Rhetorical works (2001)

go to Index of all items about Apuleius on this website


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