CASES OF GENRE-CONFUSION IN APULEIUS
published in: Ruurd R. Nauta (ed.), Desultoria
scientia. Genre in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses
and related texts, Caeculus,
papers on Mediterranean archaeology and Greek and Roman studies 5, (Peeters)
Leuven / Paris / Dudley MA 2006 (ISBN 90 429 1846 2), 33-42
one thinks of 'genre
in Apuleius, some passage of his works and a specific genre comes to one's mind,
e.g. tragedy, epic, or satire. But after a second or two, one starts to think of
another genre that is connected in some way to that same passage, and the
image becomes less clear. What I propose to do in this paper is to show some
selected passages from Apuleius, notably from his rhetorical works Apology
and Florida, where we can observe how Apuleius seems to play with genres,
sometimes simultaneously, and how he can even mix them up to something quite
we may turn to the Apology (Apol.), Apuleius'
famous speech, which is perhaps more often praised and quoted than read.
In literary complexity, versatility, wit, and linguistical skills, the speech is
by no means inferior to the novel, and it fully deserves the sort of literary
analysis we apply without hesitation to the Metamorphoses (Met.).
an earlier occasion, I attempted to review the elements of comedy in the speech,
which prompted me to the conclusion that the speech was even, in a way, modelled
on the basic pattern of a comedy: it has a plot, standard characters, and a
By way of contrast, let me now highlight some elements of tragedy, equally
present in the text, and see how these are connected in the context.
is much less dominant in the speech than comedy, but some interesting places may
be referred to. In c.13 we see a reference to several dramatic genres at once:
enim? Si choragium thymelicum possiderem, num ex eo argumentarere etiam uti me
consuesse tragoedi syrmate, histrionis crocota, ┼
orgia, mimi centunculo? Non opinor. Nam et contra plurimis rebus possessu
careo, usu fruor.
(Apol. 13,7) [start p.34] >Look,
if I possessed an actor's equipment, would you argue that I was regularly
wearing the long cloak of tragedy, the saffron-coloured dress of the stage, or
the patchwork robe of mime? I do not think so. On the other hand there are many
things I do not possess, but use nonetheless.'
reference is only small, but interestingly, the actor of tragedy, the histrio
and the player of mime, or rather their specific garments, are put
alongside each other without further comment. Apparently these forms of drama
were all still commonly known to Apuleius' audience, which in the case of
tragedy may seem surprising.
mention of the tragedy, as casual as it already is, is given further depth by
the context, which has little to do with this genre. The argument Apuleius is
developing in the context is one of a highly rhetorical nature: can the
circumstance that someone possesses a mirror be taken as a sign that he
repeatedly stands before it and uses it? This is, of course, most likely, but
Apuleius defends the opposite.
same passage confronts us with another reference to tragedy:
tu librum, Aemiliane, si nosses ac non modo campo et glebis, uerum etiam abaco
et puluisculo te dedisses, mihi istud crede, quanquam teterrimum os tuum minimum
a Thyesta tragico demutet, tamen profecto discendi cupidine speculum inuiseres
et aliquando relicto aratro mirarere tot in facie tua sulcos rugarum.
(Apol. 16,7) >If
you had known his book, Aemilianus, and had not devoted yourself just to the
clods of the field but also to the sand on the counting-board, believe me:
although your hideous face differs only a little from the mask of tragic
Thyestes, curiosity would certainly have made you look into a mirror. Yes,
finally you would have left your plough and wondered about all those furrows in
tone is even sharper here, and seems outright polemical and sarcastic. Moreover,
the context alludes to other types of texts too, notably the language of
scientific inquiry. Still discussing the allegation that he possessed a mirror,
Apuleius has substantially broadened the scope of his speech, including various
scientific problems in his account: for instance, in c.15 he refers to the
various philosophical schools and their different physical explanations of the
likeness of images in mirrors (a rather ostentatious display of erudition in
court). Plato, Archytas, and the Stoics, are all mentioned. So, Apuleius adds, a
philosopher has to investigate all of this. Various optical effects are added,
for which Archimedes is quoted as an authority (16,6). After the quotation,
Apuleius goes on to make fun [start p.35]
of his opponent, adding puns and briefly entering upon an entirely different
theme, the question of >possessing
only a few slaves'. For this, he adduces historical examples such as Cato, and
the whole theme is developed as a proper popular philosophical diatribe. So here
we have a mixture of rhetoric, satire and polemic, tragedy, science, and
similar can be observed much later in the Apology, where the abominable
Rufinus is the target of Apuleius' wit, erudition, and polemics.
hercule possum irae moderari, ingens indignatio animo oboritur. Tune,
effeminatissime, tua manu cuiquam uiro mortem minitaris? At qua tandem manu?
Philomelae an Medeae an Clytemnestrae? Quas tamen cum saltas ─
tanta mollitia animi, tanta formido ferri est ─,
sine cludine saltas.
(Apol. 78,3-4) >I
can hardly control my anger, and an immense indignation is surging within me! So
you, the most effeminate of men, are threatening death to a real male `with your
own hand'? But what hand will it be? That of Philomela, or Medea, or
Clytemnestra? But if you perform these roles, you do so without a dagger: such
is your weakness, such your fear of steel!'
one of the opponents, has threatened, so we are told, that he will kill
Apuleius, who now reacts with great indignation, comparing him to legendary
female figures (killers and sorcerers) from tragedy. A comparison to women and
killers is bad enough as it is but Rufinus even performs these roles
with fake daggers because of his cowardice. The epic element in the indignant
question qua tandem manu is immediately subverted by the sarcastic triple
perversion implied by the tragic roles.
is ridiculed not only by means of tragedy. He is also called a >pimp'
(leno), a clear echo of Roman comedy and mime, and he is amply criticized
by the speaker, who takes the position of the wise philosopher and morally
man'. Again it may be seen how Apuleius refers to various genres, high and low,
and easily shifts between them in order to achieve his rhetorical aim.
from one or two other scattered references to drama,
there is one other major section dealing with tragedy. It is a piece of literary
history concerning Sophocles.
poet Sophocles, the rival of Euripides, whom he also survived (for he became
extremely old), was accused by his son of insanity. It was alleged [start
p.36] that he was `out of his
mind' due to his age. Then, it is said, he took a copy of his Oedipus in
Colonus, that most excellent tragedy, which he happened to be writing at the
time. He read it aloud to the judges, without adding a word in his defence,
except that they should not hesitate to declare him `insane' if they disliked
the poem of an old man. At that point, so I read, all the judges rose for this
great poet and praised him highly for the skilful plot and the solemn style.
They all very nearly declared the accuser himself `insane'! (To the attendant:)
Have you found the book? Thank you very much! Well, let us see whether my
writings can help me too in court. Please read a few lines from the beginning
and then some lines about the fish. (To another attendant:) In the
meantime, while he is reading, please stop the waterclock.' (Apol. 37)
is a very interesting passage, not primarily for the information it contains,
which is attested in other sources too,
but for its functions in the speech. The narrative about the tragedy recited by
Sophocles functions as a break in the speech and is closely connected with
Apuleius' further aims. He literally compares himself with Sophocles, and points
to the parallel in their situations: both are unjustly sued on enormous charges
concerning property. Of course Apuleius also takes pride in his erudition here
and makes the audience share in it.
passage obviously attests Apuleius' knowledge of tragedy, but here too, the
context equally refers to many other forms of literature. The whole argument is
about... fish. Apuleius has been accused of searching fishes for magical
purposes, and as in the case of the mirror, be brings in everything he can to
broaden the horizon. Among the literary authorities he refers to are Homer,
Vergil, Pythagoras, Orpheus, and Laevius (c.30-32). He brings in medicine
(c.32), sexual vocabulary related to fish names (c.33), his own (lost) works as
a source for such names (c.34), some dangerous remarks involving cases of
sympathetic magic (c.35), culminating in a account about the zoological works of
Aristotle and others (c.36). The anecdote on Sophocles is inserted at a moment
when a court attendant leaves the floor to pick up a zoological volume of
Apuleius. On his return, some of the book is read,
followed by further biological particulars and a list of ominously sounding
Greek fish names (c.38), and as a surprising climax, a culinary poem about
luxury fishes by the famous Ennius (c.39), which represents the rather abstruse [start p.37] genre of gastronomical didactic poetry.
On account of the many verse inserts in the Apol., one might be tempted
to consider the speech as a Menippean satire on the lines of Petronius' Satyricon.
But it may equally be seen as a comedy,
a philosophical and scientific text, or a novelistic text.
within just a few pages, we see a complete panorama of ancient literature, Greek
and Latin, high and low, with all elements ultimately serving Apuleius' main
rhetorical purpose. All genres, as it were, have become material from which the
speaker can freely select and combine. I have now focussed on drama but a
fascinating, and possibly even richer field of study here would be the numerous
references in the Apology to epic, notably Homer and Vergil.
same phenomenon may be observed again and again: references to tragedy, epic and
other genres are made mostly in passing-by, and come in quite naturally in the
context of the argument of the speech as a whole. But as soon as one has started
concentrating upon such a genre, the attention is shifted to some other genre,
leaving readers with the impression that Apuleius' speech encompasses them all.
Genres are not literally confused, but the overall effect may be somewhat
confusing at least.
little drama in the Florida
passing on to the Met. some brief remarks may be added about the Florida
(Fl.). Being a collection of fragments, this work is certainly more
difficult to analyse in terms of genre or shifts of genre. Nonetheless, there
are some passages that seem relevant here too, if only because they have a
clearly theatrical connection.
first of these is Fl. 16, which is set in a theatre and deals with a
theatrical story, the tale of Philemon. One day, this Greek comic poet started a
of one of his plays, but had to postpone the last part, due to rain. Next day,
he was found dead.
paulisper qui introierant, perculsi tam inopinatae rei, tam formonsae mortis
miraculo. Dein regressi ad populum renuntiauere Philemonem poetam, qui
expectaretur, qui in theatro fictum argumentum finiret, iam domi [start p.38] ueram
fabulam consummasse; enimuero iam dixisse rebus humanis ualere et plaudere, suis
uero familiaribus dolere et plangere; hesternum illi imbrem lacrimas auspicasse;
comoediam eius prius ad funebrem facem quam ad nubtialem uenisse; proin, quoniam
poeta optimus personam uitae deposuerit, recta de auditorio eius exequias
eundum, legenda eius esse nunc ossa, mox carmina.
(Fl. 16,16-18) >Those
who had entered stood still awhile, struck with wonder at so unexpected an
event, so beautiful a death. They then returned to the people and announced that
the poet Philemon, who was expected to finish his fictious plot in the theatre,
had concluded the real story at home. He had said "farewell and
applaud" to human affairs but "lament and wail" to his friends.
That shower yesterday had been an omen of tears; his comedy reached the funereal
torch before the wedding torch. And that since this excellent poet had laid
aside his role in life, everyone should go to his funeral straight from the
auditorium; and that his bones should now be collected, and then his poems.'
is expecting a comedy, which has, in fact, begun the day before. But the
dramatical fiction changes into a reality: instead of a fictional play on stage,
Philemon performs a real story at home. He says valete et plaudite to
human affairs, in a typical turn from comedy,
but he also says dolete et plangite to his family, in a turn which seems
coined for the occasion. The many references to tears, grief and death make us
realize that comedy has turned into tragedy,
for this surely cannot be called a happy end.
we may note the many genres that are present in the context: these words reflect
a speech or, possibly, `messenger report', and the whole tale is next taken by
Apuleius as an exemplum in his epideictic speech with its his
gratulatory, laudatory, and self-laudatory purposes. One may also note another
instance of scientific, medical details (Fl. 16,20-22).
second passage from the Florida to which I would like to refer is Fl.
2, Apuleius' elaborate description of the majesty of the eagle. In this case
too, one may properly ask what sort of text the passage really is. It is, of
course, a speech, as the inclusion in the Florida makes clear. But many
things happen in it. It starts making a point about Socrates, which more or less
automatically strikes a philosophical note: >one
must not judge people by looking with the eyes of the [start
p.39] body, but by means of the sharpness of the mind.' For this, Apuleius
quotes a line of Plautus, that is: from comedy, funnily suggesting that Socrates
had rewritten it. Next, the notion that the eyes would prevail brings in higher
genre notes: quodam modo caecutimus (2,6) we are, in a way, blind (a
notion widely present in tragedy), and we humans cannot see far, because of a
cloud hanging before our face, limiting our view intra lapidis iactum
(2,7). This is, of course, full-blown epic.
rest of the passage is a description of the lofty flight of the eagle, which
continues the epic notes, with points reminding of tragedy, notably the nautic
image of flying as `rowing' (2,10), ultimately going back to Aeschylus,
but here phrased in Lucretian terms.
In the end, we do not know very clearly what genre we are in: rhetoric,
philosophy, drama, didactic poetry, or epic. The clear boundaries between these
genres seem to be fading.
judicial speech in the novel
turned tragedy', and 'philosophy turned epic' I now jump desultoria scientia
(cf. Met. 1,1) to 'a
court in the novel',
more specifically, the famous scene where Lucius stands trial in the context of
what turns out to be the festival of Risus, the first major section of book 3.
the opening of book 3 we see how Lucius feels at a loss: surely he cannot escape
condemnation in a trial for the three murders he has committed. Then all of a
sudden people start shouting that the trial must take place in a theatre, and
Lucius is dragged along as a hostia and put in the orchestra (end
of c.2). This is surely a first clear signal of the genre confusion we are about
in the theatrical surroundings, the trial is presented in >judicial'
terms: after an erudite periphrasis for the well-known waterclock (c.3,
beginning), an old man stands up and presents an accusation [start
p.40] quite according to the rules of the genre: an address to the audience,
followed by a claim of personal integrity, a narratio, and an appeal to
first only cries but then manages to utter his defence, which starts no less
according to the rules (c.4-5): an attempt to make the audience docilem,
followed by the start of a narratio. But then something interesting
happens: he starts to give the alleged words of one of the robbers in direct
pueri, quam maribus animis et uiribus alacribus dormientes adgrediamur. Omnis
cunctatio ignauia omnis facessat e pectore; stricto mucrone per totam domum
caedes ambulet. Qui sopitus iacebit, trucidetur; qui repugnare temptauerit,
feriatur. Sic salui recedemus, si saluum in domo neminem reliquerimus."
(Met. 3,5) >"Come
on, lads, let's attack them, while they sleep, with all our manly spirit and
ready vigour. Away with all feelings of hesitation and cowardice! Let slaughter
stalk with drawn sword throughout the house. Let's cut down those who lie
sleeping, and run through those who try to resist. We shall make good our
retreat unscathed only if we leave no one in the house unscathed."'
words themselves have a rather heroic and military colour: the robber uses
rather elevated language indeed, but it may be observed that most characters in
Apuleius' novel use a similar style.
But the fact that it is direct speech is noteworthy, for this is most unusual
indeed within a judicial speech. It would be customary to refer to other
people's words indirectly only. So here we see, as it were, typical elements of
narrative or historiography merging into judicial speech.
course, the speech by Lucius is entirely fictitious, for he presents his case as
a right cause against injustice, quite unlike how his bad conscience had shown
it to be in c.1-2. So in this respect too, one might point to elements of
fiction merging into the speech, but this might be seen as >normal'
we see Lucius crying again (c.7) and beseeching the audience to believe him.
This then appears to be a role, for Lucius stops when he thinks the
effect has been sufficient. The reaction is strange: people are roaring with
laughter, as if it were a comedy or a farce, to the indignation of Lucius, who
is apparently starting to believe his own heroic fiction. [start p.41] He expresses this in a short speech to himself, a
technique which seems an echo of tragedy or Ovid's Metamorphoses
rather than rhetoric or other forms of prose.
there follow speeches by an old woman, appealing for compassion for her three
killed darlings, and a magistrate, pleading for severe measures (c.8-9). Here
the context seems firmly judicial again, even with references to torture
instruments at the beginning of c.9.
But then Lucius is asked to uncover the dead bodies himself, a procedure unheard
of in court, and clearly recalling a scene in tragedy, where Aegisthus is made
to unveil the corpse of Clytaemnestra, which he thinks is Orestes.
What follows, after some pathetic exclamations by Lucius, is like the solution
in a comedy: the corpses appear to be wine-skins. Notes of comedy are, again,
strong. Everybody starts laughing and leaves the theatre, as if the show is
is struck with amazement, and is comforted by Milo. In c.11 he is soothed and
calmed by a magistrate with a very polite and complimentary speech, much as we
know them from Apuleius' own Florida, and Lucius answers in similar vein,
even politely refusing a statue. It is really as if we are in the epideictic
sphere of the Florida.
a further confusing note, next Lucius answers to his aunt Byrrhena, declining
her dinner invitation. He does so in the form of a small speech. Or is it a
letter he is dictating to the messenger? With Lucius, we may well feel quite
confused: inpos animi stupebam (c.12). Matters are not really clarified
later on, when Photis explains to Lucius what has happened. In an atmosphere of
magic and sorcery she gradually uncovers the mystery, comparing Lucius to Ajax
killing animals (c.18). In his answer, Lucius compares himself to Hercules and
his deeds, in a clear echo of tragedy and epic, but immediately changes his tone
to that of elegy, in a flattering address of the adorable Fotis (c.19) in openly
elegiac terms, to which she replies with religious language (>keep
this secret'), and with the erotic language of the body, as they start making
question comes up: what is it we have been reading? Was it a judicial account
with speeches? Or an epic fiction extolling rather meagre facts, first
interpreted as a crime, but turning out to be a comedy? Or is the key element
that of private speeches in the epideictic genre? What [start
p.42] was Lucius' performance in the Risus Festival anyway: a theatrical
show? A religious ceremony? A carnival in which the rich and famous may be made
Was there a real crime or not? On all of these points, readers are left in great
doubt. More than any other scene, this passage about the Risus festival shows
how all genres get confused into something really new.
is, perhaps, unwise to analyse the text as I have done until now. Apuleius' book
clearly cannot be fully understood by means of definitions of genre in the
traditional way. But the work clearly brings in all of ancient literature we
know (there may be much that we do not know) and plays with everything.
much of this can also be observed in Petronius, one might assume that it is a
characteristic of the Roman novel as such: parodying, varying and deliberately
confusing all genres. In that way, the confusion of genre has become a specific
genre convention of the novel by itself.
For an English version of Apuleius' speeches see: S.J.
Harrison [a.o.], Apuleius, Rhetorical works, translated by
S.J. Harrison, J.L. Hilton and V.J.C. Hunink, Oxford 2001.
Cf. Vincent Hunink, `Comedy in Apuleius' Apology', in: Groningen
Colloquia on the Novel 9, 1998, 97-113.
Translation Vincent Hunink, in: S.J. Harrison [a.o.], Apuleius,
Rhetorical works, translated by S.J. Harrison, J.L. Hilton and V.J.C.
Hunink, Oxford 2001. All following translations from the Apology are
also from this edition.
In this period, tragic subjects were usually no longer dealt with in
traditional tragedies but in fabulae salticae, ballet-like
mythological narratives performed by a pantomime dancer, who was accompanied
by a choir.
Notice saltas, a clear reference to the way these roles were staged:
by means of a sort of pantomime.
Cf. Apol. 30,11 ex comoediis et tragoediis graecis et ex historiis...;
and Apol. 79,1 An sola Phaedra falsum epistolium de amore commenta
est? We may observe that the latter quotation is a fairly
uncomplimentary reference to Apuleius' own wife.
The story about Sophocles is told in other sources as well, although with
minor differences. Cf. Vita Soph. 13; Cic. Sen. 22; Plut. Mor.
785 a-b (who even gives the lines allegedly read in court: OC
668-73); Ps.Lucian. Macr. 24; Athen. 12, 510 b; Charisius, GLK 1,
p.215; for the different versions of the anecdote cf. P. Mazon, 'Sophocle
devant les juges', REA 47, 1945, 82-96 and Powell on Cic. Sen.
Regrettably, the quotation has not been preserved.
Cf. also Vincent Hunink, 'The
fish catalogue in Ausonius' Mosella. Literary backgrounds of Mos.
75-149', in: A.P. Orbán, M.G.M. van der Poel (edd.), Ad litteras. Latin
studies in honour of J.H. Brouwers, Nijmegen 2001, 163-176.
The Met. contains hardly any poetical inserts, with the notable
exception of the oracular text in 4,32.
Cf. Klaus Sallmann, 'Erzählendes in der Apologie des Apuleius, oder:
Argumentation als Unterhaltung', in: Groningen Colloquia on the Novel
6, Groningen 1995, 137-58.
To mention one thing, opponents are easily compared with Vergilian figures
such as Charon or Mezentius (both in 56,7), or Homeric heroes such as
Odysseus (57,4, ironical).
A curious anachronism, for such recitation is unattested in Philemon's days,
and is typical for Apuleius' own days.
Translation John Hilton in: S.J.
Harrison [a.o.], Apuleius, Rhetorical works, translated by
S.J. Harrison, J.L. Hilton and V.J.C. Hunink, Oxford 2001. Subsequent
translations from the Florida are also from this edition.
Cf. e.g. Pl. Men. 1162 nunc, spectatores, ualete et nobis clare
plaudite; Per. 858; Truc. 968; further Ter. Eu.
1094 ualete et plaudite; Hau. 1067; and Ph. 1055;
further Hor. Ars 155. In the present text the words are fittingly
ascribed to Philemon as his last words, directed to `human affairs' in
general, and so they continue the metaphor of life as a play. Cf. a similar
use in Cic. Sen. 70 neque sapientibus usque ad
"plaudite" ueniendum est.
For other references to tragedy in the Fl., see 17,8; 18,4; and 18,6.
Apuleius clearly refers to a famous passage in Iliad 3,10-12 and to
Verg. Aen. 11,608 intra iactum teli.
Cf. DRN 6,743 remigi oblitae pennarum uela remittunt. There
are several other clear echoes in Fl. 2 to Lucretius: cf. the
tranquil abode of the Gods in DRN 3,19-22 quas neque concutiunt
uenti nec nubila nimbis / aspergunt neque nix acri concreta pruina / cana
cadens uiolat semperque innubilus aether / integit et large diffuso lumine
ridet; cf. further the distinction between fulgur and fulmen
in DRN 6, 160-218 and 219-422.
Translation P.G. Walsh: P.G. Walsh, Apuleius, The Golden Ass,
translated with Introduction and Explanatory Notes, Oxford 1994, p.42.
In this, the Met. are markedly different from Petronius' Satyricon,
where characters use different, and often lower, styles of language, often
in accordance with their social status or characterisation. One may think of
the freedmen talking at Trimalchio's dinner, whose speeches are an important
source for our knowledge of Vulgar Latin. Cf. e.g. B. Boyce, The language
of the freedmen in Petronius' Cena Trimalchionis, Leiden 1991.
To mention one example, one may think of Medea's long speech to herself in
Ov. Met. 7,11-71.
A somewhat confusing element, since Lucius, a freeborn citizen, certainly
could be put to torture.
Sophocles, Electra 1470-82. I owe the reference to Dr. Stephen
Many other suggestions have been made. Recently, Stavros Frangoulidis argued
for the view that the scene represents a kind of integration rite enachted
in the theatre. See: Stavros Frangoulidis, 'The
Laughter Festival as a Community Integration Rite in Apuleius' Metamorphoses',
in: Ancient Narrative Supplementa 1, 2002.
Walsh (1994), XXIX mentions the scene (along with the Phaedra episode in
10,7ff. and another parody, outside court in 7,27) as an example of >literary
parody', for which lawcourts offer an opportunity, a literary device also
figuring prominently in the Greek romances. I would suggest, however, that
Apuleius' aims go somewhat further than >parody'
of one genre. It is the deliberate confusion of all genres that
strikes the eye.