Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.08.33

Ahuvia Kahane, Andrew Laird, A Companion to the Prologue of Apuleius' Metamorphoses.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001.  Pp. xv, 325.  ISBN 0-19-815238-8.  £50.00.  

Reviewed by Wytse Keulen, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (
Word count: 3240 words

In February 1996, a colloquium was held in Oxford that was entirely dedicated to the first 119 words of Apuleius' Metamorphoses, the programmatic statement of the novel's Prologue. Now, a beautifully produced Oxford volume has appeared, which contains twenty-four contributions on this topic, commissioned by internationally known specialists. The volume is dedicated to the memory of Don Fowler, who was one of the participants in the 1996 colloquium. The essays deal with various issues concerned with this enigmatic text, ranging from philosophy and cultural history to intertextuality and Latinity. Some of the contributors are already well known as Apuleian scholars; others bring a fresh approach to the discussion from the fields they are usually working in. The essays are clearly divided into nine thematic sections: Language and Latinity; Cultural Contexts; Intertexts; Topography; Literary History; Identity and Stability; Dialogue and Reader; Voice and Writing; Narrative and Prologue. The volume is closed by an 'Envoi'. The first section conveniently opens with a new text and translation of the Prologue, with an accompanying textual commentary (Harrison-Winterbottom). Apart from the thematic sections, three Indices provide additional tools for the readers to find their way through the volume: an Index Prologi Verborum et Locutionum indicates all the pages on which one can find anything about any segment of the Prologue. Not surprisingly, the largest number of pages is mentioned in connection with the segment quis ille, relating to the much-debated question of the identity of the Prologue-speaker. An index locorum gives a picture of the intertextual range covered in this volume, and finally, a general index provides a guide to further themes that recur in the essays, such as 'imagery', 'reader', and 'genre'.

In the Introduction, the editors deal with the question of why a whole collection of essays is dedicated to just one page of Latin, pointing out the enigmatic, complex nature of this prefatory passage and its programmatic character with regard to the novel as a whole. They describe the volume as a 'handbook', a uariorum which combines the broader perspectives of an interdisciplinary anthology with the closer focus of a traditional commentary. The idea behind the volume seems to be that the programmatic nature of the Prologue reaches far beyond the text that it heralds. Along similar lines, the 'Envoi' at the end of the volume suggests that the Prologue 'might ... serve as a useful talisman for readers of any place or time, alerting them to the dangers and pleasures contained in every text'. The collection is truly a uariorum, containing a broad spectrum of interests and erudition with which the contributors aim to highlight the Apuleian text. In spite of the great efforts made by the editors in the form of division into sections, cross-references, and elaborate indices, one cannot avoid the impression that the only coherence displayed by this collection of essays is the fact that they all deal with the Apuleian Prologue.

With the exception of the stimulating pieces by Anton Bitel ('Fiction and History in Apuleius' Milesian Prologue'), and Ken Dowden ('Prologic, Predecessors, and Prohibitions'), there is little attention to the significance of Roman rhetoric in this volume. Although recent studies stress the important role of rhetorical theory and practice in Roman literature,1 this remains hitherto a fairly neglected field in Apuleian research. We have, however, an important article that analyses the Prologue against the background of Roman rhetorical concepts, Harrauer-Römer 1985,2 which is unfortunately left unmentioned in the long bibliography at the end of this volume.

In the following, I will briefly summarise and sometimes discuss the content of each article, moving from section to section. In the first section, 'Language and Latinity', we find the text, translation and commentary by Harrison and Winterbottom mentioned above. Harrison-Winterbottom convincingly return to the punctuation found in older editions by placing a full stop after inspicere (1.1.1), and making the second sentence begin with Figuras fortunasque and end with exordior. Since Helm, all standard editions print a full stop after mireris, and print exordior as a one-word-sentence. Harrison-Winterbottom demonstrate with parallels that Figuras fortunasque should be object of exordior. Their piece is followed by a detailed analysis of the prose rhythm of the Prologue by R.G.M. Nisbet. The third contribution in this section, by J. Powell, deals with some idiosyncratic features of the language in the Prologue. Powell interestingly suggests that the mixture of stylistic peculiarities (colloquialisms, archaisms) may function to characterise the first person narrator as a non-native speaker of Latin.

In the section 'Cultural Contexts', Michael B. Trapp discusses the Prologue's promise of entertainment and delight against the background of Platonic notions (viz. in Gorgias and Phaedrus) of flattery and gratification as marks of inferior, irresponsible communication, drawing a contrast between trivial hedonistic discourse and the truly beneficial discourse of the philosopher. The speaker of the Prologue, Trapp argues, seems to present himself as the kind of person the philosophers warn one against, but at the same time invites his audience to embrace his flattering discourse, characterised by a sustained emphasis on versatility and mutability. In 'Reflections on the African Character of Apuleius', Mark J. Edwards compares Apuleius to some other Roman writers from Africa, such as Fronto, Minucius Felix, and Tertullian, pointing out that Apuleius, like his fellow-Africans, is distinguished by his bilingualism. I am not able to see, however, a reference to Apuleius' own African background in Aegyptiam (cf. also K. Clarke, p. 102; D. Innes p. 112; Carver p. 164 points out that this suggestion was already made by Hildebrand in 1842). Nor am I inclined to believe that the Prologue 'hints that it is now the turn of Africa to emulate the victories of Greece' (p. 50 f.). In a stimulating article ('The Hiding Author: Context and Implication'), Simon Swain also investigates the themes of bilingualism and biculturalism. He compares the omission of the Prologue speaker's name with a similar technique of the historiographer Arrian. Swain also focuses on the emphasis on the Greek background of the speaker, pointing out that Romans by their mastery of Greek culture and language defined their own cultural superiority over the Greeks. Romans, however, had ambiguous feelings toward Greek cultural influence. Drawing the attention to the "difficult relationship between Latin literature and its 'foster-parent'" (p. 63), the Prologue speaker seems to take into account the Roman perspective, apologising for his Greek cultural background.

In the section 'Intertexts', Bruce Gibson points out the contrast between speech and writing in the Prologue (as do many other contributions, e.g. in the section 'Voice and Writing'), but also finds auditory and musical references in the phrase argutia ... calami. Although there are indeed passages in which argutia is used in an auditory context, and although calamus elsewhere indeed means 'reedpipe', I find it difficult to see how a papyrum Aegyptiam argutia Nilotici calami inscriptam could refer to sound. This would confuse the important contrast between sound and writing pointed out by the author; moreover, inspicere unambiguously refers to reading, not hearing. Gibson continues with a very interesting parallel between Apuleius' Prologue and the opening of Theocritus' Idyll 7, with regard to the postponing of the first person speaker's identity and the confused identities of the first person speaker and the author. Emily Gowers ('Apuleius and Persius') points out interesting connections between Apuleius and the satirist Persius. Although it seems hard to prove that Apuleius makes direct allusions to Persius, and although I am not sure whether the Prologue can be interpreted as 'a direct inversion of Persius' style of therapy', Gowers convincingly demonstrates that both authors employ similar themes and motifs in their work, such as 'the ass's ears', and the 'split personality' of the author/narrator. The article contributes to a relatively unexplored field in Apuleian studies, viz. the connections between the Met. and Roman Satire.3 Moving beyond the Prologue, Warren S. Smith deals with some fascinating parallels between the Met. and the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, with regard to themes like conversion and metamorphosis, and the combination of entertaining elements related to amazement and stupefaction with the conveying of a religious message.

In the section 'Topography', Katherine Clarke ('Prologue and Provenance: Quis ille? or Unde ille?') and Doreen Innes ('Why Isthmos Ephyrea?') examine in detail the various geographical references in the Prologue. Clarke compares the notion of writing in a foreign language with similar practice in Hellenistic regional accounts. Scholars generally agree that the elaborate description of Greece (Hymettos Attica et Isthmos Ephyrea et Taenaros Spartiaca) as the speaker's pedigree (uetus prosapia) should be read as a reference to the past literary glory of Greece, which forms the background of the present book. Innes rightly demonstrates the Greek sound-effects in the elaborate description of Greece and points out the resonance of an epic catalogue of names; she adds interesting comments from ancient literary critics (Demetrius, Cicero) on the function of series of geographical names to give grandeur and dignity. She convincingly argues that Apuleius 'conspicuously displays his full gamut of style'. Thus, he immediately puts the promise of pleasuring the ears with a lepidus susurrus into practice.

More problematic, in my opinion, are supposed links between the single geographical references in the Prologue and those in the narrative. Does the reference to Isthmos Ephyrea prefigure in any sense the references to Corinth in Lucius' story? Perhaps sometimes too many enigmas are read into the Prologue, with reference to the geographical indications too (in this respect, we may perhaps learn something from the humanist interpretations of Apuleius; see below on the contribution by Carver).

In the section 'Literary History', the focus is on questions of genre. Ken Dowden's article ('Prologic, Predecessors, and Prohibitions') forms by its eloquence alone an apt illustration of the 'fiktive Mündlichkeit' for which our Prologue is famous: reading his paper, one gets the impression that Dowden is personally present, engaging his audience with his lively speech. Dowden formulates two prohibitions that rightly call into question some persistent views in Apuleian studies, viz. the supposed existence of a genre of 'Milesian Tales', and the tendency to give the speaker of the Prologue one particular identity to the exclusion of others. His discussion of 'rudis locutor' shows that the apology for 'rude locution' stands in a literary tradition (he compares e.g. Lucretius 1,137-40) which draws attention to the difficulty of transposing Greek material into Latin. At the end of his piece, there is a very useful appendix that offers a detailed comparison of the Apuleian Prologue with the prologues of Plautus. In a richly documented paper, Anton Bitel demonstrates how the Prologue patently introduces the Metamorphoses as a work of fiction, underpinned by the rhetorical term 'fabula' for implausible fiction (uarias fabulas, fabula Graecanica; see also Morgan in this section [p. 155] for a comparison with Achilles Tatius' use of the corresponding Greek rhetorical term muthos). Bitel rightly points out that the speaker of the Prologue announces the narration of plain fiction (cf. also sermo Milesius), whereas the first person narrator after the Prologue refers to his narrative as if it were his own autobiography. Bitel aptly compares Lucian's Verae Historiae, where the first person narrator in the prologue announces pure lies but keeps up the appearance of autobiography as soon as the narrative begins (for the comparison see also Morgan, p. 154). However, I found the second part of Bitel's piece less convincing, where he argues that the Prologue is not only a programmatic statement of plain fiction but also announces 'oral history', in view of a supposed intertextual link with the Milesian historiographer Hecataeus. In his comparison of the Apuleian Prologue with the prologues from the extant Greek novels, John Morgan demonstrates that they have very little in common, and that their divergences may underline the specific form and function of the Apuleian Prologue. Morgan compares the opening sentence at ego tibi, which evokes storytelling in a dialogue situation, with the situation at the beginning of the Lucianic Erotes, from which we learn that Aristides in the Milesiaka also had a double role as both audience and narrator of enchanting stories. Morgan points out that this comparison may illuminate the emphatic position of at ego tibi, which implies a previous storytelling tu mihi. Robert Carver offers a list of fascinating responses of medieval and Renaissance readers to the Prologue. Some of them are clearly outdated: most of these readers failed to distinguish between the author Apuleius and the fictional 'I' in the text. Other responses are certainly worth reconsidering, for example Battista Pio's contention that papyrum Aegyptiam expresses a 'voluptuous and licentious mode of discourse' (p. 164 f.).

In my opinion, the fact that Beroaldus makes no interpretative link between Taenaros in the Prologue and Psyche's katabasis (6.18-20) -- where Taenaros is again mentioned, but there as the entrance to the Underworld -- or between Isthmos Ephyrea and Lucius' probable place of origin Corinth may teach modern readers that we sometimes go too far in our hermeneutic interpretations of the Prologue. An extreme example of such a hermeneutic interpretation can be found in the contribution by Laird (p. 278 f.), who suggests that Taenaros Spartiaca indicates the final death of the narrator.

In the section 'Identity and Stability', Yun Lee Too ('Losing the Author's Voice: Cultural and Personal Identities in the Metamorphoses Prologue) deals with the Prologue's rhetoric of unstable identity. She compares the impossibility of imposing a fixed identity on the Prologue speaker with other questions of identity raised by the text, viz. with regard to ambiguous characters like Cupid and Psyche. Although I had great difficulty in following the idiosyncratic style of John Henderson's article, 'In ya (Pre)face', his contribution contains some intriguing observations, such as his interpretation of ipsa uocis immutatio as a 'rhetoric of mutation' (p. 188), about which I would like to learn more. Henderson also discusses a re-interpretation of the identity of the Prologue speaker in connection with the final chapters of the novel, where we hear the voice of the Isiac initiate.

In the next section ('Dialogue and Reader'): Irene de Jong ('The Prologue as a Pseudo-Dialogue and the Identity of its (Main) Speaker') points to the (abruptly opening) Platonic dialogue as an important literary influence on the Prologue, which has the form of a pseudo-dialogue between the narrator/fictive author (ego) and the narratee/fictive reader (tibi). De Jong argues that the Prologue speaker must be Lucius as narrator, adducing other metanarrative or self-reflexive passages where it is suggested that Lucius will enjoy literary fame (2,12; 6,29).4 Niall Slater explores the 'Horizons of Reading' against which the Roman reader would have approached the Prologue, including a discussion of paratextual elements such as the form of the book, the title, and the name of the author, followed by a linear reading of the Prologue that seeks to recreate the experience of first reading by a contemporary reader.

In the section 'Voice and Writing', the contribution by the late Don Fowler ('Writing with Style: The Prologue to Apuleius' Metamorphoses between Fingierte Mündlichkeit and Textuality') deals with the sophisticated combination of a suggested physical presence of a speaker and audience on the one hand, and an emphasis on the act of writing and reading on the other hand. Fowler compares the Prologue to later passages in Apuleius' novel that involve a similar disjunction between assumed orality and actual written reception (e. g. 6.25; 6.29; 8.1). According to Ahuvia Kahane ('Antiquity's Future: Writing, Speech, and Representation in the Prologue to Apuleius' Metamorphoses'), this disjunction, or 'representational paradox', is an indication of the anachronistic nature of Apuleius' novel and may be more profitably explained by modern models of representation than by classical, Aristotelian (mimetic) ones. In fact, Kahane's article offers interesting reflections on the nature of literature and works of art in general. In his conclusion, he points out that the printed book of the Met. that we have in our hands today is actually a book from 'antiquity's future'. Viewed thus, the Prologue's range is far beyond the mere announcement of the story, and heralds a future of which the actual writer could have no knowledge at the time of writing.

The final section, 'Narrative and Prologue', is opened by Maaike Zimmerman ('Quis ille ... lector: Addressee(s) in the Prologue and throughout the Metamorphoses'), who turns an original focus on the 'tu', the Prologue speaker's communicative partner. To come to grips with the role of this 'You', Zimmerman compares the Prologue to later passages from the Met. where 'readers' are addressed or apostrophised. Moreover, she demonstrates how the divergent responses to tales and shows from fictional audiences within Apuleius' novel are illustrative of the spectrum of possible reader's reactions to the novel itself. Zimmerman concludes her article with a lexical discussion of inspicere, pointing out that Apuleius uses this verb frequently in the Apology, always with the connotation of scholarly enquiry and philosophical curiosity. Enjoying fiction appears to go hand in hand with careful, analytic reading. Paula James ('From Prologue to Story: Metaphor and Narrative Construction in the Opening of the Metamorphoses') investigates thematic resonances of the Prologue in the ensuing programmatic chapters of book One, such as the metaphor of horsemanship (desultoria scientia), the stroking of the (reader's/ horse's) ears, and storytelling in the form of a sophisticated conversation. Andrew Laird ('Paradox and Transcendence: the Prologue as The End') tries to tie the Prologue closer to the narrative it serves to introduce by reading it as the conclusion to the ensuing narrative. His reading of the Prologue starts from Benveniste's distinction between 'discourse' and 'narrative', which Laird roughly equates with the different connotations of the Latin terms sermo and fabula; the Prologue can be demonstrated to incorporate both forms of utterance. Laird's suggestion that a supposed resemblance of the Prologue's lapidary style to Roman funerary inscriptions (which he does not demonstrate in detail) points to the narrator's final death seems far-fetched to me -- I fail to see a (secondary) notion of death in 11, 30 gaudens obibam, as Laird suggests. Laird's comparison of the novel's Prologue and the epilogue (11, 30) is interesting, but the only connections that seem convincing to me are the mention of the speaker's rhetorical (legal) activities in the Roman Forum, and the mention of expected responses from a Roman audience to these sophisticated activities (compare especially the contrast 1, 1 aures ... beniuolas and 11, 30 maleuolorum disseminationes).

Given the broad spectrum of approaches in this volume, it is difficult for the reviewer to reach an overall conclusion. Most contributions were a pleasure to read, and I have learned a great deal from them. Indeed, the diversity of the approaches and backgrounds applied and the range of topics discussed in the various contributions make the volume interesting for a more general audience than those who merely want to gain a deeper understanding of the Prologue itself. As to the latter group of readers (those, I guess, who will be most interested in the volume), some of them may be disappointed to find little on Roman rhetorical theory or on ancient literary criticism. Some contributions move away from the Prologue and focus on rather general questions. The enigmatic nature of the Prologue appears often to be overemphasised, and some contributions make more effort to spot enigmas than to solve them. Still, there are many stimulating viewpoints put forward, which can prove fruitful for future research, and in many cases the 'non-Apuleian' contributors in particular bring fresh blood into the age-old debate about this puzzling text.


1.   See the collection of essays on the role of rhetoric in the various literary genres of Roman literature in W. J. Dominik (ed.), Roman Eloquence. Rhetoric in Society and Literature, London 1997.
2.   C. Harrauer, F. Römer, 'Beobachtungen zum Metamorphosen-Prolog des Apuleius', in Mnemosyne 38 (1985), 353-372.
3.   See e.g. W. S. Smith, "The satiric voice in the Roman novelistic tradition," in J. Knuf (ed.), Unity and Diversity. Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Narrative, University of Kentucky 1996, 309-317.
4.   On p. 205 n. 20, De Jong does not mention that in 1.5 all standard texts print Castiglioni's emendation qui sim: <Aristomenes sum> Aegiensis.

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