Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.12.14

Juan Martos, Apuleyo, Las metamorfosis o el asino de oro. Introducción, texto Latino, traducción y notas. Vol. I (libros 1-3); vol. II (libros 4-11).   Madrid:  Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2003.  Pp. 226.  ISBN 84-00-08187-0.  

Reviewed by Vincent Hunink, Radboud University Nijmegen (
Word count: 1037 words

With the ever growing scholarly interest in the Roman novelists (Petronius and Apuleius), the need of modern critical editions of their texts is clearly felt. For Petronius, we have the edition of Konrad Mueller in the Teubner series (revised edition 1995), but for Apuleius, scholars mainly have to rely on older editions of the whole work, notably by Helm (early 20th century) and Robertson in the Budé series (mid 20th century). The edition by J. Hanson in the Loeb Classical Library (1989), useful as it is, cannot be considered critical. Given the amount of work on Apuleius that has been done in past decades, a new edition of the Metamorphoses is now a desideratum. Work has started on a new critical edition for the Oxford Classical Texts by Dr. Maaike Zimmerman, but it will take several years before the book will be completed.

Meanwhile, Juan Martos has published a fine Spanish version of the Metamorphoses, with a critical Latin text, a long introduction and translation, all richly equipped with notes. The edition is a joy to see and handle: it is beautifully edited in two stately volumes, printed on fine paper and has excellent typography. Martos presents readers with very full material, based on sound research of the text. The publication meets high standards and merits a wide distribution, outside the Spanish-speaking world.

Volume one contains a long introduction (155 pages, with 484 footnotes) that deals with just about every theme one might expect: Apuleius' life, his works, the Metamorphoses, Apuleius' afterlife, and the text of the Metamorphoses. A very good and helpful bibliography and an appendix on the so called spurcum additamentum (an obscene passage inserted in some MSS after 10,21, generally considered to be unauthentic, a conclusion also endorsed by Martos) conclude this part of the book.

The introductory section on the Metamorphoses deals with its number of books (11), the question of its title (Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass), the date of composition, its genre and sources, the relation between the novel and other works by Apuleius, the tale of Cupid and Psyche, the inserted tales and the unity of the novel, the influence of Plato, literary allusions, the protagonist Lucius, narrative technique, the general interpretation, and finally, Apuleius' language. In every paragraph, Martos scrupulously lists current views and discussions, mostly supporting generally accepted positions and avoiding speculation, even if this leaves the analysis of some important matters without a clear conclusion, e.g., the question of its date of composition. In short, Martos faithfully records the present state of research and does not claim to do more than that. This makes his introduction a useful and well-balanced (but inevitably also rather unexciting) guide, especially for those approaching the novel or a specific aspect of its text for the first time.

The introductory section on the text gives a detailed account of the manuscript tradition of the novel and of early editions. Martos' own position is made very clear: he has not only relied upon the editions of Helm, Giarratano and Robertson for their collations of the MSS, but he has also consulted copies of the most important MSS (F and φ). Wherever possible, he defends the traditional reading of F, even where it produces Latin that is somehow different from classical standards. Present day insights into Apuleius' remarkable language have shown that many readings which were once corrected and normalized may in fact be closer to Apuleius' original text than earlier generations of scholars thought possible, and should therefore be retained in critical editions. This is true for most orthographical variants as well.

The principle of defending F is certainly not new. It has been the leading practice in the successive volumes of the Groningen Commentaries on Apuleius (GCA, 1973-2004), of which the last, long-awaited volume on 'Cupid and Psyche' was recently published (M. Zimmerman and others, Apuleius Metamorphoses IV,28-35, V and V,1-24, text, introduction and commentary, Groningen 2004). But Martos has carried the principle far indeed. As he puts it himself: 'El texto resultante es probablemente uno de los más conservadores que se hayan publicado jamás' (p. C). In many cases, Martos' readings match those defended in GCA, although not always so. Occasionally, he prints readings other than those of F, while GCA sticks to F.

From the opening scenes of 'Cupid and Psyche', I noted 4,28,3 primore ς (GCA: priore F); 4,30,3 usurpabit ς (GCA: usurpauit F); 5,1,6 ualuae φ2 (GCA: balneae F after corr.); and 5,18,2 at haec (Beroaldus) (GCA: at haec F). However, as a rule, Martos and GCA agree rather than disagree. For many readers the differences may well be too small to deserve much attention.

My command of Spanish does not allow me to give anything but a superficial judgment of the quality of the translation. But as far as I can see, it is in fairly neutral prose that does not attempt to reproduce the verbal pyrotechnics of the man of Madauros but rather wishes to provide a clear rendering of the Latin. It helps the reader to study the original texts, like Hanson's English in the Loeb edition. It is perhaps significant that Martos discusses the aims pursued in the added footnotes (p. CI), but hardly says a word on his methods and aims as a translator.

The footnotes accompanying the Spanish translation are numerous (283 for the first three books only, an average of more than three notes per chapter). Martos claims that they serve merely to explain the text and to provide a help for readers, and indeed most of them are short and to the point. However, references to secondary literature are not missing here, and so the notes may also be said to initiate readers into issues of scholarly discussion. A succinct index locorum comes at the end of volume 2, most names having been explained in the footnotes.

This Spanish Metamorphoses has many qualities that would seem to earn greater international attention than Spanish publications in the field of classics usually get. The edition provides a sound basis for further study of Apuleius' fascinating, never-ending novel. Martos' strongest points are, without doubt, his 'conservative' Latin text, the ample documentation in his introduction and footnotes, and the splendid design of the volumes.

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