Louis Callebat’s magisterial Sermo cotidianus dans les Métamorphoses d’Apulée (Caen, 1968), as well as his papers on both Petronian and Apuleian subjects, served as a driving force behind the dramatic revival of interest in the Roman novel over the past several decades. His approach, as he emphasizes again in the brief preface to the present work, is essentially “formal” and “linguistic” (p. 11) — and this, given the extraordinary importance of language for these two authors, is precisely what renders C.’s work so fundamental for interpreting these endlessly fascinating and hugely enigmatic texts.
The book is a collection of previously-published studies on Petronius and Apuleius, but with a very French twist: the final section of about sixty pages (“II. Lectures critiques”) provides seven short text-based analyses, one on Petronius, the rest Apuleian — mostly sans footnotes or secondary references (other than citations of Latin literature); these are “explications de texte” in the grand French tradition. For each of the passages in question (up to about a page in length; all cited in full, and provided with C.’s translation), C. brings us, as it were, into his formal linguistic workshop (or into his graduate seminars) and demonstrates, via word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase commentary, exactly how his analytical technique causes new meanings to surface from these familiar passages. As generally with such productions, one must wade through accumulated observations, some of them banal, in order to reach the illuminating insight — at which point the parts do not always add up to more than the whole. Not surprisingly, there is little that is new in the longest of these “lectures” — and the only one to be provided with bibliographical annotations — on the celebrated Apuleian prologue, Met. 1.1. But C.’s juggling of the various parts, in this and in all of the other “lectures”, is stimulating nonetheless.
The remainder of the volume (section I., “Études”) reprints nine substantial articles (with original publication dates ranging from 1964 through 1998, and most pieces falling between 1978 and 1994), of which three concern Petronius, five Apuleius, and one the two novels in tandem. Although most of these pieces remain more or less readily accessible, at least in larger university collections, including the long programmatic center-piece “Formes et modes d’expressions dans les Métamorphoses” (pp. 123-179, originally published in ANRW II 34.2  1616-1664), others appeared in relatively out-of-the-way Festschriften, and we should in any case be grateful for this handy collection of C.’s recent work. Inevitably, there is a degree of repetition, as when C. returns on different occasions to the same pet forms or passages (sometimes, to be sure, viewed from slightly different angles); but this is a minor annoyance, more than offset by the utility of the whole, including the detailed index of names and subjects. Lector intende: laetaberis!