BMCR 2001.09.04

Apuleius: Metamorphoses, Book I

, , The metamorphoses. Book 1 : Latin text, notes, vocabulary. Wauconda: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2000. xx, 105 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 0865164843. $15.00.

Not all instructors of intermediate Latin courses will want to give Apuleius to their students. He is sometimes difficult, often idiosyncratic, patently in love with colloquialisms and archaisms, fond of the grotesque, post-classical in language, and (problematically for some) morally questionable. On the other hand some of those same qualities might well recommend him for the modern classroom1 and many of them are shared by other authors more commonly read. It is also easy to exaggerate the difficulty of his Latin. Those who feel that Apuleius would make a good addition to their lineup will want to look carefully at James S. Ruebel’s new edition of the first book of the Metamorphoses. In the hands of a forewarned and knowledgeable teacher this attractively produced and reasonably priced textbook could prove a satisfactory vehicle for bringing this engaging author before a larger audience of undergraduates, but only if that instructor is willing and able to put up with its irregularities and a seriously deficient glossary.

The volume contains a foreword by Stephen Nimis, a brief introduction to Apuleius and the Metamorphoses, the Latin text of Book 1 with notes at the bottom of each page, a bibliography, and a glossary. Nimis’ discussion is the first thing students will see upon opening the book, but it is the last thing they should read. This is not because the foreword is of low quality—by contrast, it is a sophisticated essay on the nature of the Golden Ass and the place of the first book within the whole, ranging over many important interpretive positions and treating them admirably in a limited space. And while this is, for instance, the only place one will read at any length about the Greek Onos in this book, on the whole much of the material will probably be lost on those who have not already read the first book or at least the prologue. Even then some students will be lost with visions of Bakhtin, “hermeneutic playfulness,” “existential crises,” and the like dancing in their heads; but students will gain much from it, especially if given some guidance, and I can see it easily gaining wider circulation in the reading lists for courses on ancient fiction.

A better starting place for students will be Ruebel’s short introduction. In about three pages students will find a quick summary of what we know of Apuleius’ life, how we know it, a discussion of the title of the work, and a sketch of Apuleius’ style. This last is too brief, and an expansion of it might have prevented repetition in individual notes to the text. Ruebel then describes the principles that guide the construction of the textbook and especially the notes. These are commendable: notes are intended for students, not scholars; no single interpretive strategy is pursued in the notes; questions of the relationship of the text to other literary works are avoided as distracting; the text of Helm’s Teubneriana (2nd ed.) is used with only minor changes in punctuation and format (few angle or square brackets to confuse students); there is no apparatus, but “very full attention…to the most important places where editors have struggled with the text.”

The bibliography (to take things slightly out of order) is exemplary. It is very full and accurate, containing almost everything undergraduates are likely to require. It is also up-to-date, including S. Harrison’s recent volume (Oxford 2000). Its only limitation is that it deals only with works in English. This is not to be considered a fault in a work intended for intermediate level undergraduates. The bibliography is not annotated, but translations, editions and commentaries are listed separately from the more general entries.

In day-to-day usage students will rely on the text, the notes and the glossary, and it is the quality of these that will most count in an assessment of the textbook as a whole. The Latin text is, as far as I can determine, entirely free of errors. Ruebel’s reformatting of Helm’s text makes it quite readable for students and less intimidating for those not yet accustomed to the unbroken vista of large blocks of Latin.

The first page of the text contains only 16 Latin words (not counting the title), with notes taking up the bottom two-thirds of the page. While no other page contains quite so little Latin, the notes, set in two columns in a slightly smaller font than the text, consistently take up half or more of each page. Ruebel numbers each line of the Latin in his edition and refers to passages by chapter and line (e.g., 1.24 [line 499]), making it easy for students to find what they need. The notes cover syntax and vocabulary above all, though sections of the narrative are given brief introductions and the notes occasionally delve briefly into cultural or literary matters as well. The few typos and minor editorial inconsistencies in the notes should not cause any real problems.

The content of the notes is more difficult to characterize. Some of the material in them derives from the commentaries of A. Scobie (Meisenheim am Glan 1975) and M. Molt (Groningen 1938),2 but there is a great deal here for the student which the earlier commentators do not remark upon. Those familiar with Kenney’s Cupid and Psyche (Cambridge 1990) will find Ruebel’s notes pitched at a lower level and therefore more immediately helpful to inexperienced Latinists. There are a fair number of occasions, however, when Ruebel does not provide help with real difficulties. The opposite tendency, that of devoting attention to passages which require little explanation, is also apparent. Common vocabulary in familiar constructions is translated and identified in the notes, while stranger words and unusual syntax pass without comment. At the same time there is no doubt that Ruebel makes the text far more accessible than the scholarly commentaries or that many of his notes are right on target. Still, the overall impression which the notes leave is of inconsistency in purpose, detail, and method. I cannot think of any comparable textbook that is entirely free of such inconsistency, but I can think of several which contain much less of it.

While these sins of omission and commission are irritating, they are rarely debilitating in a setting with a diligent instructor, and to Ruebel’s credit sins of commission are rare. The more egregious examples include 1.3’s note to ” cedo tu sodes…fabulam remetire,” which tells students that ” cedo…governs the infinitive remetire” (Molt and Scobie both quite clearly label it an imperative), along with that to 1.12’s ” deserta vice Calypsonis,” which is translated (again in spite of Scobie and Molt’s quite clear comments ad loc.) in a note “by the abandoned lot of Calypso.” There are smaller slips: ” spiritum rebulliret” (1.13) does not mean “kept bubbling back his breath.” Rather, it describes Socrates’ single, and apparently final, bloody gurgle. But these lapses are not normal and it needs to be made clear that Ruebel’s commentary is generally of higher quality. When he has chosen to comment on something, his comments are usually accurate and helpful, and almost all of them will save some students some time. My complaint is that there is a lack of regularity as to what governs his decision. Perhaps there is simply so much to comment on in Apuleius that no two instructors could ever agree on everything worth annotating for students when space is limited. And, in fact, the notes that translate relatively simple words, phrases and whole clauses turn out to be a blessing in disguise because the glossary in the textbook is indisputably problematic.

Once again the principles laid out for it are exemplary: the glossary is to contain all the words in Book 1 and the meanings given are to be specific as regards the words’ usage in the book (p. 73). The standard disclaimer, that the glossary is “by no means a substitute for a good dictionary,” is given. Take it to heart. Despite the best of intentions, the glossary most certainly is not geared specifically and consistently to the text. Even a cursory examination of the translations provided in the notes to their counterparts in the glossary will reveal the discrepancies. The notes often provide an excellent and idiomatic translation where the glossary gives a generic rendering that is inappropriate or even incorrect for the context. Many students will not notice because they will never look in the glossary for a word that is translated for them at the bottom of the page. But what happens when there is no note?

In a nutshell: the introductory materials in this textbook are excellent; the text is spotless; the commentary has good and bad points, but the high points are higher than the low points are low, and the latter are remediable; the bibliography is all that one could ask; the glossary is execrable, and I cannot ever see the point of assigning this text to students who do not already own dictionaries. Those who do have dictionaries will find that the combination of Ruebel’s text and notes will allow them to get through the text relatively smoothly most of the time, though not always providing help with the most difficult problems or exploring the most interesting areas. This book can be recommended then, but only with caveats. A thoroughly revised glossary would strengthen that recommendation. Simply put, this edition is better than many others that are used in classrooms, but despite the time that obviously went into the project, the final product cannot to be ranked among the very best textbooks aimed at those just embarking on the study of “real” Latin.

I append below the endnotes a few examples of the uneven nature of the notes and a selection of difficulties from the glossary. I have then included an analysis of a two-page spread chosen at random from Ruebel’s textbook, pp. 24-25, covering the last third of 1.8 (beginning “‘ Oro te,’ inquam…”) and the bulk of 1.9. This should give interested parties with a text of Apuleius before them better insight into what I consider the strengths and weaknesses of the notes and glossary, as well as provide enough detail to allow readers to determine whether my expectations and tastes match their own. We all have likes and dislikes, idiosyncratic pet peeves, and so on, and I do not suggest that there would be room in a volume of this nature to satisfy us all.


1. Apuleius is undoubtedly interesting to students. When the review copy of the textbook arrived last term, I asked for volunteers from the intermediate and advanced Latin classes here at UNH to read through it with me and give their input. Despite what was essentially adding work to their already full schedules, several students came to twice-weekly meetings. Some had had exposure to Apuleius in translation and were eager to read him in Latin, some were drawn by the descriptions of Apuleius that I and their condiscipuli had provided them. I draw heavily upon their thoughtful comments and the core group of regular readers deserves mention by name: Jonathan Casad, Sean Dougherty, Christopher Hemann, and Timothy Surette. These four in particular drew my attention to issues that would not have occurred to me and often gave me cause to review opinions I had formed in a vacuum.

2. Ruebel did not make use of D. L. Layman’s commentary to the first book (diss. Stanford University 1939). This work is often useful where Scobie and Molt are not.

1. Concerning the textbook’s notes:

1.A few examples (in no particular order) of what I consider the unbalanced approach: From beginning to end “linking qui” is always pointed out to students in the notes and some equivalent given. So even on the penultimate page of the text students are alerted that ” quas = et has.” After seeing the construction at least a dozen times in the preceding pages and after having it pointed out every time, I should hope that the space could be saved for other topics. Apuleius’ pleonastic use of ” sibi” with reflexive adjectives, for instance, is much more peculiar, but it is not marked consistently. Syncopated verb forms are almost always identified in notes—but not ” exploraris” (p. 11), which is the very first one. An apparent unwillingness to delve into more obscure matters sometimes creates difficulties. Without an instructor’s input, for instance, many students will come away from this text believing that “supine” means “ablative of respect” (p. 11). What is worse is that the passage in question contains four (!) supines and I can imagine no better opportunity for allowing students to comprehend exactly what they are. But, while good remarks are made on issues such as conative imperfects, Greek accusatives, and antecedents being attracted into relative clauses, topics like verbal abstracts of the 4th declension, despite Apuleius’ fondness for them, are never really dealt with or are treated unevenly. The accusative ” captum,” which follows the ablative supines almost immediately is glossed, but not explained. On p. 19 ” unctui” passes without comment, but ” tersui” gets the same treatment that ” captus” did and is labeled simply a 4th declension noun (but both ” unctui” and ” tersui” get individual notes when they occur again together on p. 57). The distinctly proto-Romance use of prepositions so often apparent in Apuleius is rarely analyzed. While relative clauses with verbs in the subjunctive are usually pointed out, several early on are not and their treatment varies considerably. Matters of detail are noted in unusual places. ” Naturalitus” on p. 30 gets a note about adverbs in -itus, but surely it belongs with ” publicitus” four pages earlier. ” Exordiar” on p. 14 gets a note defining what an ” exordium” is, but it would make more sense on p. 4 where ” exordior” appears in an emphatic position in the prologue.


1.In just the first six or seven chapters the shortcomings of the glossary become painfully apparent. That ” pauca” regularly means “few words” and does in 1.1 is nowhere apparent (this should probably be in a note, but certainly in the glossary). “Preserve” as a meaning of ” condo” would likely make ” aeternum conditae” (also in 1.1) more transparent. Any basic dictionary will also reveal that ” aeternum” is adverbial. ” Fidens” (1.3) is not a synonym of ” fidus.” The entry for ” ad” sends students to a non-existent note. But at least those words are in the glossary. Not all are. Students searching for ” distinentis” from 1.4 will be hard-pressed to find ” distineo” in the glossary, for example. Students looking up ” affectus” (1.6) should ignore the ” affectus” they find in the glossary and instead look for ” adfectus” on the preceding page. A note in the same chapter tells students that “perpessus” comes from ” perpetior,” but the latter does not appear in the glossary. Instead the participle is listed as an adjective. Some other perfect passive participles are also listed simply as adjectives; others are listed under the dictionary form of the verb (ironically, the glossary actually uses the supine as the fourth principal part). Two-ending adjectives are listed as though they had three terminations, which might initially confuse students used to the standard method. That ” aerumna” can appear in the singular might cause problems for those students who think that the entry ” aerumnae, aerumnarum” implies that the form they see in 1.6 can only be nominative plural. ” Mitigo” is not intransitive. ” Obiturus” has nothing to do with death in 1.7, but “to die” is the only meaning listed in the glossary under ” obeo.” The first half of the entries under the letter “P” are in an order so scrambled that I can only assume a computer is somehow to blame (other portions also have entries out of order, but none quite so badly).


1.Space in BMCR is limited and there is no convenient way to include Ruebel’s notes here, but I have tried to give sufficient indication of their content. Nonetheless, I suspect things will only be perfectly clear to those with Ruebel’s book before them.

1.Ruebel lets students know that ” dimoveto” is a future imperative and translates it “take away”, but the term and its implications will not be familiar to students without an already substantial Latin background. New Latinists will simply wonder why it is called future and why it seems to be translated exactly as they would the imperative form they do know. Presumably most will be able to determine that ” complicato” in the next clause is also a future imperative, but it probably would have been worthwhile to include that information as well as a brief description of the future imperative along with the information that “the imperative in -to is used like the regular imperative in the Met.” (Layman ad loc).

1.” Cedo verbis communibus” is deemed worthy of a separate note for each constituent part, the first translating ” cedo” and referring to an earlier note on the word, the second translating ” verbis communibus” and labeling them ablative of means. The former is unobjectionable, but the latter simply provides two vocabulary words that I, at any rate, would think the students would know in a construction they will have seen in whatever first-year text they used (and, for that matter, several times in the preceding pages of the Metamorphoses).

1.By contrast, the more obscure ” aulaeum tragicum et siparium scaenicum,” which the students have met in the meantime, gets no note and will cause at least two trips to the glossary. Those trips could well produce “take away the tragic curtain and fold up the dramatic curtain”—reasonable and perhaps even apparently possible in an author so fond of juxtaposing synonyms. Even if a student were to take the only alternative offered we would still be dealing with folding up the “dramatic backdrop.” Surely a short note along the lines of what Scobie provides would suffice to explain what a siparium is. It is perhaps too much to ask that something be noted about the use of a curtain in ancient theater, but one should not be surprised if a good Classics major says, on the basis of a Greek tragedy class, “I didn’t think the ancients used curtains.”

1.The -ne missing from “‘ Vis?‘” in the next sentence is worth pointing out to students who may not yet have been disabused of the notion that the Romans followed all of Wheelock’s rules; there is no note.

1.” Immo” to mark the climax in ” unum vel alterum, immo plurima” does not mean “on the contrary,” which is the only meaning available to students in the glossary.

1.Ruebel is good on explaining the implied verb to introduce the ut-clause (“… ut se ament…”) of the next sentence and on the loose use of the reflexive pronoun, but this is peripheral to the real question: what is the clause’s function in the sentence (that is, its relation to the main verb ” sunt“)? Substantive result clauses are not going to be familiar to intermediate students.

1.Ruebel explains in two short notes that ” Aethiopes utrique” refers to Ethiopians living east and west of the Nile and identifies the Antichthones. There is nothing extraneous here, leaving instructors to elaborate if they wish while giving students precisely the information they need to make basic sense of the sentence.

1.Ruebel gives an elaborate account of what ” folia” implies and cites Molt (including her citation of a letter of Cicero) in support. Since the figurative use we see here is unusual, this is fully justified. I see no good reason, however, either in the note or glossary (under ” folia, foliorum” as though there is no singular), to suppress a figurative translation like “trifles.”

1.” Nugae merae” does not really mean (with the glossary) “plain or unmixed trifles,” but “mere trifles” or “nothing but trifles.”

1.” In conspectum” needs some explanation for students who have been carefully trained concerning the use of the ablative and accusative after prepositions.

1.” Temerasset” at the beginning of 1.9 is dealt with nicely. Ruebel identifies it as temera(vi)sset, marks it as pluperfect subjunctive and points out that the construction with in + accusative is found only here. A student might well have reason to wonder, however, why Ruebel makes such a point about the subjunctive (“because of the alleged cause”) when the next parallel quod clause (and one that intervenes, for that matter) has an indicative. The alteration is repeated on p.25 with ” quod…locutus esset” and ” quod…dixerat.” In both cases it would be difficult to argue that the choice of mood has much force. In fact in the first set of parallel clauses ” quod…temerasset” and ” quod…habuit” refer to the same act.

1.That ” feram” is a noun and not the adjective ” ferus” is not noted. Only the adjective is present in the glossary, though it does not occur in the book. The earlier conjunction ” dei medici” (1.4) is similarly passed over, though at least the glossary lists medicus as a noun in that case.

1.There is nothing so difficult in ” se praecisione genitalium liberat” as to require translating the phrase for students, though the rest of the note on beavers and castration is interesting stuff.

1.The note to ” ut…proveniret” translates the clause, meaning students will not have the chance to identify it themselves as a clause of purpose. It also parses ” illi” as dative singular and ” simile” as nominative neuter. I would prefer that the note limit itself to identifying ” simile” as a neuter nominative. From that point the whole should fall into place for those students who did not before realize that ” illi” cannot be nominative.

1.The note on ” venerem” (as well as that below on ” roncis raucus“) would be clearer if the edition contained a simple list of rhetorical figures suited for intermediate students along the lines of that in Barnes and Ramsey’s Longman edition of Cicero and Sallust (White Plains 1990). Simply put, a student who does not already know what metonymy and onomatopoeia are is unlikely to profit immediately from notes which assume that knowledge. In other places Ruebel is much clearer. Cf. the more helpful construction of notes such as one to 1.14: “the absence of conjunctions (asyndeton)…”

1.” dolio innatans” would not, as Ruebel’s note might imply to students, more usually appear as ” in dolio innatans.” Ruebel does not here mention that dolio is an emendation for dolium nor go into the relative merits of each case, which is excellent judgment. This is, I expect, a matter of taste. The note devoted to ” frontem” vs. ” fronte” in 1.2 takes up almost an entire column of text, and, while that might seem too long at first glance for another variation in case that makes no difference in meaning, it does bring up interesting issues concerning manuscripts. By contrast ” in fimum” is printed in 1.12 while the text’s ” infimum” is dismissed as simply “a questionable reading” with no other conjectures mentioned. Similarly the restored ” abeunt et una” in 1.13 is presented as the text without comment. Right on the money are notes like Ruebel’s to ” impune relaturum” at 1.12 and ” crebitas” in 1.19, which give students some insight into why editors make the decisions they do. This situation is characteristic of somewhat sporadic attention to textual matters, but Ruebel is to be commended for mentioning them at all in a book geared to the intermediate level and, when he does so, often imparting useful and interesting information.

1.” de foro” deserves mention for the use of the preposition where students might not expect it.

1.A quick note on ” eam” could be used to reinforce the earlier note on ” se.”

1.Balance some of the negative remarks above with the last six notes on p. 25. Two of them provide information on Latin style (on forms of ” idem” and on the use of the present where English would use the present perfect) that is exactly the sort of thing students need to develop a more sophisticated sense of Latin. The others provide information on unusual vocabulary or, perhaps more importantly, the structure of a long and complex sentence, situating the students and allowing them to put the whole together—exactly what a textbook of this nature should do. That generally high quality is what makes the deficiencies so noticeable and irksome.