BMCR 2002.08.01

Apuleius: Rhetorical Works

Apuleius., S. J. Harrison, John (John L.) Hilton, Vincent Hunink, Apuleius : rhetorical works. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. vi, 225 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 0198152922 $65.00.

At Florida 9.8 Apuleius describes his rhetoric as a plastic medium that must be sculpted, a physical artifact that must be shaped and polished with an artisan’s tools: “But you examine every word of mine keenly, weigh it carefully, subject it to the lathe and the rule, and compare it with the products of the lathe or productions of the stage.” In similar but broader terms, at De Platone 1.3 (#188) he describes Plato’s philosophy as a rhetorical achievement, to have found the perfect word-form for Socrates’ ideas: Plato “made [Socrates’] ideas complete and wondrous both by filing them down with reason and dressing them in the most handsome aspect of his august rhetoric.”1 Apuleius would particularly appreciate, then, the work of the triumvirate of scholars who have produced a fine translation of his Apology, Florida, and De Deo Socratis. Harrison, Hilton, and Hunink have rendered a great service to Apuleian studies with their new Oxford edition of Apuleius’ rhetorical works. The translations are a pleasure to read, and the format of the edition has allowed the editors ample space to convey a useful and well-researched overview of the current scholarship on these understudied texts.

The Apology, Florida, and De Deo Socratis (hereafter DDS) offer a greater reward than merely an enhanced reading of Apuleius’ celebrated novel the Metamorphoses (Golden Ass); these texts offer rich stores of evidence about the history of Roman North Africa, forensic rhetoric, epideictic rhetoric, magic, religion, Middle Platonism, and especially the civic and intellectual life of the provincial metropolis, Carthage. In fact, whereas the novel’s relationship to a historical reality continues to mystify, the Florida and Apology depict a moment of real contact between the person of Apuleius, his rhetoric, and the historical moment they embrace. Students of North African culture will find Apuleius’ interactions with the proconsul on behalf of the civic body of Carthage to be fertile material for analysis in the discourse of provincial self-fashioning (cf. Florida 20.10: Karthago provinciae nostrae magistra venerabilis, Karthago Africae Musa caelestis, Karthago Camena togatorum, “Carthage, the respected teacher of our province, Carthage, the heavenly Muse of Africa; Carthage, the inspiration of those who wear the toga!”).

The present publication offers a careful and accurate translation into contemporary English, with full but not overwrought introductions that provide a generous and up-to-date bibliography, as well as commentary in the form of footnotes. The new translations are based on Hunink’s text of the Apology (1997), Vallette’s Florida (Apologie et Florides, 1922), and Moreschini’s Teubner of the philosophical works (1991). They replace the antiquated translations currently available in English by H.E. Butler (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1909, reprinted 1968) and the anonymous translator of the Bohn Classical Library series (George Bell and Sons: London, 1902), which had little by way of annotation or commentary and were based on texts that have been superseded by the editions mentioned above. What is more, reference within the old translations was no easy task, since the translators incorporated a minimum of numeration and formatting.

Students of Apuleius’ dynamic style will be curious to know what has become of his “rhetorical and stylistic verbal pyrotechnics” (from the book cover). Whereas the preceding English renderings had tended to muffle the repeating rhythms of Apuleius’ rhetorical prose and to mute his driving play on word forms and word shapes, it is refreshing to note that the new translators have recognized this as an essential element in Apuleius’ style. They have successfully made a consistent effort to replicate these word effects in English, resisting the prevalent tendency to break longer cola into highly punctuated clauses. Hilton’s Florida is particularly successful. In his introduction Hilton defends his approach to the translation: “In Florida 16.9, for example, there are no fewer than four adjectival tricolons each featuring a different Latin suffix (-us, -ens, -or, and -ax). The rhythmical effect of this can quite easily be conveyed in English using -ing, -ent, -ive, and -ous without compromising the meaning…. Many readers may find the piling up of such verbal jingles and word-play distasteful, but such rhetorical cleverness is very much a part of the sophistic declamation of Apuleius’ day and is essential to the proper understanding of the nature of the anthology” (135-6). A few examples of his successful and original translations are reverita… verita 9.36 “revered, feared,” mellis… fellis 18.11 “saccharine… strychnine,” ubi uber, ibi tuber (ibid.) “where there is opulence, there is malignance.” Not all aspects of Apuleius’ style can be replicated successfully in English, however: neologism and archaism present the translator with a serious problem. Apuleius chooses archaic and neologizing forms especially when they facilitate rhythm and sound play, whereas in English the adoption of such forms would be unacceptable.2

The translators chose a “relatively light” level of annotation for the Apology because a modern commentary (also by Hunink) is available in English; but also for the DDS, since it “is a relatively superficial lecture aimed at a general audience” (Introduction, v). They felt a fuller level of annotation was needed for the Florida, since at the time of writing there was no commentary widely available in English (one has just been published by Hunink: Brill, 2002). The problematic “False preface” of the DDS, 5 fragments of Apuleian epideictic rhetoric that have been transmitted in the manuscripts as the beginning of the DDS, also receives generous annotation and its own introduction.

The General Introduction is a precis of Harrison’s important monograph and surveys the evidence for Apuleius’ vita (most of which is to be found in the Apology and Florida), presenting his intellectual career and literary activity through his surviving works, fragments, and notices of lost works. As he had argued previously, Harrison aims to stress the extraordinary variety of Apuleius’ literary output and the conformity it shows with the Greek Second Sophistic, defining him as a sophistic intellectual: “…though Apuleius proclaimed himself a philosopher, his status as a star public speaker in Carthage, his obvious self-promotion and cult of his own personality, and his prodigiously displayed literary and scientific polymathy plainly allow us to designate him a sophist, a Latin-speaking version of the great Greek rhetorical performers of his own time” (10).

At the same time as Harrison invites us to understand Apuleius in terms of the Greek Second Sophistic, he also stresses that “Apuleius is fundamentally Roman in cultural identity and in effect a native speaker of Latin. It is crucially important for a true appreciation of Apuleius to realize that he belongs not to an African sub-culture but to the mainstream of Latin culture and literature” (1). Indeed, it has been generally recognized since Kroll’s article that the particular qualities of Apuleius’ linguistic preferences are not to be explained by a dialect of African Latin.3 It could be objected, however, that such a linguistic distinction provides insufficient grounds for asserting that Apuleius belongs to the “mainstream of Latin culture,” and it may be desirable to retain an interpretive route that can see in these works a process of self-definition and becoming, the forging of a literary consciousness in North Africa.

Hunink’s section on the Apology is based on his commentary, published by Brill in 1997. He begins by pointing out that the Apology is the only post-Ciceronian forensic speech to have survived in its entirety, noting the diversity of perspectives from which the speech may be read. As rhetoric, the speech functions to disarm the accusations against him; as literature, the speech shows a playful use of language and rhetorical figures, and consistently makes reference to both classical and contemporary literature. As a document, it yields valuable material for the study of for “Roman law, magic, Middle Platonism, and contemporary medical science” (11). Hunink uses a mechanical analysis to address the uneasy relationship between the strict charges the Apology answers and the sort of autobiography and self-representation so much of the work contains: “Technically speaking, section 4-65 may be said to be extra causam, since it is not directly related to the legal issues to be judged” (15). He concludes that, whereas Apuleius might “easily prove his innocence by means of various written documents,” the “possible blemishes on his reputation are much more difficult to combat,” and that these “digressions” actually “constitute the core of the speech” (ibid.).

Hunink closes with a consideration of one of the most pressing questions for many readers, whether the Apology is a “real,” if augmented, version of an actual historical event, or whether the speech was fictitious and written in the forensic genre without a trial, such as Gorgias’ Palamedes, Isocrates’ Antidosis, or the Verrines. Hunink concludes that, since “we have no way to establish with any degree of certainty whether and in what form it was delivered” (24), we should accept that “the entire Apology must become literature.” The speech then can be read as a “declamation with a practical function” [i.e., display] rather than a “forensic speech with extraneous elements.”

Hilton’s introduction to the Florida begins by addressing the form of the rhetorical excerpts that make up this collection. Recognizing that the fragmentary state of the text is a great challenge to any reader, he seeks to explicate the text’s form by relating it to the first and second-century predilection for miscellanies, encyclopedias, and reductions of larger texts (cf. Gellius NA pr. 2-3, 17.21.1; Pliny Ep. 3.5.10; Philostratus VS 565). As for the problematic question of how Apuleius’ speeches made their way to published documents, Hilton suggests the possibility that notarii recorded some of the speeches in shorthand (125 n 7, cf. Florida 9.13). He stresses the importance of the performative element in the composition of the text, and points out that Apuleius claims in the DDS False Preface fragments to be performing ex tempore (False Preface fragments 1, 3, and 4).

Hilton argues that these fragments show important overlaps with the rest of the Apuleian corpus: fragment 10 addresses the “mediae potestates” of the daemones, as does the DDS; fragment 18’s hymn to Aesculapius recalls a reference to Aesculapius in the DDS (#154), as well as a speech to that divinity he delivered in Oea (according to Apol. 55.10). Apuleius’ use of the figure of Pythagoras at Fl. 15.13-2 recalls his intense interest in the Samian philosopher shown throughout the Apology (Apol. 4.14, 27.10, 31.6, 43.21 and 56.7).

With regard to the genre of the Florida, Hilton doubts whether a single interpretive category such as the propemptike lalia can be applied to such a diverse collection. Instead, he points out the Florida’s formal links not only to the different epideictic forms of the lalia described in Menander Rhetor’s treatise (including encomia of governors, fables, references to musicians, etc.), but also to the progymnasmata (e.g. comparisons, anecdotes, topoi, and word pictures), as shown in the rhetorical handbooks that treat these rhetorical exercises.4 “There seems to be little point… in attempting to give a formal unifying generic definition” (128).

The Florida fragments also show an interest in philosophical figures and themes, and Apuleius uses these orations to define himself as a philosopher (figures: Socrates [fr. 2], Crates [frr. 14 and 22], Pythagoras [fr. 15]; topoi: on the limitations of human vision [Fl. 2, cf. doctrine of levels of reality from Phaedo 65Bff]; daimon theory of the mediae potestates [fr. 10], etc.). Hilton aligns Apuleius’ choice to describe himself as a philosopher rather than a sophist with the same trend evident in Plutarch, Dio Chrysostom and Aelius Aristides, and traces Apuleius’ less than flattering treatment of the Sophists Hippias and Protagoras (frr. 9 and 18) to this thorny question of self-representation. Whatever Apuleius would have liked to have been called, Hilton defines him as a sophist in respect to his “bitter rivalry for the favor of influential men” (130), a critical dimension to the meaning and purpose of these orations.

Hilton closes by addressing the important question of the manuscript tradition of the Florida, and the fact that the text in MSS is divided into four books. He concludes that the division into four books shows no thematic arrangement, and is probably the result of the simple use of “four scrolls that were shorter than normal” (136). This question might better have been left open, for it tacitly suggests that the process of excerption itself took place in the age of the scroll rather than the codex, which is an unwarranted assumption. Furthermore, the division of the 23 fragments into four books could well have taken place after the excerption itself. This could be the best explanation for the Florida’s anomalous book lengths, and the bizarre fact that the division between book 1 and book 2 severs fragment 9. Pecere suggested Sallustius Crispus, whose name appears on the book subscriptions for the Metamorphoses and Apology, as a likely candidate for the excerptor.5 At any rate, a late antique epitomization is no less likely a candidate than a second-century one, and the question should remain open until more evidence surfaces.

Harrison wrote the introductions to the DDS “False Preface” fragments (which are translated, however, by Hilton) and the DDS itself and provides a concise and effective discussion of the manuscript difficulties associated with these texts. Some argue that the fragments belong with the Florida, and actually constitute its end (Moreschini 1991, Beaujeu 1973), some that the fragments belong to the DDS, either entirely (Hunink 1995, Sandy 1997) or partially (Hijmans 1994, only for the fifth fragment). The debate continues to this day but in fact goes back to our oldest manuscript.6 In the absence of conclusive palaeographical or codicological evidence, the debate has shifted to the unity of the preface fragments and the DDS. On page 180 Harrison rejects the notion that they conform: “The content… [i.e. of the five fragments] seems too diverse for a continuous and coherent piece, and if taken as such the transitions between the sections are very abrupt, rather more so than those of the DDS or within the individual passages of the Florida.” Since there is no solid evidence linking the fragments directly to the Florida, either, the group of fragments are labeled simply “Apuleius: False Preface” and inserted with their own introduction between the Florida and DDS. The brief introduction to the False Preface covers only the issue of where the fragments belong: interpretation of the fragments is deferred to the footnotes of the translation.

Harrison’s last essay addresses the DDS itself, focusing on the Second Sophistic genre of popular philosophical lectures. He begins by positing that the DDS was delivered in Carthage in the 160s, and stresses the North African focus of the work, which makes honorific reference to North Africa, Egypt and especially the cult of Aesculapius (DDS 154). He devotes some time to the philosophical background of Socrates’ daimonion and daimon theory in general, comparing the form and content of the DDS to Plutarch’s De Genio Socratis and Maximus of Tyre’s Dialexeis 8 and 9. From an analysis of the marked similarities of DDS #157 with the opening of Maximus’ Dialexis 8, he argues that the two authors were “adopting a standard Greek introduction to the discussion of Socrates’ daimonion” (188). This substantiates his claim on 186 that the DDS is a “lively rhetorical treatment of philosophical commonplaces.”

The bulk of comparative work, however, is to be found in the footnotes, where Harrison provides generous and useful parallels of theme and subject with Platonic, Latin and Second Sophistic literature. In addition to the translation, this is the main contribution of Harrison’s work: his full annotations provide the reader with a running commentary that successfully contextualizes Apuleius’ lecture.

The close of the introduction addresses “problems of textual transmission.” Harrison argues that the DDS’ abrupt beginning, abrupt ending, and mismatched title (a relative over-emphasis on daimon theory as opposed to Socrates’ daimonion) are all the result of errors in manuscript transmission. A convincing structural schema (192) performs the dual function of illuminating the DDS and clarifying what structural elements it seems to have lost in transmission. He notes that whereas much of the DDS’ content can be paralleled in other philosophical lectures of the period, the concluding protreptic section of the lecture seems to be Apuleius’ innovation.

This Oxford edition will enable more scholars to consider the Apuleian corpus as a whole, and will have the profound effect on Apuleian studies of rectifying something of an imbalance. It could be argued that we approach Apuleius too much as the author of a rather salacious novel with surviving companion works; but, by making these “minor'” rhetorical works accessible, the edition will have the salubrious effect of widening the approach we take to all of Apuleius’ works. This will make it possible to embrace the whole Apuleian corpus as an integrated rhetorical system of language and ideas, whose different parts can shed light on each other. Until the publication of this edition, one would have needed access to two out-of-print editions in order to consult an English translation of the works covered here.

Hilton in particular is to be complimented on the impressive and enjoyable quality of his prose, but all three translations are careful, accurate, and intelligent renderings of the Latin. If there is a shortcoming to the work from an artistic point of view, it may be that the three translations do not sound like the same author in English. That will in no way compromise its usefulness and importance to the field, and the quality of insightful research that characterizes the work will rightfully guarantee its place as the standard reference translation for years to come.


1. Fl. 9.8 “meum vero unumquodque dictum acriter examinatis, sedulo penisculatis, ad limam et lineam certam redigitis, cum torno et coturno vero comparatis”; De Platone 188 “[sc. eas sententias]… hic cum ratione limando tum ad orationis augustae honestissimum speciem induendo perfectas atque admirabilis fecit.” In the case of the Florida, I quote from Hilton’s translation (147). The translation of the phrase from De Platone 188 is mine, since none is available in English.

2. E.g., a few neologisms from Florida fragment 9 that are lost in English: invisoribus (9.1), lenticularis (9.22), textrina, strigileculam, and tubulatione (all 9.23); archaisms: tegumentum (9.21), rutunditate (9.22), prorsum (9.27), publicitus (9.32).

3. W. Kroll, “Das afrikanische Latein,” Rh. Mus. 52 (1897), 569-590. E. Norden, Die antike Kunstprosa (2 vols: Leipzig 1909), 589. Cf. S. Lancel, “Y-a-t-il une Africitas?” REL 63 (1985), 161-182; H. Petersmann, “Gab es ein afrikanisches Latein? Neue Sichten eines alten Problems der lateinischen Sprachwissenschaft,” in B. García-Hernández (ed.), Estudios de lingüística Latina (Madrid, 1998), 125-36.

4. The Greek texts on the progymnasmata are collected in L. von Spengel’s Rhetores Graeci (3 volumes, 1853-6; reprinted Frankfurt am Main, 1966) volumes 2 and 3: Hermogenes (2nd century, Spengel 2.5), Apthonius (400 A.D., Spengel 2.21), Theon (uncertain date, Spengel 2.59) Nicolaus Sophista (5th century A.D., Spengel 3.449).

5. O. Pecere, “Qualche Riflessione sulla tradizione di Apuleio a Montecassino,” 97-124 in G. Cavallo (ed.), Le Strade del testo (Rome, 1987).

6. Even at folio 3v in KBR 10054-56 (ninth century, now in the Royal Library of Brussels), we find an explanatory heading in red ink separating the false preface from the beginning of the De Deo Socratis, which reads “Explicit praefatio. Incipit disputatio De Deo Socratis.”