BMCR 2005.08.24

Apuleius Madaurensis. Metamorphoses, Book IV 28-35, V and VI 1-24. The Tale of Cupid and Psyche. Text, Introduction and Commentary. Groningen Commentaries on Apuleius

, , Metamorphoses books IV 28-35, V and VI 1-24 : the tale of Cupid and Psyche. Groningen commentaries on Apuleius. Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 2004. 596 pages ; 26 cm.. ISBN 9069801469 €110.00.

The eight authors (M. Zimmerman, S. Panayotakis, V.C. Hunink, W.H. Keulen, S.J. Harrison, Th.D. McCreight, B. Wesseling, D. van Mal-Maeder) of the seventh and final volume of the “Groningen Commentaries on Apuleius” (who themselves refer to this collective product as GCA 2004), in the thirtieth year of the Metamorphoses project at Groningen, have brought it to a memorable conclusion. This commentary alone, on the embedded “Cupid and Psyche,” has been an eight-year project. The publisher and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research deserve the deepest thanks of both Apuleius and the world’s Latinists. Standards of production and binding, as usual with Egbert Forsten, are very high. Some computer glitch has led to many unwanted hyphens in words not here broken (e.g., p. 48 “in-stances,” one of three in three lines).

A fourteen-page introduction precedes a (short) list of variants from Helm’s 1955 edition and their Latin text (16 pages). Zimmerman’s team begins every chapter of the commentary with a short summary, followed by a Latin sentence or phrase with a English translation. Next, the reader finds a brief analytic discussion (e.g., 115,22 “The sisters react extremely, etc.) for important developments in the plot. The lemmata are keyed to Helm’s page and line numbers. The result is at first confusing, but more precise than a mere book-chapter reference. Finally, the GCA squad examines the text phrase by phrase or word by word for 517 pages. There are no appendices in this volume, but three indexes: Latin words, citations of other ancient authors for borrowings, parallels, or influence (Heliodorus but a measly thrice: ear-scratching, hand-rubbing, and hypocoristic terms of affection), and things. This last list includes grammar, tropes (metaphors, chiasmus, etc.), narratological features, numerology, colometry, terminology borrowed from law and military life.

This commentary, like its target text, transcends the artificial book boundaries. The embedded (but very long) tale of Cupid and Psyche — narrated by a female servant, an elderly cave-keeper for bandits, as a distraction and consolation for a lovely, weeping kidnapped bride-about-to-be — likewise overflows the author’s own chosen divisions. But the story itself, easily the most famous and popular part of a book variously judged for its remaining scabrous stories and sudden spiritual denouement, is more carefully structured and shaped than any other tale in Mr. Ass-man’s journey. Indeed, for some, it provides the key as well as the analogue, a foreshadowing of the divinely assisted anamorphosis and salvation.

This commentary, like its sisters (but unlike Psyche’s siblings) is more interested in literature than in social standing and cultural history. There is no fault in pursuing that philological emphasis, and perhaps the authors felt constrained by the long history of the other GCA volumes. Nevertheless, given the other recent commentaries on this celebrated section, they missed an opportunity. Even this exceptional fairy-tale-like narrative (e.g., the timeless, placeless quadam civitate) contains striking and particular references to Roman life and law. This Milesian/Ionian tale is the Greekiest story in the Latin novel, but that circumstance renders even more shocking and comic its reminders of Romanitas. Merely citing the Digest for legal formulae (e.g., at 6.23) is insufficient, though some elements of Roman coloring are noted, for example, pulvinaria (4.29) and nuptiae legitimae (6.23).

The hapless, faceless king and queen parents and the superhumanly pulchritudinous youngest (of three) princess furnish topoi of both European Maerchen and ancient novels — in ways not fully understood, as the redoubtable Fehling (1977) forces us to face. On the other hand, the wicked fairy, villainous Venus, and her good fairy son, the thievish and feckless Cupid, both mess with our heads by their inversions and perversions of epic type-scenes, New Comedy characters, and elegiac motifs.

Psyche’s beauty arouses Apuleius’ sophistic delight in admitting his own verbal incapacity — the Unsagbarkeitstopos — and GCA 2004‘s useful comment (4.28: praeclara pulchritudo with cross reference to comments at GCA 1977 on 4.13). While elsewhere admission of inability to voice suitable hyperbole precedes rhetorical virtuosity, here “Apuleius” chooses to describe the young stunner’s effect on the world of spectators around her. Why quotation marks, you ask? GCA 2004 usefully and often reminds us that a bandit anus is the original, omniscient but “oenophilic” (p. 548) narrator who knows “even more than Venus herself” (p. 56, cf. 63), that a scrawny ass and another lovely maiden are the audience, and that the reformed (?) ass-man Lucius is the ostensible recollector and present (most unreliable) narrator.

To quote Ellen Finkelpearl’s sympathetic if critical review of the Commentary on Metamorphoses ix published in these cyberpages (BMCR 1997.06.14), “This commentary …, like previous … volumes, is large, expensive, detailed, and the product of long-standing collaboration among the authors. (The majority are Dutch scholars affiliated with Groningen University [here with an American and a British participant].) It is a definitive commentary, designed for serious students of Apuleius, noting and carefully weighing all previous scholarship on each point. It is a mark of the nature of the commentary that the ratio of pages of commentary to pages of Latin text is 20:1 [here more than 30:1, but note that all lemmata are preceded by repetition of Latin text and English translation]…. The commentary does what commentaries do; much space is devoted to establishing the text, discussing the oddities of Apuleius’ style (often with reference to Callebat’s monumental Sermo Cotidianus [1968]), or noting tropes, sound, prose rhythm, or poetic borrowings.”

While Professor “Lucky Jim” Dixon could regard many parts of Apuleius’ comic novel as “strangely neglected,” many other scholars have independently inspected the story of “Cupid and Psyche.” Jahn, Beck, Norden, and Paratore edited it separatim; Purser, Grimal, Kenney, and Moreschini edited, commented, and sometimes translated it. Consequently, we find in GCA 2004 running meta-commentaries on Kenney and Moreschini, at least, as well as helpful articulated bibliographies of twenty-two pages (with a bonus section V. on “Apuleian Studies from GCA 2000 onward”). No student of the ancient novel will regret owning this volume (after his or her wallet heals), but three commentaries on the same work in fifteen years may seem an “embarras de richesse.”

The introduction explains the project, summarizes the plot (perhaps more in conformity to previous volumes than because users of this commentary need to know that Psyche “breaks the taboo against seeing her husband,” etc.). It further discusses book divisions (the author’s own), generic expectations, techniques of narration, topography, characters, etc. It offers less than one might have hoped on the significance of the “inserted tale” for the whole.

The team notes mortalis as a key word for Psyche (4.29) with many parallels. On the other hand, the traditional immortals of Homer, Vergil, and Ovid “are only too human” in their lusts, anger, and general lack of self-control. They point out dicola, tricola, and tetracola with credit to Bernhard (1927), and Doppelpleonasmus (5.26) with credit to Leumann-Hofmann-Szantyr II (1965). They quote ThLL and OLD frequently, and the older commentators, often better Latinists than most of us dare claim to be: Beroaldus (1500), Pricaeus ( non vidi), Oudendorp (1786), Valpy (1825), etc.

One cannot mention all the felicitous observations in this careful reconsideration of nearly all “Cupid and Psyche” scholarship. Comparing Cupid to the elegiac lover (6.22) or Venus to New Comedy blocking-figure fathers is not original (after all, not the task of a comprehensive commentary) but still helpful. Epicisms in “quasi-epic contexts” are well worth noting (6.23: sic fatus). More thematically, Apuleius/ Anus /Lucius inverts and thus reverses Psyche’s “dark night of the soul,” infernal katabasis (6.17-21) for her final celestial anabasis — indeed, apotheosis (6.23).

The team offers more than most commentaries on gestures; for example, stillness, pious adoration, finger and thumb hand-gesture all appear on p. 43. They are mining the “strangely neglected” riches of Carl Sittl’s Die Gebaerden der Griechen und Roemer (1890). They offer valuable parallels to Vergil’s epic (Venus as Apuleius’ angry Juno; Cupid as Apuleius’ Venus pleading with Jupiter), and Ovid’s own paradigmatic Metamorphoses, but fewer of them than one might expect for the other ancient novelists.

The focalizing cleaning-woman narrator forms an elegant ring at start and finish by balancing the “five-star divine room service” in Cupid’s palace and at the Olympian wedding (p. 546). This narrator provides several closural signs. The offspring and the story end at full term ( maturo, p. 533) — all nasty problems have been raised and now solved. The editors rightly assume that the story of the bandits’ housecleaner, the anus -narratrix, connects to anticipates the trials and outcome for Lucius, the main narrator. They note the advantages that the anus, an omniscient narrator, has over the limited perspectives of Lucius, a variously crippled, first-person narrator. Her situation permits frequent change of scene as well as access to inner thoughts as well as overt declarations of the characters.

Moreover, the central placement of Psyche’s katabasis in the novel, anticipating Lucius’ somewhat lengthier katabatic journey towards Isis (9), encourages second-time readers (at least) to believe Psyche’s happy ending in a salvific myth anticipates the antihero’s real-life story. There is another link of this longest included tale to the Lucius narrative, or at least to a continuing, framing (but also embedded) narrative, in which he plays a bestial and anti-heroic part. Psyche’s abortive suicides anticipate Charite’s successful and surprising suicide. The editors invite attention to the very different, arguably ono-paedagogic behavior of Isis towards her votary Lucius the ass from the Olympic (14, sic) gods’ behavior towards Psyche.

One would like to see more commentaries in English on the Metamorphoses for pre-scholars. Ruebel (2000) has produced a serviceable book 1, but Kenney’s (1990) impressive Cupid and Psyche expects too much for most current undergraduates. Someone might reprint a long forgotten, and therefore out-of-copyright, edition of selected shorter tales (as Purser’s complete Cupid and Psyche was (1910; repr. 1983), but preferably with revisions suited to the new millennium: Joseph B. Pike’s Apuleius, The short stories of Apuleius, with introduction and notes, Boston and New York: Allyn and Bacon, 1918.

GCA 2004 plumps for the foremost purpose of the larger Metamorphic novel and the cupidinous, psychological base as voluptas, “literary entertainment” (p. 552), not Platonic allegory (Kenney, Penwill), Mystery text or rampant Isaicism (Merkelbach), infinite comic regress (Winkler), etc., etc. Irony and humor outweigh, the editors say, as the motor of the narrative, the awesome and freakily beneficent power of the divine. Neither text nor introduction, by conscious design, bothers itself with tiresome and reductive Freudian and Jungian interpretations (good!). More disappointing is the commentators’ decision not to examine the reception of features of this central tale in later literature and art (p.3, n.8). Their eclectic approach, reminiscent of Apuleius’ own magpie variations and of the 1992 book of the late, lamented Carl Schlam, suits well the atomistic nature and format of a learned commentary. I, no Diophanes, prophesy that the world will never see, in paper and on this scale, another commentary dedicated to Apuleius’ Metamorphoses. Since “whither the word-by-word commentary goes now in general” is happily not this reviewer’s charge, I close by expressing every Latinist’s appreciation for Team GCA 2004’s completion of this monumental contribution to ancient novel scholarship.