BMCR 2009.11.29

Apuleius: Metamorphoses: An Intermediate Latin Reader

Paul Murgatroyd, Apuleius: Metamorphoses: An Intermediate Latin Reader. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. x, 151. ISBN 9780521690553 $29.99 (pb).

For students of Latin, the transition from course books to genuine Roman texts often proves to be difficult and a little disappointing. After all, there are not many Latin texts from antiquity that are easy enough for them to read. Very often, they end up with Nepos or Caesar’s Gallic wars, interesting prose texts, but not likely to inspire beginning readers, whether at school or university level.

To serve the needs of such readers, Paul Murgatroyd has now composed a useful and interesting ‘intermediate reader’ with fragments from a rather more fascinating text, Apuleius’ Metamorphoses. In part, the Latin of the fragments has been carefuully simplified to suit the purpose of the volume. As it progresses, the level of adaptation becomes lower, and some fragments of books 8 and 9 are even completely authentic.

A particularly strong point of the book is its continuous attention to the overall composition of the novel and Apuleius’ literary qualities, notably his narratological techniques. Thus students can not merely improve their Latin in a pleasant way, but also appreciate the Metamorphoses as a work of literature.

After a brief introduction (10 pages, including a three-page glossary of grammatical and stylistic terms), Murgatroyd presents a selection of relatively short pieces of texts in Latin, taken from the whole of the novel, with the exception of the ‘Cupid and Psyche’ tale, which has been omitted here. Each fragment is introduced and annotated (for difficult words or grammar and uncommon turns of phrase). The volume is concluded with a 37 page helpful vocabulary (Latin-English). Thirteen illustrations in black and white further enliven the volume, which has been given a pleasant lay-out and a convenient size (17.5 x 24.5 cm.). This intermediate reader will surely be a great new tool for teachers of Latin, particularly those who wish to do more than merely hone their reading skills.

I remain somewhat hesitant, however, with regard to the extensive ‘appreciations’ that regularly follow a group of fragments. Certainly, they present excellent, useful information for readers of the whole novel, highlighting e.g. nice features of Apuleius’ manipulation of the story and its protagonists, the games he plays with genre, and his puns and literary motifs. Even references to scholarly discussion are not missing. But one wonders whether all this is really relevant to students who have to work through the Latin fragments in this volume. Will they really get the feeling of understanding the whole novel? Will they even care for literary features of great portions of narrative that they do not actually see? Unless they have a full English translation at their disposal (that is: in addition to this volume), this seems difficult to imagine.

There is a second point on which many classicists are likely to feel uneasy. I mean the editorial changes made in the Latin: most of the selected fragments have been simplified to a certain extent. Even apart from theoretical or didactical considerations (are we entitled to do this with authentic texts? is it helpful to teach students something that is partly artificial?), the question may arise whether this procedure preserves enough of Apuleius’ wonderful, bizarre Latin.

Such doubts and questions seem legitimate, but it has to be said that Murgatroyd, within the limits of this book, has done an excellent job. His method of simplification is basically one of excerpting. That is, he does not replace difficult or abnormal words and turns with regular ones, which would indeed merely normalize and smoothen any possible anomalies and difficulties. As Murgatroyd himself puts it: ‘Difficult language and constructions are omitted rather than emended. Initially, for the sake of brevity and clarity (to reach as wide an audience as possible), cuts are made not only within passages but also within sentences to things like abstruse references, unnecessary details and exuberance and fullness of expression’ (p.ix)

Although this may sound rather ominous to lovers of Apuleius’ exuberant style, the resulting texts in this book really seem still ‘Apuleian’ enough. To show this, I will fully quote a section from the beginning of the book, where adaptation is still relatively strong: the famous passage of Lucius’ exciting love night with Photis in 2.16-17. All words are Apuleius’ and capitals (except for names) indicate words and phrases retained by Murgatroyd (pp. 27-8).COMMODUM CUBUERAM, ET ECCE PHOTIS MEA, iam domina cubitum reddita, LAETA PROXIMAT rosa serta et ROSA soluta IN SINU TUBERANTE. AC ME PRESSIM DEOSCULATO ET COROLLIS REVINCTO ac flore persperso ARRIPIT POCULUM AC desuper AQUA CALIDA INIECTA PORRIGIT bibam, idque modico prius quam totum exsorberem clementer invadit ac relictum paullulatim labellis minuens meque respiciens sorbillat dulciter. SEQUENS ET TERTIUM INTER NOS vicissim et frequens ALTERNAT POCULUM, CUM EGO IAM VINO MADENS nec animo tantum verum etiam corpore ipso ad libidinem inquies alioquin et petulans et iam saucius, paulisper inguinum fine lacinia remota inpatientiam veneris Photidi meae monstrans: “MISERERE” INQUAM “ET SUBVENI MATURIUS. NAM, ut vides, proelio quod nobis sine fetiali officio indixeras iam proximante vehementer intentus, UBI PRIMAM SAGITTAM SAEVI CUPIDINIS IN IMA PRAECORDIA MEA DELAPSAM EXCEPI, ARCUM MEUM ET IPSE VIGORATE TETENDI ET OPPIDO FORMIDO NE NERVUS RIGORIS NIMIETATE RUMPATUR. sed ut mihi morem plenius gesseris, in effusum laxa crinem et capillo fluente undanter ede complexus amabiles.” nec mora, cum omnibus illis cibariis vasculis raptim remotis LACINIIS CUNCTIS SUIS RENUDATA crinibusque dissolutis ad hilarem lasciviam IN SPECIEM VENERIS quae marinos fluctus subit PULCHRE REFORMATA, PAULISPER etiam glabellum FEMINAL ROSEA PALMULA potius OBUMBRANS de industria quam tegens verecundia: “PROELIARE” INQUIT “ετ φορτιτερ προελιαρε, νεξ ενιμ τιβι ξεδαμ νεξ τεργα . hodierna pugna non habet missionem.” haec simul dicens INSCENSO GRABATTULO SUPER ME SENSIM RESIDENS AC CREBRA SUBSILIENS lubricisque gestibus mobilem spinam quatiens pendulae Veneris fructu ME SATIAVIT, usque dum lassis animis et marcidis artibus defetigati simul ambo corruimus inter mutuos amplexus animas anhelantes. HIS et huius modi COLLUCTATIONIBUS AD CONFINIA LUCIS usque PERVIGILES EGIMUS POCULIS INTERDUM LASSITUDINEM REFOVENTES ET LIBIDINEM INCITANTES et voluptatem integrantes. ad cuius noctis exemplar similes adstruximus alias plusculas.

Apart from one or two minor little changes (such as ‘vincto’ for Apuleian ‘revincto’, or ‘lacinnis suis cunctis’ for Apuleian ‘laciniis suis cunctis’), the phrases retained by Murgatroyd are all genuine text by Apuleius. A number of difficult words and turns have been omitted, but the style has not become dull or impersonal as a result.

On the other hand, much has inevitably gone lost too. In this passage, one may regret that the important repeated motif of Photis’ attractive, long hair has been cut. Likewise some of Apuleius’ typical erotic phrases involving drinking and making love might perhaps have been kept with some additional notes on difficult words. But if excerpting is the method that is adopted, some elements obviously have to go out. On the whole, I think Murgatroyd’s choices are well-considered and justifiable, given his purpose. Even in simplified form this does distinctly taste like Apuleius.

It is to be hoped that this attractive little volume will help many students find their way into Latin and Latin literature. And more specifically, that a number of them will feel stimulated to read Apuleius’ brilliant novel as a whole at some later stage on their career, in a good translation or, preferably, in Latin.