Tag Archives: apuleius

The Golden Ass

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Golden Ass by Apuleius, translated by Robert Graves.

Apuleius Graves The Golden Ass

Although the vulgar take the donkey as a symbol of ignorance and stupidity, occultists and magicians know better. Cornelius Agrippa, in his Vanity of the Arts and Sciences, praises the ass as a paradigm of virtue. Giordano Bruno, whose heliocentrism was wedded to his hermetic magic, made the donkey a symbol of the highest mystical state in his personal cabala, declaring it to be the Triumphant Beast. 

The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, better known as The Golden Ass, is funny and wise; and despite its unrepentant status as a fiction, its later chapters are probably one of the most accurate and detailed accounts from the period regarding the operation of mystery cults in late antiquity. The “Golden” of the title refers to the value of the text. It was written in a florid, storytelling style of Latin, and has a brisk, episodic pace. There are nonetheless many digressions, including the splendid and famous fable of Eros and Psyche, which falls near the center of the text.

Known in his own day as an orator and Platonist philosopher, Apuleius is also important as a reference regarding the status of magic in the ancient world; he was himself accused of criminal sorcery, although he denied it. The central enchantment of the story is the transformation of the protagonist into a donkey.

The literary progeny of these Metamorphoses are countless, as befits a donkey’s instrument! Apuleius’ story has influenced everything from Augustine’s Confessions to Beauty and the Beast. But the original still deserves pride of place.

The God of Socrates

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The God of Socrates by Apuleius, foreword by Daniel Driscoll.

Apuleius The God of Socrates

This Apuleius text is a crucial example of middle Platonism, and a key source for theology of the augoeides (or “peculiar genius”) in antiquity. “[T]he daemon who presides over you inquisitively participates of all that concerns you, sees all things, understands all things, and in the place of conscience dwells in the most profound recesses of the mind.” (37)

This particular edition is the final product of Daniel Driscoll’s Heptangle Books imprint, due to Driscoll’s death in 1993. It was issued posthumously, and it looks as though the work may have been incomplete. There are a handful of minor text errors unusual for the craft typically shown in these books. As is customary for Heptangle books, the volume is beautifully typeset in a Bembo font, printed on heavy acid-free stock, and bound by hand. 

Driscoll is credited with the foreword, but no translator is indicated, nor is there an attribution for the numerous explanatory footnotes. Based on the content and style of the footnotes, I strongly suspect the work of Thomas Taylor (d. 1835), but perhaps Driscoll did even more for this book than I am at first willing to credit.