What role does the tale of Cupid and Psyche play in the text?
This tale, occupying multiple chapters of the novel, is set right in the middle. What comes before is Lucius's actions leading up to becoming an ass and then his actually transforming into the beast, and what comes after are his later journeys that lead him to redemption and Isis. The tale uses Psyche as a mirror onto Lucius's own shortcomings and why he was turned into an ass (curiosity, self-will, arrogance), and then foreshadows what is coming for him by the end of the novel (Isis's divine grace and intervention, and Lucius's serving of the gods). Both tales also have a series of trials and tribulations, violence and sex, and commentary on the cruelties, injustices, and unfairness of the world.
What is Apuleius's message regarding magic?
Apuleius himself was put on trial for practicing magic, and wrote a lengthy Apologia defending himself; thus, he clearly had a lot to say regarding the practice of magic. For one, magic was associated with women, who were its most devious and alluring practitioners, set on ensnaring men in their dark arts. Second, it was considered improper, something people should not meddle with. It was done for immoral reasons, and was a perversion of the work of the gods. One was counseled against being too curious about magic or too arrogant about what it might entail and effect; the stories of Aristomenes and Socrates, Thelyphron, Psyche, and, of course, Lucius himself, are all instructive to this end.
Does The Golden Ass have universal appeal, or is it rooted firmly in the era and world in which it was written?
This is a novel which is certainly of its own time. Apuleius clearly reveals his influences, which are diverse as Plutarch, Homer, Ovid, Socrates, Plato, Virgil, Livy, and more. He used, as P.G. Walsh notes, "Roman legal and procedural motifs for humorous effect, aware that his cultured readers would appreciate the technicalities." He effectively satirizes the world in which he lived, and many of the things he writes about are no doubt lost to modern readers. However, like all great works of literature, the novel is universal in its themes and resonance. We can all learn from Lucius's inordinate curiosity and can all laugh at his exploits as an ass. We can appreciate the peace that comes with spirituality, and mourn the loss of loved ones along with the characters. The novel may seem very remote in some respects, but in others is very recognizable.
What point do the early exploits of Lucius in Thessaly serve in the novel?
Lucius gets into a number of adventures when he is in Thessaly, a town that he walks into wondering about its magic and mysteries. He is sexually aroused by Pamphile but enters into a relationship with Photis. He drunkenly stabs three wineskins thinking they are robbers and is then on defense in a sham trial dedicated to the god of Laughter. He eagerly listens to stories about magic but absorbs none of their messages and warnings. Similarly, he listens to Byrrhena but does not take her advice about avoiding Pamphile to heart. Finally, he begs Photis to let him watch Pamphile perform magic, which leads him to his transformation. Overall, Lucius is depicted as lustful, debauched, arrogant, insatiably curious, and strong-willed. It is not surprising to readers that he receives a comeuppance, and that the rest of the novel is spent teaching him lessons.
Why does the novel end with Lucius's religious conversion?
Scholars have long debated and discussed this curious shift of tone, mood, and moral. Gone are the irony and earthiness of the first ten books, replaced by religious zealousness and slavish devotion. The Lucius from before hasn't just learned his lesson; he has completely abandoned his former life for a new one dedicated to Isis and Osiris. While this is somewhat jarring, and some critics wonder if it isn't all supposed to be rather tongue-in-cheek, others point to the foreshadowing elements of the Tale of Cupid and Psyche. Walsh believes that it was a concerted effort on Apuleius's part to proselytize: "The author therefore identifies himself at this point with his hero, so that there is a clear case for calling Book 11 a personal testament. The propaganda elements in his account are conspicuous." It seems likely that Apuleius knew exactly what he was doing, weaving hints about this end into earlier parts of the novel and then letting himself be as fervid as he wished when he actually wrote the last book.