"Dearest Lucius, I swear by the goddess here; I am troubled and fearful for you...Take stringent precautions against the wicked arts and evil enticements of the notorious Pamphile, the wife of Milo, who you say is your host."
Lucius's aunt takes pains to warn him against the notorious Pamphile, but he chooses to ignore her. This comes after he has heard the story of Aristomenes, which also warns against being too curious about magic, and comes before he will hear the story of Thelyphron, which also warns against entangling with magic. Lucius is motivated by his own self-will and allows his curiosity to overcome him, ignoring the advice and examples of others. His immaturity in this respect leads to his transformation into an ass, and is one of the morals of the story.
"As I helplessly surveyed the entire length of my body, and came to the realization that I was not a bird but an ass, I tried to complain at what Photis had done to me. But I was know deprived of the human faculties of gesture and speech..."
This is a climactic moment in the text: Lucius, instead of turning into a bird as he had wished and expected, is turned into a base and boorish ass. He loses his connection to humanity except for his hearing, which allows him to chronicle his adventures and those of others. Being an ass is a debasing and humiliating experience for the young man, and his life will be a series of misfortunes and cruelties. However, as the novel is partly allegorical, Lucius's journey as an ass teaches him valuable lessons and brings him to religious enlightenment.
"How stupid am I to be carrying this beauty-lotion fit for deities, and not to take a single drop of it for myself, for with this at any rate I can be pleasing to my beautiful lover."
The Tale of Cupid and Psyche is not merely diverting; rather, it is a mirror of Lucius's own story. Psyche is curious and strongly self-willed; her inability to listen to the counsel of Cupid is similar to Lucius ignoring the warnings of Byrrhena and others. After she ignores Cupid in favor of her sisters, Psyche becomes estranged from her loved one and is forced to undergo a series of difficult tests. She then looks into the box of Proserpina after being explicitly told not to. She seems to learn a little bit by the end of the tale, but is in fact rescued by Jupiter, who intervenes on her behalf.
"This is how with due ceremony Psyche was wed to Cupid, and at full term a daughter was born to them. We call her pleasure."
By the end of the tale of Cupid and Psyche, it becomes clear that we are reading a story that is intimately related to that of Lucius. As stated previously, Psyche's curiosity is a mirror to Lucius's own. And now, at the end of this story in which the gods (Jupiter in particular) intervene to rescue Psyche and right the situation, it becomes clear that something similar will happen to Lucius. Indeed, Isis rescues Lucius from being an ass, and leads him to a life of righteousness and peace. Apuleius intimates that humans cannot fully live without the intervention, guidance, and inspiration of the gods.
"In my case, Fortune by launching her most savage attack had transformed me into the four-footed beast of the most menial condition."
Throughout the text Lucius seems to "blame" Fortune for what has happened to him. Yes, certainly he seems to have a series of terrible things happen to him when he is an ass, and each owner brings their own fresh hell of beatings, mockery, starvation, and humiliation. However, it is important to remember that he was not accidentally turned into an ass, or just randomly turned into one day. Lucius chose to ignore repeated warnings and examples of the dangers of interfering with magic. It was his own folly that led him to his metamorphosis.
"My natural reaction was to criticize the whole sex when I observed that this girl, who had pretended to be in love with her young suitor and to long for a chaste marriage, welcomed the prospect of a foul and filthy brothel."
This passage is somewhat jarring but unsurprising to modern readers. Lucius sees Charite look pleased about the brothel idea put forth by Haemus/Tlepolemus and concludes that she is unfaithful and libidinous. He does not consider that she may be faking it to save herself, or even that working in a brothel is preferable to death. He simply claims that all women are monsters, which is something he never does when an individual man reveals himself to be evil or immoral. This is unsurprising because of the entrenched patriarchy of the ancient world. Women were condemned for their sexuality (see the Themes section of this Study Guide), did not hold any positions of power, and were considered weak, silly, and prone to immorality.
"In loud, oracular tones he began lyingly to reproach and charge himself with having committed some wicked sin against the sacred tenets of his holy religion...Many of those watching vied with each other in contributing coppers and even silver coins..."
Lucius's journey as an ass takes him through a world rife with immorality, betrayal, stupidity, violence, and chicanery. This chronicle of the priests is less macabre than some of the others, but certainly does hold a lens to a dissolute world. The priests are depicted as sexual deviants, as con artists, and as histrionic charlatans. While they do not abuse Lucius in the same way as some of his other owners, he is ashamed to be in their presence. They are blaspheming their religion in pursuit of profit, which is certainly something that the Lucius at the end of the novel (as an initiate of Isis) would be condemnatory of.
"We were accommodated at the nearest inn, and there we heard a witty story which I should like you too to hear. It concerns the cuckolding of an innocent man."
One of the most conspicuous elements of this novel is that it nests stories within stories. Apuleius threads his meta-narrative told by Lucius with stories told by other characters. There are stories told, stories heard, stories witnessed. This is done not just to entertain but to foreshadow, compare and contrast, and create a panorama of the world in which Lucius exists.
"Shame at the prospect of public copulation, and disgust at being besmirched by this foul female criminal, afflicted me..."
As a character Lucius does not evolve in the believable way we've come to expect in modern literature, but he does evince some degree of transformation as the narrative proceeds. Earlier in the novel he was motivated primarily by sex, but by this episode he has moved beyond wanting sex regardless of the consequences or the particulars to being ashamed at having to have sex with a woman of disrepute. His shame reflects his growing perspicacity and maturity, and brings him closer to being a human again.
"So I had my head completely shaved once more, and gladly performed the duties of that ancient college, founded as long ago as the days of Sulla. I did not cover or conceal my bald head, but sported it openly wherever I went."
Lucius's religious epiphany is somewhat surprising given his earthy, carnal orientation for most of the text; indeed, critics have long debated this pendulum shift from body to mind. However, Apuleius didn't simply lose track of his narrative. It can be seen in coming in the Tale of Cupid and Psyche, and in Lucius's growing maturity. Apuleius also demonstrates narrative cohesion because in this very last line in which Lucius gladly accepts and flaunts his baldness in service to the gods, one can recall an earlier moment in the text when Lucius spent a copious amount of time praising the luxurious locks of Photis as he prepared to bed her. Hair symbolizes sex, woman, immorality, and irrationality; now shorn, Lucius has been, in essence, reborn.
The Golden Ass Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Golden Ass is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.