The Golden Ass

The Golden Ass Summary and Analysis of Books 8-9

Book 8

A young man comes to the grooms and herdsmen and tells them the sad news that Charite and her husband are dead. He begins the story of how this came to pass by telling them about Thrasyllus, one of Charite’s suitors who planned a secret revenge against her after being spurned. He pretended he liked her and approved of her new marriage so he could ingratiate himself into the circle. He began to burn with lust for her, but realized it would be hard to attain her with all the guards around as well as Charite’s growing love for her husband.

One day Thrasyllus went hunting with Tlepolemus, and they encountered a monstrous boar. Normally Tlepolemus would have avoided such creatures but Thrasyllus goaded him into chasing it. Thrasyllus betrayed Tlepolemus by cutting his horse’s hamstrings and stabbing him. When others arrived, he blamed the beast and was not suspected.

When Charite heard of her husband’s death she grew raving mad and could not control her grief. After his funeral she began to waste away. Thrasyllus pretended to be her friend and encouraged her to take care of herself, which she grudgingly did.

Her life was bleak and meaningless. Thrasyllus finally revealed his desire for her, and she was shocked and horrified. She saw through his behavior, but pretended she was fine.

One night Tlepolemus came to her in a dream and told her the truth of his death by his betrayer’s hand. Upon waking Charite kept this revelation secret and decided to punish the cruel Thrasyllus and end her life.

She beguiled him by agreeing to his advances upon her, but warned him they must be done in secret. Thrasyllus feverishly accepted this. She explained how her nurse would let him in without a lamp and guide him to her.

That night he came to her bedchamber and she poured a sleeping draught into his wine. Then she stood over him “with steely aggression and fierce rage” (145) and condemned his actions. She spoke of how she would not kill him outright but would deprive him of his sight so he would wander in darkness and uncertainty, always looking for the one who took his eyes. She then stabbed out his eyes, gleefully stating that “your bridesmaids will be the avenging Furies; blindness will be your groomsmen, and the prick of undying guilt” (146).

Charite then headed for her husband’s tomb, with citizens of the town waking up and trying to intervene. She announced she had taken her revenge and then drove a sword into her breast. When Thrasyllus heard of this, guilt washed over him and he locked himself in the tomb with their buried bodies to die of starvation.

When Charite’s household hears of this, they are mournful, but also apprehensive of having new owners; thus, they decide to run away. Lucius is loaded up and the retinue moves along.

At one point they are warned of ravenous wolves but the group does not listen, and moves along. The size and volume of their group warns the wolves off, but local townspeople think they are robbers and attack, setting their dogs on them as well. Eventually they realize their mistake, but the group is heavily injured.

Later they rest by a beautiful grove with trees and meadow. An old man comes to them and asks why they are there, insinuating it is dangerous. He is ignored, and leaves. Another old man arrives and begs for help rescuing his son from a pit. One of the boldest young men agrees to help and leaves with him.

When he does not return, the group investigates. They find a grotesque snake devouring the young man, and realize the first old man’s warnings had been legitimate.

Finally reaching a village, they arrive at an estate run by a trusted slave. That slave is embroiled in a dispute with his fornicating wife, who kills herself. The master punishes the slave cruelly for this, and the household retinue moves on.

They now arrive at a large and popular town. The other pack animals are purchased but Lucius is ignored and derided.

Finally, he is purchased by a catamite (a man who has sex with men); the man is old, balding, and ugly. He asks a lot of questions about Lucius from the auctioneer, who at one point says the ass is pliant as if there was a human being inside. Lucius ends up going away to his new master, Philebus, a priest.

The whole group of priests, whom Philebus calls ‘girls’, is excited by the new addition, although they were hoping for a young man. They yell out in their girlish voices and Lucius is disturbed.

Lucius is put in the manger and a young man there tells him he is glad he is there, so perhaps he can relieve his wearied loins. It is suggested the priests may have sex with Lucius.

The next day the priests dress up for their wanderings and go from place to place, castigating people for their sins and wailing about their own. They lash themselves and spill their own blood in a frenzy of penance. People throw many gifts to them.

At one stop Lucius witnesses them doing unspeakable things to a young man, and wishes he could cry out. A group of men looking for an ass hear Lucius bray and come across the priests’ abominations. The priests are discredited and hated by all.

They consider killing Lucius but hold off for the time being.

As they beat him, a wealthy citizen who fears the gods notices the priests, and takes them into his home.

At that house the cook is afraid because the stag he was making for dinner was stolen, but his wife suggests killing Lucius and using him for the meat. The cook is relieved and prepares to kill the ass.

Book 9

Lucius plans to escape but is thwarted. Suddenly someone runs in, screaming that a mad dog is there, attacking the hunting dogs and coming for everyone. The group wonders if Lucius is also rapid, and when he runs into a sleeping room, he is locked in. Far from bothering him, this allows him to relax and sleep peacefully for once.

Later Lucius is brought out and made to prove he is not rabid, which he does so successfully.

The journey continues, and at an inn Lucius hears a story, which he relates. A poor man had a promiscuous wife, who hid her lover in a corn-jar when her husband showed up unexpectedly. She berated him for doing nothing, but he replied that he sold the corn-jar. She said she did too, for more money, and the quick-witted lover jumped out from his “inspection.” The husband cleaned the jar while the lover had his way with the man’s wife without him knowing.

The priests stay for a while at the inn, but grow tired of listening to citizens’ complaints. They devise a standard, ambiguous proverb to reply with: “Why do the harnessed oxen cleave the field? To make the seeds a luxuriant harvest yield” (165). Still annoyed by incessant supplicants, they leave again.

A band of horseman surrounds them and claims the priests stole a goblet. They procure it, and lock the priests up.

Lucius goes on sale again, and is purchased by a baker. He is put in charge of the largest millstone and is blindfolded. The work is backbreaking, and he is beaten frequently.

He does take pleasure in the affairs of the household, though. The men who work in the bakery are poor, starved, and in ill health. The animals are in terrible condition.

Lucius reflects that while he is an ass, he was able to gain knowledge and observe many things, though it was hard.

He then describes the baker’s terrible wife, a “crabbed and crotchety, libidinous and bibulous, obdurate and obstinate” (170), who is also greedy, cruel, immoral, and had many affairs. She also treats Lucius terribly. Lucius realizes a young man is visiting her, and that an old hag was her friend and assistant in this affair. Lucius’s big ears allow him to hear what she is planning.

It seems she is frustrated with one of her lovers and prefers the handsome and energetic Philesitherus. The old woman tells a story of Philesitherus and another woman, Barbarus’s wife. Barbarus was going on a trip and wanted to make sure his wife was chaste, so he threatened his slave Myrmex with violence if anything happened to the wife. Philesitherus wanted the wife badly, so he bribed Myrmex, who could not ignore the gleaming gold. The lovers embraced, but the husband came home early. All seemed fine, and Philestherus was able to escape, but the husband noticed a pair of slippers in his wife’s bedroom. He prepared to destroy Myrmex in a public forum, but Philesitherus saw the slippers in Barbarus’s hand and rushed over, saying Myrmex had stolen them from him at the bath yesterday. All was well.

The baker’s wife interrupted, and the old woman reassured her she would work to make her encounter with Philesitherus happen.

That night Lucius watches him arrive. Just as he is about to eat and drink with the wife, the baker comes home. Philesitherus is pushed out of sight. The woman asks why he is home, and he sighs that he did not want to dine at his friend’s place anymore because the man’s stupidly regarding his own adulterous wife.

The wife urges her husband to go to bed. Lucius is frustrated that she might get away with it, so he stomps on Philesitherus’s fingers until he cries out. The baker sees him and realizes what is going on. He tells the young man that he will not punish him, but rather will share him with his wife in bed.

The next morning, after he sleeps with the boy, he punishes him by beating his buttocks with a rod. He also throws his wife out of the house.

The wife is angry and decides to seek out an old witch to make her husband either relent or die. The witch tries the former, but it does not work so she plots to take his life.

One day a disheveled woman shows up at the baker’s, asks to talk to him, and brings him in the back. He does not emerge again, and his staff finds him strung up, dead.

His daughter arrives from the neighboring village. She is consumed with grief for her father, but takes over the household. She sells Lucius to a poor market gardener, who works him hard and cannot afford to give him a blanket on cold nights.

One night a wealthy estate-owner has to seek shelter in the gardener’s small home, and pays back the favor by inviting him to his estate. There many strange things happen in succession. First, a chicken comes squawking in, but instead of laying an egg, births a whole chicken. A fountain of blood gushes from the floor. The wine boils in its casks, a weasel drags a dead snake in, a frog leaps out a sheepdog’s mouth, and a ram attacks a dog.

The estate-owner is terrified, and a slave brings more bad news. The master has three sons, all of whom were friends with a poor farmer who lived near a cruel, greedy, wealthy man. The farmer tried to get boundaries drawn between their places, but the evil man was incensed at his gall. He ordered his sheepdogs to be released on the crowd gathered for the demarcation, and the youngest son was killed. The rich man threw a spear and killed the second son. The third son murdered the rich man but slit his own throat before the rich man’s slaves could get him.

When the father hears this he slits his throat as well. The gardener feels sorrow for the man, and laments his own misfortunes too. On his way back a tall soldier accosts him and says he needs the ass. The gardener is able to assault the soldier and escape, where he hides at a friend’s house. Lucius is hidden in the attic.

The soldier is humiliated by his defeat by a gardener, and plans revenge. He claims something important was stolen, and the house is searched. Neither Lucius nor the gardener is seen, until Lucius accidently allows his shadow to slip out as he tries to see what is going on. One of the soldiers sees, and he and the gardener are apprehended.


In this section Lucius moves from owner to owner, limning a world that is harsh, cruel, irrational, immoral, and bereft of kindness. He is beaten and treated terribly, but the real miseries Apuleius details are found in the stories of the people who own Lucius and the stories he overhears thanks to his large ears. These two books are particularly rife with tales of marital infidelity, cuckoldry, and betrayal. Lucius demonstrates a new willingness to be something more than a passive observer, as he actually intervenes by exposing the baker’s wife’s amorous affair. While it is perhaps anachronistic to think of Lucius in terms of the character development we expect from a modern novel, this example does indeed indicate that Lucius may be learning from his experiences and trying to take a more active role in his circumstances. He is making a moral distinction that he perhaps would not have made in his more dissolute days.

That Lucius is making a moral distinction here reinforces that fact the novel is more than just entertainment and comedy, and in fact has a message/meaning to impart. Critics have long debated this; P.G. Walsh says that “the interpreter of the romance [has] to decide whether Apuleius intended it merely as ribald entertainment, or whether he shaped it to be a fable, a story with a moral.” Apuleius opens his novel with a prologue that sounds like it is from a Latin comedy, then moves into the first-person narrative that seems to promise fun and frivolity.

Critics have labeled it an “adventure story,” claiming that the last book is nothing special but rather only a “ballast to offset the prevailing levity of the preceding ten books” (Walsh quoting B.E. Perry). There are many instances of literary parody, as well as contemporary nods, such as the “legal and procedural motifs” used for humorous effect. For a discussion of how the novel functions as much more than this, refer to the Analysis of Books 10 and 11, as an awareness of how the novel ends is necessary to take a holistic view of the text and its myriad meanings.

One of the reasons the work was so popular during its own day was that it alluded to contemporary writers and public figures, allowing the audience to nod or laugh along knowingly. For example, in the story of Charite, Tlepolemus, and Thrasyllus, Apuleius alludes to several sources. First, he models the hunting incident after Herodotus and the Adonis story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Second, Plutarch has a similar story of betrayal and a wife’s revenge. Third, the scene at the tomb is like that of Haemon’s behavior in Sophocles’ Antigone. Fourth, when Tlepolemus appears to Charite in a dream it is reminiscent of Sychaeus appearing to Dido in Virgil’s Aeneid. Later in this story, when the auctioneer jokes about Lucius’s prospects, Apuleius is parodying Cicero’s exordium in his First Catilinarian. Thus, for all of Apuleius’s remarkable ingenuity, he was very much influenced by other writers of his day and sought to allude to them many times throughout the text.