The Golden Ass

The Golden Ass Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Hair (Symbol)

Photis's hair is a symbol of sexuality, wantonness, and danger; Lucius's obsession with it directly leads to his turning into an ass. At the end of the novel Lucius reveals his transformation into a (human) religious acolyte by shaving off his hair and proudly going bald.

Cautionary Tale (Allegory)

The novel is sometimes seen as an allegory, with Lucius's journey as an ass exhorting readers to refrain from strong self-will and inordinate levels of curiosity lest they tangle with Fortune and plunge themselves into danger and despair.

Transformation (Motif)

Throughout the novel many characters undergo transformations -Lucius into an ass and then back to a human, Pamphile into a bird, Psyche into a goddess. These are all manifestations of power, but some are done BY someone, and others are done TO someone, which is a reflection of who is powerful and who is not.

The Ass (Symbol)

The ass as an animal is a symbol of baseness, of lewdness, of mindless drudgery. Lucius being turned into one is a commentary on his immorality and lack of wisdom and sense.

Food (Motif)

Lucius is constantly talking about food. He is always starving, trying to find food, excreting the contents of his stomach, stealing food, and then fasting from food once he becomes an initiate. Food is a bodily need and thus associated with survival, but it is also a source of pleasure and thus is occasionally tied to dissolute earthly behavior.