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The Mantle of Humanity: Met. 11.24 and Apuleian Ethics

Sasha-Mae Eccleston

In this paper, I demonstrate how understanding animality throughout Apuleius' corpus illuminates
his narrative technique in the Metamorphoses. I argue that Lucius' donning of an animal cloak
and pretending to be a statue at Met. XI. 24 support a pessimistic reading of Lucius'
conversion. Isiac cult is shown obfuscating the human-animal boundary rather than securing the
humanity of its adherents. Lucius may look like a human at the end of the novel, but he is still an
animal in terms of Apuleian ethics: a being with a flawed sense of ratio whose oratio is stifled by
cult membership.

Apuleius uses animals to contemplate human moral agency in his speeches, prose fiction, and
philosophical treatises. For Apuleius, the rational potential of the human being differentiates him
from all other animals (De Platone 1.12; De Deo Socratis 4). In order to maximize that potential,
humans must study philosophy (De Platone 2.2-6). Philosophy alone secures ones humanity and
allows one supersede it. Indeed, Apuleius' idealized wise man masters reason (ratio) and speech
(oratio) (De Platone 2.20-21), becoming something like a god (De Platone 2.23).

In turn, Apuleius describes the pessimus in the De Platone operating contrary to nature and living
an inhuman life, vitam inhumanam (2.16-17). Likewise, in the De Deo Socratis, Apuleius
laments how men have disregarded the philosophical training (doctrina or disciplina) that helps
them perfect their humanity (De Deo Socratis 21-22). Human beings should be ratione
gaudentes, oratione pollentes as the preeminent animal on earth (De Deo Socratis 3). But, they
often stray so far from philosophical training (verae disciplinae) that they become animals instead
(efferarint, De Deo Socratis 3).

According to these parameters, Lucius at Met. XI. 24 lacks true, philosophical humanity after his
conversion to Isiac cult. There, the cult members dress Lucius up as a statue in the center of Isis'
shrine. He is given an expensive cape embroidered with the figures of various animals. Atop a
podium, Lucius is there to be gawked at and not addressed (ad aspectum): he does not speak to
the onlookers. Standing in front of the image of Isis, Lucius is incapable of declaring whatever
wisdom Isiac worship could have given him to others—as Apuleius says the wise man
does. Dressed in an animal cloak and made to stand silently, Lucius resembles his former asinine
self, imbued with humanus sensus but unable to utter articulate speech.

In the narrative of his life in Isiac cult, Lucius focuses upon his notoriety, much like he did as an
ass. He also declares that as a pastophor he has been promoted from the herd of Isiac worshippers
(ne sacris suis gregi cetero permixtus). He fails to note that as a pastophor his job is to carry
around the image of the goddess. Speaking to his readership, the "new" Lucius takes pride in
discharging the same duty he had as a pack animal.

In Book XI of the Metamorphoses, Lucius devotes himself to the worship of Isis, believing that
the goddess restores his human form and redeems his life. Nevertheless, the animal-like absence
of speech at Met. XI. 24 and the references to animals throughout the narration of his new life
suggest that Lucius has failed to change. Without philosophy, Lucius never gets a firm hold on
his most basic identity—his humanity. In various ways, he continues to be the same old Lucius,
prone to the same mistakes Apuleius describes as dehumanizing. Through an analysis of
animality in all of Apuleius' works, readers of the Metamorphoses can better know the stakes of
narrating the life of a man who transformed into an ass.

Session/Panel Title

Libros Me Futurum: New Directions in Apuleian Scholarship

Session/Paper Number


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