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Cupid’s palace in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses: An unnoticed reenactment of the prologue’s ‘poetics of seduction’

Aldo Tagliabue

University of Notre Dame

At the beginning of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses an unnamed speaker promises to the reader that she will experience wonder, a siren-like seduction, and entertainment by listening to the novel’s stories about the metamorphoses of human characters (Graverini 2012, 1-50). This paper argues that a large section of the famous Cupid and Psyche story (henceforth C&P), namely the narration set in Cupid’s palace (Met. 5.1-24), contains an unnoticed re-enactment of the novel’s prologue, with a focus on its ‘poetics of seduction’.        

Scholars of C&P have mostly restricted their comments either to the story’s allegorical function or to the identification of its parallels with the rest of the novel (Kenney 1990, 12-28). However, no study has examined the story’s relationship with the novel’s prologue beyond the obvious allusion in the preface of C&P to the first phrase of the Metamorphoses (cf. Met. 4.27.8: ‘sed ego te narrationibus lepidis … avocabo’ and Met. 1.1.1: ‘at ego tibi … varias fabulas conseram’: see Smith 1998, 70).

In my paper, I will first argue that Psyche’s visit to Cupid’s palace represents a re-enactment of the prologue of the Metamorphoses, in which the palace stands for the entire novel, and in which Psyche’s wonder at the palace closely match the experience which the prologue-speaker has promised to its reader (part 1). Secondly I will argue that the sisters’ rhetorical manipulation of Psyche connotes a second re-enactment of the prologue, in that as deceivers they evoke the earlier persona of the prologue-speaker (part 2). In conclusion, I will suggest that these unnoticed allusions in C&P to the prologue enrich the reader’s experience of the entire novel.

In Part 1, my reading of the ekphrasis of Cupid’s palace as a mise-en-abyme of the novel expands upon van Mal-Maeder 2005 and focuses on Apuleius’ repeated exploitation of the traditional parallel between the art of writing and the craft of building (e.g. 5.1.2: ‘domus regia est aedificata non humanis manibus sed divinibus artibus’). My study of Psyche’s response to the palace focuses on textual allusions back to the prologue: in her visit the word ‘mirificum’ (Met. 5.2.2) recalls the prologue’s clause ‘ut mireris’ (1.1.3), while the phrase ‘quae cuncta … dulcissimis modulis animos audientium remulcebant’ (5.15.2) is an echo of the famous words ‘auresque tuas benivolas lepido susurro permulceam’ (1.1.1).

In part 2, I will focus on the sisters’ address to Psyche in Met. 5.17.2-5.18.3, which leads the protagonist to believe that her husband is a monster (5.19.2). In this analysis, the sisters’ parallel with the prologue-speaker is suggested by their shared use of alluring rhetoric, and is reinforced by the sisters’ identification with the Sirens (5.12.6), who stand for a traditional mythical symbol of a ‘poetics of seduction’ (Wedner 1994, 58-112).

In conclusion I will argue that Cupid’s palace, by reminding the reader of the poetics of the prologue, provides her with new insights into the entire text. First, Cupid’s palace suggests that the seductive function is one of the most important of the Metamorphoses. Second, since Psyche is presented as a gullible listener (‘Psyche … simplex’, 5.18.4) to her sisters’ lies (‘quam concolores fallacias adtexamus’, 5.16.5), C&P makes the reader alert about the dangers of being seduced by the novel (cf. Finkelpearl 1998, 82-109). Third, unlike in the prologue, in Cupid’s palace the novel’s ‘poetics of seduction’ is focused on a divine rather than a human subject, namely Cupid in his palace. This difference invites the reader to take into account the importance of the divine within her experience of the Metamorphoses as an alluring text. Here I will challenge the influential view that in Apuleius the reader’s response to the divine is predominantly intellectual and allegorical (Winkler 1985).

C&P not only constitutes an allegory of the Soul striving to reach the Divine, but also provides an unexpected mirror to the prologue, and in so doing offers an ‘allegory’ of how the reader should read the entire novel.

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Style and Rhetoric

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