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Stop the Clock! Time in Apuleius' "Apology"

Lauren Miller

University of California, Berkeley

It is difficult to overstate the importance of timing in a courtroom drama, and while Apuleius’ Apology may be a far cry from contemporary daytime television, it has all the classic elements: the elderly widow, the vengeful son, the attractive young defendant, the family fortune at stake. In this paper, I examine four moments in which Apuleius makes direct reference to the amount of the time that has passed during the trial. These moments fall into roughly two categories -- oblique references to time, such as when Apuleius comments on the length of the prosecution’s case and when he tells Pudens, his accuser, that he can have some of his own allotted speech time; and more literal references, as when Apuleius commands the courtroom attendant to either stop the water-clock or let it run. I suggest that in addition to firmly placing the speech in the setting of the courtroom, Apuleius uses time as a mode of self-characterization throughout the speech. Each of the four instances include value judgments on the use of time — for example, Apuleius criticizes the prosecution for using the court’s time poorly, while he himself uses time well, and he comments that the quotation of a letter written by an “excellent man” is more worthy of time than a quotation of his own work. Consequently, Apuleius employs time as a way of measuring moral worth, and by implication portrays himself as both decorous and knowledgeable of the normative authoritative framework of the courtroom (Noreña, 2014), in which time is of the essence.

While each of the moments I address is of a slightly different flavor, they cluster around places where Apuleius is about to quote written testaments or official documents. Hunink (1997) categorizes both the reference to documents and the water-clock as aspects of the speech which create an overall atmosphere of court. In general, this seems to be the most common interpretation of Apuleius’ inclusion of time and the water-clock: as one of several veristic “anchors” in an overall very literary speech (Harrison, 2001, and Bablitz, 2007). However, even if Apuleius is mimicking his concern with time to create an atmosphere of court, this doesn’t explain why these references are so localized around textual quotations. In fact, the mis- and re- interpretation of letters and documents are of utmost importance to the case: Harrison (2001) has argued that Apuleius’ show of intellectual rigor in the first half of the speech is mirrored in the second half by his emphasis on readings and interpretations of Pudentilla’s letters, which the prosecution has relied on for evidence.  Apuleius contends that the prosecution’s quotations are purposeful misreadings — they have chosen words out of context — so he spends much of the second half of the speech “correcting” the problem by providing the true meaning of the letters. It is before and after these re-readings that Apuleius periodically checks the clock.

To be brief, I will dwell on two of these moments (though in my paper I touch on several others). In the first, Apuleius is about to quote is own writings on fish when he commands the attendant to “please stop the water-clock” (37.4); in the second, he is about to quote Avitus’ letter when he commands the attendant to “let the water keep on flowing; a letter of such an excellent man I would like to read even three or four times, no matter how much time it takes” (94.7-8). That Apuleius “would like to read even three or four times” the letter of an “excellent man” suggests that excellent men are worthy of time; by implication, then, his earlier statement to “stop the clock” humbly positions own work outside of the legitimate time of the courtroom. Thus, by revealing his ability to manipulate time in the courtroom, Apuleius ends up showcasing his authority through a veil of ironic deferentiality.

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Playing with Time

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