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Metamorphosis, or The Golden Ass

[The translation is from Apuleius, The Golden Ass, being the Metamorphosis of Lucius Apuleius, with an English translation by W. Adlington (1566), revised by S. Gaselee, London: William Heinemann, New York: The Macmillan Co., 1915. The few footnotes are from this edition. Translation amended by me.]

(This is a novel about a man who is transformed into a donkey, and his mishaps and adventures.)

Excerpt from Book VIII

... In this manner the crier made all the standers-by to laugh exceedingly; but my evil fortune, which was ever so cruel against me, whom I, by travel of so many countries, could in no wise escape nor appease the envy thereof by all the woes I had undergone, did more and more cast its blind and evil eyes upon me, with invention of new means to afflict my poor body, in giving me another master very fit for my hard fate.

Listen what man he was. A faggot [cinaedus], in fact an old faggot, somewhat bald, with long and grey hair, one of the number of those of the lewdest dregs of the people which go from door to door throughout all the villages, bearing the image of the Syrian goddess, and playing with cymbals and bones, to get the alms of good and charitable folks. This old man came hastily towards the crier, and demanded where I was bred.

"Marry," quoth he, "In Cappadocia: and he is very strong."

Then he enquired what age I was of, and the crier answered lasciviously: "A mathematician, which disposed to me his planets, said that he was five years old; yet this doth he know best himself from his own register public. For I would not willingly incur the penalty of the law Cornelia in selling you a free citizen for a servile slave, yet if you shall buy him you shall have a good and useful chattel both at home and about the country."

But this cursed buyer did never stint to question of my qualities, and at length he demanded whether I were gentle or no: "Gentle!" quoth the crier, "You see before you not an ass, but a lamb, tractable to all use: he will never bite, he will never kick, but you would rather think that under the shape of the ass there were some docile human, which verily you may easily conject; for if you would thrust your face into his feminine parts [feminibus] you shall perceive how patient he is!"

Thus the crier wittily mocked the old rascal; but he, perceiving his taunts and jests, waxed very angry, saying: "Away, doting crier; thou deaf and dumb carrion, I pray the omnipotent and omniparent Syrian goddess, Saint Sabadius, Bellona with the Idaean mother, and Venus with her Adonis to strike out both thine eyes that with taunting mocks hast scoffed me in this sort. Dost thou think that I will put a goddess upon the back of any fierce beast, whereby her divine image should be thrown down on the ground, and so I, poor wretch, should be compelled (tearing my hair) to look for some physician to help her as she lies fallen?"

When I heard him speak this, I thought with myself suddenly to leap up like a mad ass, to the intent he should not buy me, thinking me very fierce; but incontinently, like an eager buyer, he prevented my thought, and would lay down my price for me, even seventeen pence: then my master was glad, being weary of me, and receiving the money, delivered me by mine halter of straw to my new master who was called Philebus.

He carried his new servant home, and when he came to the door of the house, he called out his troop, saying: "Look, girls,* what a pretty servant I have bought for you in the market." Yet these girls were a chorus of faggots, and at first they were marvellous glad, prattling and shouting for joy with their broken and harsh voices, like a troop of women, in discordant sounds, and thought verily that he had brought home a fit and convenient male slave, ready to serve them.

* The feminine is ironically used for the effeminate crew of priests. So in the Attis poem of Catullus (LXIII) the hero, after his emasculation, speaks of himself in the feminine gender.

But when they perceived that it was not even an hind* instead of a maiden, but rather a makeshift ass for a man, they began to reprove him with great scorn, saying that he had not brought a slave for them, but rather a husband for himself. "Howbeit," quoth they, "Keep this pretty beast not wholly for your own delight, but let us, your darling doves, likewise have him at commandment."

* The usual reference to the story of Iphigenia.

Therewithal babbling in this wise, they led me into the stable, and tied me to the manger; and there was a certain stout young man with a mighty body, well skilled in playing on flutes, whom they had bought in a market with the money they had collected; and he walked before their procession, playing the horn when they carried round their goddess, and at home he did service as their general concubine. Now he, as soon as he espied me, entertained me very well, for he filled my rack and manger with meat, and spake merrily, saying: "O master ass, you are welcome; now you shall take my office in hand: you are come to supply my room, and to ease me of my miserable labour: I pray God thou mayest long live and please my masters well, to the end thou mayest continually deliver my weary sides from so great pain and labour." When I heard his words, I did prognosticate my new misery to come.

The day following I saw them apparelled in divers colours, and hideously tricked out, having their faces ruddled with paint, and their eyes tricked out with grease, mitres on their heads, vestments coloured like saffron, surplices of silk and linen; and some wore white tunics painted with purple stripes that pointed every way like spears, girt with belts. And on their feet were yellow shoes; and they attired the goddess in silken robe, and put her upon my back.

Then they went forth with their arms naked to their shoulders, bearing with them great swords and mighty axes, shouting and dancing like mad persons to the sound of the pipe. After that we had passed many small villages, we fortuned to come to a certain rich man's house, where at our first entry they began to howl all out of tune and hurl themselves hither and thither, as though they were mad. They made a thousand gests with their feet and their heads; they would bend down their necks and spin round so that their hair flew out in a circle; they would bite their own flesh; finally, every one took his two-edged weapon and wounded his arms in divers places.

Meanwhile there was one more mad than the rest, that fetched many deep sighs from the bottom of his heart, as though he had been ravished in spirit, or replenished with divine power, and he feigned a swoon and frenzy, as if (forsooth) the presence of the gods were not wont to make men better than before, but weak and sickly.

Mark then how by divine providence he found a just and worthy recompense: after that he had somewhat returned to himself, he invented and forged a great lie, noisily prophesying and accusing and charging himself, saying that he had displeased the divine majesty of the goddess by doing of something which was not convenable to the order of their holy religion, wherefore he prayed that vengeance might be done of himself. And therewithal he took a whip, such as is naturally borne by these half-men, with many twisted knots and tassels of wool, and strung with sheep's knuckle-bones, and with the knotted thongs scourged his own body very strong to bear the pain of the blows, so that you might see the ground to be wet and defiled with the womanish blood that issued out abundantly with the cutting of the swords and the blows of the scourge: which thing caused me greatly to fear to see such wounds and effusion of blood, lest the same foreign goddess should likewise desire the blood of an ass for her stomach, as some men long for milk.

After they at last were weary, or at least satisfied with rending themselves, they ceased from this bloody business: and, behold, they received from the inhabitants, who offered eagerly, into their open bosoms copper coins, nay silver too, vessels of wine, milk, cheese, flour and wheat; and amongst them there were some that brought barley to the ass that carried the goddess: but the greedy whoresons thrust all into their sacks which they brought for the purpose, and put them upon my back, to the end I might serve for two purposes, that is to say: for the barn by reason of my corn, and for the temple by reason of the goddess that I bare.

In this sort they went from place to place robbing all the country over; at length they came to a certain town, purposing to make good cheer there, being glad at a great gain they had gotten, where, under colour of divination, they brought to pass that they obtained a fat ram of a poor husbandman for the goddess' supper, and to make sacrifice withal.

After that the banquet was richly prepared, they washed their bodies, and brought in a lusty young man of the village to sup with them; and when he had scarce tasted a few herbs before the supper they began to reveal their beastly customs and inordinate desires. For they compassed him round about as he sat, to abuse him, but when mine eyes would not long bear to behold this horrible fact, I could not but attempt to utter my mind and say, "O masters," but I could pronounce no more but the first letter "O," which I roared out very clearly and valiantly and like an ass; but at a time inopportune, for some young men of the town, seeking for a stray ass that they had lost the same night, searching diligently all the inns, heard my voice within the house; whereby they judged that I had been theirs, but concealed in a hidden place, and resolving to manage their own business, they entered altogether unawares, and found these persons committing their execrable foulness.

This when they saw they called all the neighbouring inhabitants and declared to them this most vile scene, mocking and laughing at this the pure and clean chastity of these priests. Then they, ashamed at the report which was dispersed throughout all the region there of their beastly wickedness, so that they were justly hated and despised of all, about midnight brought together all their trumpery and departed away from the town ...