Stephen Harrison

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online April 2011 | | DOI:

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Apuleius (no other names certain, c. 125–after 170 ce) is one of the key Latin writers of the 2nd century ce, a period that marks the transition from the end of traditional classical culture (Tacitus and Juvenal were probably still alive when Apuleius was born) to the new world of the high empire (Tertullian was certainly born before his death). He can be seen as representing in the Latin West some key aspects of the so-called Greek Second Sophistic, such as a focus on rhetorical performance and an interest in archaic language. He practiced as rhetorician and teacher in Carthage, and his writings were clearly well known in late antiquity in Roman North Africa (he is often mentioned by Augustine) and in Gaul (he is cited by Sidonius Apollinaris). He is best known for his novel Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass, and for its remarkable style: it is the apex of Asianism in Latin, full of poetic and archaic words and apparent coinages, rhythmical and rhyming cola, and colored with colloquialism and Graecisms. His Apologia (self-defense from 158 to 159 ce) is an immensely learned speech that combines Ciceronian forensic fireworks with sophistic epideixis, while the Florida, twenty-odd excerpts from Apuleius’s showy declamations delivered at Carthage in the 160s, show considerable rhetorical and stylistic talent, and the De deo Socratis (probably from the same period) is a declamation on the personal deity of Socrates as seen in Plato. Three extant works ascribed to Apuleius are of debated authenticity: De dogmate Platonis or De Platone, two books of mediocre exposition of the philosophy of Plato; De Interpretatione, a treatise on formal logic; and De mundo, a translation of the pseudo-Aristotelian treatise. Lost Apuleian works known from later citations include further speeches, poems, another novel, and a wide range of scientific and other didactic works. Little known in the medieval period, Apuleius was enthusiastically rediscovered in the Renaissance, and much read and studied, forming the center of debates about Latin prose style (Apuleius versus Cicero); his novel influenced important writers such as Shakespeare and Sidney, and the story of Cupid and Psyche from the Metamorphoses has provided consistent inspiration for further works of art and literature over the last five centuries. Little favored by classicists until the second half of the 20th century, he is now a much-researched author.

Article.  7918 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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