Part II The Metamorphoses

Cenatus solis fabulis: A Symposiastic Reading of Apuleius' Novel

  • Maaike Zimmerman


The Metamorphoses, being a text that was designed to be read in private, or in a small circle, deserves an approach that will differ from the approach of his public speeches that were conceived to address and impress a mass audience. Besides the usual display of erudition and stylistic brilliance known from works like the De deo Socratis, the Apology and the Florida, and which are ubiquitous in the Metamorphoses as well, we are entitled to search in this novel also for more intricate patterns. In scholarly studies of the Metamorphoses, various such patterns have been presented, and many of them have enhanced our appreciation of Apuleius’ novel. This paper presents another angle from which it may be possible to trace a pattern in the multi-colored carpet of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses.

It will be shown that in many episodes of the Metamorphoses allusions to banquets, banquet literature, and various types of symposiastic entertainment work towards evoking a convivial atmosphere. Needless to say, that at other occasions, and in other ways, also allusions will be found to a text which was among the most widely read and re-used in writings and speeches of the Greco-Roman educated elite to which Apuleius belonged: Plato’s Symposium.

A survey and discussion of the various ways in which all the above mentioned elements together function in the context of Apuleius’ novel, will help to decide whether one may, besides the many playful and humorously subversive symposium evocations, also detect a more serious reverberation of Plato’s Symposium. Finally, this paper offers the possibility of the elite convivium as an original venue for the Metamorphoses.

Maaike Zimmerman is (retired) senior lecturer of Latin Language and Literature at the Classics Department of the University of Groningen (Netherlands). She is leading editor of Ancient Narrative. At present, Maaike Zimmerman is preparing a text edition of Apuleius' Metamorphoses for the Oxford Classical Texts series. She has been the leader of the Groningen Commentaries on Apuleius' research group, whose most recent publication is: M. Zimmerman et aliiApuleius Madaurensis. Metamorphoses Books IV.28-35, V, and VI. 1-24: The Tale of Cupid and Psyche. Text, Introduction and Commentary, Groningen: Egbert Forsten 2004. Her own publications include: M. Zimmerman, Apuleius Madaurensis. Metamorphoses Book X. Text, Introduction and Commentary, Groningen: Egbert Forsten 2000.

Part II The Metamorphoses