Part II The Metamorphoses

A Festival of Laugher: Lucius, Milo and Isis Playing the Game of Hospitium

  • Robert E. Vander Poppen


In the world of the Second Sophistic, elites forged connections across the Greek and Roman divide traveling across the Empire. The Metamorphoses depicts this world as a place of uncertainty for the traveler, in which inns were a dangerous option. The practice of hospitium offered an alternative means for facilitating long distance trade and travel. Despite the prominence of hospitium as a facilitating factor in the cosmopolitan world of the High Imperial period, little work has been done on either its literary use, or its larger social function. For Apuleius, the ability to play with readers’ expectations concerning the practice of hospitium is as important to the Metamorphoses as is the resonance of the practice in contemporary society. The rules of hospitium provide the reader with a set of criteria on which to evaluate the behavior and transformation of Lucius. This paper traces Apuleius’ use of hospitium relationships as a literary topos throughout the Metamorphoses. The paper focuses on a pair of hospitium relationships employed by Apuleius (the Milo-Lucius relationship and Isis-Lucius relationship). The text of the Metamorphoses can be read as a story about a quest for suitable hospitium. Apuleius plays with the conventions of hospitium in order to drive the readers’ perception of Lucius’ physical and spiritual journey and transformation. Such a willingness to deconstruct and rearrange the conventions of daily life and relationships are indicative of Apuleius’ fluency with Second-Sophistic style.

Robert E. Vander Poppen is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics at Duke University. Robert earned a B.A. in History and Classical Archaeology from the University of Michigan in 2000. He earned his M.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2003, and received a Ph.D. from the same institution in 2008 with a dissertation on the changing dynamics of village communities in Roman Etruria. His primary research interests include the archaeology and social history of Pre-Roman Italy and the multi-cultural environment of the Second Sophistic movement. He is currently the Assistant Director of Archaeological Survey for the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project and served as the Assistant Field Director for the Poggio Colla Field School from 2004-2006.

Part II The Metamorphoses