Sarah Harper '16 analyzes 'magical realism' in Apuleius' Metamorphoses

“Listen closely, reader, and delight.” So begins the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, a magical, bawdy romp of a novel that follows the adventures of Lucius, a Roman aristocrat mistakenly turned into ass. As Lucius wanders the Greek countryside, he offers the reader a peek into provincial life, and into the lives of the common and the servile in the Roman Empire. Yet Lucius’ world is one of hybrid realities, where the magical and the mundane coexist, converge, and contradict. Corpses are reanimated, people become animals, vengeful ghosts interfere in mortal affairs, and wineskins are transformed into men and back again – but these extraordinary events are woven into the ordinary pattern of life, slipped among lewd sexual encounters, senseless murders, court trials, robberies, adulterous escapades, and the day-to-day tribulations of a common donkey.

My thesis will contend that, due to its use of the fantastic and the grotesque, the Metamorphoses belongs to the genre of magical realism. Using Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude as a point of comparison, I will examine how Apuleius manipulates time, space and identity in order to distort his characters’ realities and reflect the political and social disorientation of the colonized. Themes that will be touched upon include the influence of “indigenous” Punic culture; the transgressive quality of magic in the Roman Empire; the conflict of magic and science; the ambiguity of space-time in the “story-scape”; and the role of language in Apuleius’ self-conscious storytelling. The Metamorphoses is a study of cultural hybridity in the late empire: set in Greece, penned in Latin, written by a North African, the novel allows unheard voices to speak and subvert the discourse of the dominant Roman elite.