Quis ille Asinus aureus? The Metamorphoses of Apuleius' Title


  • Anton Bitel


Since the early history of its transmission, not one, but two different titles, have been attested for Apuleius’ story of Lucius’ extraordinary adventures: Metamorphoses and Asinus aureus. This raises two separate, but related types of question: what was the original title which designated Apuleius’ text, and what might that title mean? While both received titles have had their respective champions, recent scholarship has suggested that the original title may have been double; and that it may have referred either to the long ears, or to the Sethian aspect, of the asinine protagonist. This paper first surveys and extends these lines of enquiry, and then throws several new interpretative balls into the air, arguing for chromatic, monetary, metallurgical, and entomological readings of the title. These readings are as much a response to Apuleius’ text as to his title; for it is the text which dramatises and makes sense of its otherwise enigmatic title, even as the title directs the reader’s attention to certain motifs in the text which might otherwise have seemed less significant. In tracing the different semantic relationships that develop between title and text, I shall demonstrate that the meaning of Apuleius’ title is as riddlingly elusive and infuriatingly multiple as the identity of the prologue’s ego (quis ille?).