Part II The Metamorphoses

Social Commentary in the Metamorphoses: Apuleius' Play with Satire


  • Elizabeth M. Greene


This paper seeks to strengthen the notion that Apuleius’ Metamorphoses reflects some form of social reality by considering literary strategies used to include social commentary within the novel. I will look at satire – a genre with the express purpose to criticize social vices – as an influence in the reformulation of the ass story for a Latin audience. It is shown that the Metamorphoses takes a moralizing stance and provides social criticism more readily than the Satyrica, a work that has been regularly aligned with satire in the past. This investigation builds on recent arguments that have associated the novel generally with the satirical tradition and by making a direct comparison to themes and language in the satires of Juvenal. It becomes clear that Apuleius may have intentionally included satirical themes in his fictional premise in order to safely project criticism of the contemporary world. Themes such as the notion that nobility is gained by virtue rather than birth, condemnation of the greedy and debauched, and the role of fortune in one’s life are shown to aid Apuleius in criticizing common vices. Apuleius as a social satirist uses the rhetorical skill and play with genre that defines the tradition of Second Sophistic literature, in order to provide a satirical view on vice and virtue. His inclusion of satirical elements corroborates the contention that we can indeed find some form of social reality in the novel.

Elizabeth M. Greene earned a B.A. in Classical Civilization from Boston University and an M.A. in Classical Philology in 2003 and Classical Archaeology in 2004 from Tufts University. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with an interest in the social history and archaeology of the Roman world. She works with the excavation team at the Roman fort at Vindolanda near Hadrian's Wall, and primarily focuses her research on the frontiers of the Western Roman Provinces. She is currently investigating the archaeological, textual, and historical evidence that can enlighten our view of the history of women in the social structure of the Roman military community.





Part II The Metamorphoses