Apuleian Ecphraseis: Depiction at Play
In the Golden Ass Apuleius tests the limits of ecphrastic description within his larger play with the roles of narrator and readers. His treatment of a previous fiction (the Greek Onos) resembles the melete’s inflection of history, re-writing and fundamentally re-imagining earlier narrative. Two ecphraseis of exploration that open books of the novel demonstrate his innovation. In the voice of the narrator Lucius, the traditional city ecphrasis becomes in Book 2 a fevered description of not seeing through the manipulation of both scale and the process of vision. In Book 5 the internal narrator of the Cupid and Psyche tale plays even more marked games with scale and point of view in her yearningly eager description of Cupid’s palace. Through sharply differing games with the erotics of vision, these characterized narrators invite a characterized audience response, allowing readers to participate in the novel’s play of fictions.
Niall W. Slater, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Latin and Greek at Emory University, is the author of Reading Petronius (Johns Hopkins 1990), Plautus in Performance (Princeton 1985, 2nd ed. Harwood 2000), and Spectator Politics: Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes (Penn 2002). Currently he is writing a Duckworth Companion to Euripides' Alcestis.