'Food for Thought' for Readers of Apuleius' The Golden Ass


  • Maaike Zimmerman


Taking its cue from Charles Martindale’s concept of ‘chain of receptions’ (Martindale 1993), this essay traces various ‘chains’ of influential readings of Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, from the reception of this novel in the early Renaissance up to the present day. The rigid allegorical readings of Apuleius’ novel represented by for instance Fulgentius, and more importantly by Beroaldo, which had been the first links in a sustainable chain of receptions, have in the course of time been replaced by other, equally influential chains of receptions in modern times. These new chains of receptions have each offered new approaches to the perennial problems that confront the reader of Apuleius’ novel, and opened up ever more layers of interpretation. In this essay it is argued that ‘allegory’ should not be dismissed completely: A softer form of allegory, allegory as a function of reading, that is to say, keeping an open eye for ‘allegorical moments’ in The Golden Ass, on the one hand may enrich our interpretation of this text, and on the other hand does justice to the cultural and spiritual context of the era in which it was written. In an Appendix two different sets of woodcuts, both from around 1500, are shown to represent two different approaches to The Golden Ass already in early modern times.

Maaike Zimmerman is (retired) senior lecturer of Latin Language and Literature at the Classics Department of the University of Groningen (Netherlands). She has been the leading editor of Ancient Narrative from its foundation in 2000 up to early 2009. At present, she is preparing a text edition of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses for the Oxford Classical Texts series. She has been the leader of the ‘Groningen Commentaries on Apuleius’ (GCA) research group that since 1977 has published a series of commentaries on individual books of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses. Her own publications include: M. Zimmerman, Apuleius Madaurensis, Metamorphoses: Book X. Text, Introduction and Commentary, Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 2000.