Epona Salvatrix?: Isis and the Horse Goddess in Apuleius' Metamorphoses


  • Jeffrey T. Winkle


This essay attempts to add its voice to the handful of scholars who have seen
specific clues in Books 1-10 of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses which directly or
indirectly point to the “surprise” Isiac ending. The following pages suggest
that we might read (or more specifically, a second century audience would
have read) Lucius’ encounter (immediately following his transformation) at
the shrine of the horse goddess Epona (3.27)—and other passages in the novel
which may recall this goddess—as a direct foreshadowing of and link to the
appearance of Isis in Book 11. Literary and material evidence roughly contemporary
with Apuleius (while not exactly abundant) suggest that Isis and
Epona were indeed linked in the Roman era—largely because of their shared
connections with fortune, abundance, maternity, and liminality—to the point
of even being syncretized into facets of the same goddess. Would the mention
of Epona have triggered an association with Isis in the minds of the novel’s
original audience?

Jeffrey Winkle received his PhD from Northwestern University (Evanston,
Illinois, USA) with a dissertation entitled Daemons, Demiurges, and Dualism:
Apuleius’ Metamorphoses and the mysticism of late antiquity. Since then he
has presented several papers on various religious and philosophical aspects of
the Apuleian novel at many conferences around the globe (including ICAN
IV in Lisbon, Portugal) and is currently working on articles concerning Gnostic
influences on Apuleius as well as the role of the horse goddess Epona in
the Metamorphoses. Since 2005 he has been an assistant professor of Classics
at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.