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The Golden Asse


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Tags: Fiction » Classics

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The Golden Asse, also known as The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, is the only ancient novel in Latin that has survived in its entirety. It tells the story of Lucius and his desire to practice magic. After seeing his friend's wife transform herself into a bird using a magic spell, he asks Photis, a young servant girl in his friend's house, to do the same to him. However, something goes wrong and Lucius is instead, transformed into an ass. The story then follows Lucius on his adventures, as he goes on both a literal and metaphorical journey, until he is finally turned back into a human by the goddess Isis. Composed of eleven books and forty-eight chapters, the main story has other stories embedded into it, such as the tales of Aristomenes, Thelyphron, Cupid and Psyche, the Tale of the Wife's Tub, the Tale of the Jealous Husband, the Tale of the Fuller's Wife, and the Tale of the Jealous Wife. The Golden Asse has influenced many other writers, including Kafka, Machiavelli, and C. S. Lewis. Full chapter list

№ 68 in Anne Haight's List of Banned Books.

This book has 152 pages in the PDF version. This edition of a translation by William Adlington was originally published in 1659 and the original spelling, capitalisation and punctuation have been retained.

Production notes: This edition of The Golden Asse was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 12th July 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'The Abduction of Psyche' by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

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Excerpt from 'The Golden Asse'

As I fortuned to take my voyage into Thessaly, about certaine affaires which I had to doe ( for there myne auncestry by my mothers side inhabiteth, descended of the line of that most excellent person Plutarch, and of Sextus the Philosopher his Nephew, which is to us a great honour) and after that by much travell and great paine I had passed over the high mountaines and slipperie vallies, and had ridden through the cloggy fallowed fields; perceiving that my horse did wax somewhat slow, and to the intent likewise that I might repose and strengthen my self (being weary with riding) I lighted off my horse, and wiping the sweat from every part of his body, I unbrideled him, and walked him softly in my hand, to the end he might pisse, and ease himself of his weariness and travell: and while he went grazing freshly in the field (casting his head sometimes aside, as a token of rejoycing and gladnesse) I perceived a little before me two companions riding, and so I overtaking them made a third. And while I listened to heare their communication, the one of them laughed and mocked his fellow, saying, Leave off I pray thee and speak no more, for I cannot abide to heare thee tell such absurd and incredible lies; which when I heard, I desired to heare some newes, and said, I pray you masters make me partaker of your talk, that am not so curious as desirous to know all your communication: so shall we shorten our journey, and easily passe this high hill before us, by merry and pleasant talke.

But he that laughed before at his fellow, said againe, Verily this tale is as true, as if a man would say that by sorcery and inchantment the floods might be inforced to run against their course, the seas to be immovable, the aire to lacke the blowing of windes, the Sunne to be restrained from his naturall race, the Moone to purge his skimme upon herbes and trees to serve for sorceries: the starres to be pulled from heaven, the day to be darkened and the dark night to continue still. Then I being more desirous to heare his talke than his companions, sayd, I pray you, that began to tell your tale even now, leave not off so, but tell the residue. And turning to the other I sayd, You perhappes that are of an obstinate minde and grosse eares, mocke and contemme those things which are reported for truth, know you not that it is accounted untrue by the depraved opinion of men, which either is rarely seene, seldome heard, or passeth the capacitie of mans reason, which if it be more narrowly scanned, you shall not onely finde it evident and plaine, but also very easy to be brought to passe.


The other night being at supper with a sort of hungry fellowes, while I did greedily put a great morsel of meate in my mouth, that was fried with the flower of cheese and barley, it cleaved so fast in the passage of my throat and stopped my winde in such sort that I was well nigh choked. And yet at Athens before the porch there called Peale, I saw with these eyes a jugler that swallowed up a two hand sword, with a very keene edge, and by and by for a little money that we who looked on gave him, hee devoured a chasing speare with the point downeward. And after that hee had conveyed the whole speare within the closure of his body, and brought it out againe behind, there appeared on the top thereof (which caused us all to marvell) a faire boy pleasant and nimble, winding and turning himself in such sort, that you would suppose he had neither bone nor gristle, and verily thinke that he were the naturall Serpent, creeping and sliding on the knotted staffe, which the god of Medicine is feigned to beare. But turning me to him that began his tale, I pray you (quoth I) follow your purpose, and I alone will give credit unto you, and for your paynes will pay your charges at the next Inne we come unto. To whom he answered Certes sir I thank you for your gentle offer, and at your request I wil proceed in my tale, but first I will sweare unto you by the light of this Sunne that shineth here, that those things shall be true, least when you come to the next city called Thessaly, you should doubt any thing of that which is rife in the mouthes of every person, and done before the face of all men. And that I may first make relation to you, what and who I am, and whither I go, and for what purpose, know you that I am of Egin, travelling these countries about from Thessaly to Etolia, and from Etolia to Boetia, to provide for honey, cheese, and other victuals to sell againe: and understanding that at Hippata (which is the principall city of all Thessaly), is accustomed to be soulde new cheeses of exceeding good taste and relish, I fortuned on a day to go thither, to make my market there: but as it often happeneth, I came in an evill houre; for one Lupus a purveyor had bought and ingrossed up all the day before, and so I was deceived.

Wherefore towards night being very weary, I went to the Baines to refresh my selfe, and behold, I fortuned to espy my companion Socrates sitting upon the ground, covered with a torn and course mantle; who was so meigre and of so sallow and miserable a countenance, that I scantly knew him: for fortune had brought him into such estate and calamity, that he verily seemed as a common begger that standeth in the streets to crave the benevolence of the passers by. Towards whom (howbeit he was my singular friend and familiar acquaintance, yet half in despaire) I drew nigh and said, Alas my Socrates, what meaneth this? how faireth it with thee? What crime hast thou committed? verily there is great lamentation and weeping for thee at home: Thy children are in ward by decree of the Provinciall Judge: Thy wife (having ended her mourning time in lamentable wise, with face and visage blubbered with teares, in such sort that she hath well nigh wept out both her eyes) is constrained by her parents to put out of remembrance the unfortunate losse and lacke of thee at home, and against her will to take a new husband. And dost thou live here as a ghost or hogge, to our great shame and ignominy?

Then he answered he to me and said, O my friend Aristomenus, now perceive I well that you are ignorant of the whirling changes, the unstable forces, and slippery inconstancy of Fortune: and therewithall he covered his face (even then blushing for very shame) with his rugged mantle insomuch that from his navel downwards he appeared all naked.

But I not willing to see him any longer in such great miserie and calamitie, took him by the hand and lifted him up from the ground: who having his face covered in such sort, Let Fortune (quoth he) triumph yet more, let her have her sway, and finish that which shee hath begun. And therewithall I put off one of my garments and covered him, and immediately I brought him to the Baine, and caused him to be anointed, wiped, and the filthy scurfe of his body to be rubbed away; which done, though I were very weary my selfe, yet I led the poore miser to my Inne, where he reposed his body upon a bed, and then I brought him meat and drinke, and so wee talked together: for there we might be merry and laugh at our pleasure, and so we were, untill such time as he (fetching a pittifull sigh from the bottom of his heart, and beating his face in miserable sort), began to say.

Chapter List for 'The Golden Asse'


The Life Of Lucius Apuleius Briefly Described

The Preface Of The Author To His Sonne, Faustinus


The First Chapter: How Apuleius riding in Thessaly, fortuned to fall into company with two strangers, that reasoned together of the mighty power of Witches.

The Second Chapter: How Apuleius told to the strangers, what he saw a jugler do in Athens.

The Third Chapter: How Socrates in his returne from Macedony to Larissa was spoyled and robbed, and how he fell acquainted with one Meroe a Witch.

The Fourth Chapter: How Meroe the Witch turned divers persons into miserable beasts.

The Fifth Chapter: How Socrates and Aristomenus slept together in one Chamber, and how they were handled by Witches.

The Sixth Chapter: How Apuleius came unto a city named Hipate, and was lodged in one Milos house, and brought him letters from one Demeas of Corinth.

The Seventh Chapter: How Apuleius going to buy fish, met with his companion Pythias.


The Eighth Chapter: How Apuleius fortuned to meet with his Cousin Byrrhena.

The Ninth Chapter: How Apuleius fell in love with Fotis.

The Tenth Chapter: How Byrrhena sent victuals unto Apuleius, and how hee talked with Milo of Diophanes, and how he lay with Fotis.

The Eleventh Chapter: How Apuleius supped with Byrrhena, and what a strange tale Bellephoron told at the table.


The Twelfth Chapter: How Apuleius was taken and put in prison for murther.

The Thirteenth Chapter: How Apuleius was accused by an old man, and how he answered for himselfe.

The Fourteenth Chapter: How Apuleius was accused by two women, and how the slaine bodies were found blowne bladders.

The Fifteenth Chapter: How Fotis told to Apuleius, what witchcraft her mistresse did use.

The Sixteenth Chapter: How Fotis brought Apuleius to see her Mistresse enchant.

The Seventeenth Chapter: How Apuleius thinking to be turned into a Bird, was turned into an Asse, and how he was led away by Theves.


The Eighteenth Chapter: How Apuleius thinking to eat Roses, was cruelly beaten by a Gardener, and chased by dogs.

The Nineteenth Chapter: How Apuleius was prevented of his purpose, and how the Theeves came to their den.

The Twentieth Chapter: How Thrasileon was disguised in a Beares skin, and how he was handled.

The Twenty-First Chapter: How the Theeves stole away a Gentlewoman, and brought her to their den.


The Twenty-Second Chapter: The most pleasant and delectable tale of the marriage of Cupid and Psyches.


The Twenty-Third Chapter: How Apuleius carried away the Gentlewoman, and how they were taken againe by the theeves, and what a kind of death was invented for them.


The Twenty-Fourth Chapter: How hee that was left behinde at Hippata did bring newes concerning the robbery of Miloes house, came home and declared to his Company, that all the fault was laid to one Apuleius his charge.

The Twenty-Fifth Chapter: How the death of the Asse, and the Gentlewoman was stayed.

The Twenty-Sixth Chapter: How all the Theeves were brought asleepe by their new companion.

The Twenty-Seventh Chapter: How the Gentlewoman was carried home by her husband while the theeves were asleepe, and how much Apuleius was made of.

The Twenty-Eighth Chapter: How Apuleius was made a common Asse to fetch home wood, and how he was handled by a boy.

The Twenty-Ninth Chapter: How Apuleius was accused of Lechery by the boy.

The Thirtieth Chapter: How the boy that lead Apuleius to the field, was slaine in the wood.

The Thirty-First Chapter: How Apuleius was cruelly beaten by the Mother of the boy that was slaine.


The Thirty-Second Chapter: How a young man came and declared the miserable death of Lepolemus and his wife Charites.

The Thirty-Third Chapter: How Apuleius was lead away by the Horsekeeper: and what danger he was in.

The Thirty-Fourth Chapter: How the shepheards determined to abide in a certaine wood to cure their wounds.

The Thirty-Fifth Chapter: How a woman killed her selfe and her child, because her husband haunted harlots.

The Thirty-Sixth Chapter: How Apuleius was cheapned by divers persons, and how they looked in his mouth to know his age.


The Thirty-Seventh Chapter: How Apuleius saved himselfe from the Cooke, breaking his halter, and of other things that happened.

The Thirty-Eighth Chapter: Of the deceipt of a Woman which made her husband Cuckold.

The Thirty-Ninth Chapter: How the Priests of the goddesse Siria were taken and put in prison, and how Apuleius was sold to a Baker.

The Fortieth Chapter: How Apuleius was handled by the Bakers wife, which was a harlot.

The Forty-First Chapter: How Barbarus being jealous over his wife, commanded that shee should be kept close in his house, and what happened.

The Forty-Second Chapter: How Apuleius after the Baker was hanged, was sold to a Gardener, and what dreadfull things happened.

The Forty-Third Chapter: How Apuleius was found by his shadow.


The Forty-Fourth Chapter: How the souldier drave Apuleius away, and how he came to a Captaines house, and what happened there.

The Forty-Fifth Chapter: How Apuleius was sold to two brethren, whereof one was a Baker, and the other a Cooke, and how finely and daintily he fared.

The Forty-Sixth Chapter: How a certaine Matron fell in love with Apuleius, how hee had his pleasure with her, and what other things happened.


The Forty-Seventh Chapter: How Apuleius by Roses and prayer returned to his humane shape.

The Forty-Eighth Chapter: How the parents and friends of Apuleius heard news that he was alive and in health.

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