As soon as night was past and a new day began to spring, I fortuned to awake, and rose out of my bed as half amazed, and indeed desirous to know and see some strange and marvelous things…. Neither was there anything which I saw that I did believe to be the same which it was indeed, but everything seemed to me transformed into other shapes by the wicked power of enchantment, in so much that I thought the stones against which I might stumble were indurate and turned from men into that figure, and that the birds which I heard chirping, and the trees and the running waters were changed into such feathers and leaves and fountains. And further I thought that the statues and images would by and by move, and that the walls would talk, and the kine and other brute beasts would speak and tell strange news, and that immediately I should hear some oracle from heaven and from the ray of the sun.
Ready now for any adventure, Lucius rubs himself with a magic ointment, meanwhile mightily wishing to be changed into a bird; but as he rubs he becomes a perfect ass. Thenceforth the story records the tribulations of an ass with “the sense and understanding of a man.” His single consolation lies in his “long ears, whereby I might hear all things that were even afar off.” He will be restored to human shape, he is told, if he can find and eat a rose. He achieves this consummation after a long Asineid of vicissitudes. Disenamored of life, he turns first to philosophy, then to religion, and composes a prayer of thanksgiving to Isis astonishingly like a Christian apostrophe to the Mother of God. He shaves his head, is received into the third order of Isiac initiates, and paves a road back to earth by revealing a dream in which Osiris, “greatest of the gods,” bids him go home and practice law.
Few books embrace so much nonsense, but fewer still have phrased it so pleasantly. Apuleius tries every manner of style and manages each successfully; he loves most a rich and fanciful verbiage ornate with alliteration and assonance, picturesque slang and archaic speech, sentimental diminutives, rhythmic and sometimes poetic prose. An Oriental warmth of coloring accompanies here an Oriental mysticism and sensuality. Perhaps Apuleius wished to suggest, from the background of his experience, that sensual indulgence is an intoxicating ferment which changes us into beasts, and that we can become human again only through the rose of wisdom and piety.
He is at his best in the incidental stories caught by his powerful and perambulating ears; so an old woman comforts a kidnaped maiden by recounting the romance of Cupid and Psyche- how the son of Venus fell in love with a pretty maid, gave her every joy but that of seeing him, aroused his mother to cruel jealousy, and came to a happy ending in the skies. No artist’s brush, in many an effort, has bettered the hoar shrew’s tongue in telling the ancient tale.