Thursday, August 10, 2017


I am studying Apuleius's Metamorphoses for several reasons, but principally because of how it manifests the influence of Sappho.  The lack of scholarship on this issue surprises me as well as the fact that such references as there are to her influence on it are so absurdly cautious. A case in point is Claudio Moreschini's otherwise excellent Apuleius and the Metamorphoses of Platonism: he says (p93) that the initial characterization of Cupid in a 'prophetic' wedding song as a snake (Met IV 33) "might be an allusion" to Sappho 130.  Might be?

At least Kenney in his commentary on the Cupid & Psyche episode does not qualify his connection of that passage to Sappho.  But given the now widely accepted theory that Sappho was best known in antiquity as a wedding song poet, the entire Cupid & Psyche episode likely contains many details derived from the lost poetry of Sappho.  The story that frames the Cupid & Psyche episode --the story of Charite and Tlepolemus--likely derives in part from Sappho as well. For, not only is it effectively a tragic wedding story and hence the sort of story Sappho might have told in one of her lost wedding songs, but the death (murder) of Tlepolemus during a hunt plainly is intended to echo the story of Adonis's death while hunting.  Charite's mourning of his death is intended to be reminiscent of ritualized mourning of the death of Adonis.  From S.140 it is apparent that Sappho treated the myth of Adonis in her poetry and it has been suggested that S.140 is from a wedding song. In that regard it is notable that the adjective charis (of which Charite is a cognate) features prominently in several of Sappho's characterizations of the bride in the few scrappy fragments that have been definitely identified as being from her wedding song poetry.

There is more evidence that can be cited to connect Metamorphoses to Sappho, but I wanted to highlight the foregoing evidence because of how it suggests that Apuleius was not merely echoing Sappho here and there but had absorbed her poetry in a far more systematic way into Metamorphoses.  For example, key to the conversion/salvation of Lucius in its concluding chapter/book is the consumption of roses (an antidote to his transformation into an Ass that is a recurring theme from the moment he is transformed). Sappho makes important use of rose imagery in her famous countryside prayer to Aphrodite (S.2) and her poems generally came to be characterized as her 'roses.'  Surely Apuleius was aware of this and intended his audience to associate the goddess spirituality of his Isis with the goddess spirituality of Sappho's Aphrodite.

More to come on this.

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