Publication Date

April 2016

Advisor(s)

Michael Roberts

Major

Classics

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

This thesis places the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, the only ancient Roman novel to survive in its entirety, in the context of magical realism and offers a comparative study with Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad. Magical realism is a literary mode in which extraordinary events intrude into the seemingly ordinary world of the text. Fantastic phenomena, such as the melting of a man into a puddle and the ascension of a woman to heaven, are described in such realistic and specific detail that the reader does not question the presence of magic in the narrative. Magical realism, due to its deep attachments to postcolonial literature, is concerned with the politics of periphery and center, and works toward the destabilization of boundaries established by the dominant culture. In this respect, it presents an ideal interpretative model for the Metamorphoses, whose author, Apuleius, lived in the Roman provinces of North Africa. The novel recounts the adventures of Lucius, a young man whose insatiable curiosity leads to his accidental transformation into a donkey. As he wanders the Greek countryside in search of a cure, he offers the reader an intimate look into the lives of commoners and servants on the outskirts of the Roman empire. However, Lucius’s world is not the one we know, but a world in which the magical and the real coexist. Corpses are reanimated, humans are turned into animals, and ghosts interfere in mortal affairs – but these events are incorporated into the natural, familiar pattern of provincial life, woven between lewd sexual encounters, senseless murders, court trials, robberies, adulterous escapades, and the day-to-day tribulations of a hapless ass. The aim of this thesis is to reveal the political and social subtext of Lucius’s transformative journey – a journey that reflects, in many ways, the problematic process of becoming Roman. The first chapter explores elements of imperialism and provincial insecurity in the novel, as manifested in Lucius’s speech and silence, and provides a historical overview of magic in the Roman world. The second chapter considers the specific techniques of magical realism that Apuleius uses in order to assimilate fantastic events into Lucius’s reality. The third chapter centers on the magical effect of storytelling, and the interplay of orality and literacy in the text. The epilogue focuses on the “alchemy” of magical realism, which allows the ordinary and the extraordinary to coexist in the same fictional space.

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