J. Kates at Harvard Review:
I’ve been looking at asses. More specifically, I have been weighing Sarah Ruden’s 2011 translation of The Golden Ass of Apuleius against the one I grew up with and have been sitting on all my life, Robert Graves’s 1951 version.
Strictly speaking, “The Golden Ass” isn’t the book’s proper name. More sedately known as Metamorphoses, written by the North African writer Lucius Apuleius in the second century CE, this work, often regarded as a proto-novel, follows the adventures of a young man perhaps not coincidentally named Lucius who trespasses trivially on occult secrets and—you’ll have to read for yourself how this is done—becomes the first, but not the last, to make an ass of himself.
Trapped inside his peau de chagrin, Lucius undergoes a number of outrages, overhears far more than he should, and ends up being redeemed after a year by the goddess Isis and inducted into mysteries we are not permitted to share. The Golden Ass is, in Lewis Carrollingian terms, what the name of the book has come to be called, presumably to keep it from being confused with Ovid’s. St. Augustine, of all people, is credited with assuring the world of Apuleius’s authority for the title The Golden Ass. There’s nothing at all golden about Lucius either as man or beast, and the name is likely a word play, a pun asinorum.