Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Ellen D. Finkelpearl, An Apuleius Reader: Selections from the Metamorphoses. BC Latin readers. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2012. Pp. xxxviii, 160. ISBN 9780865167148. $19.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Martha Habash, Creighton University (mhabash@creighton.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Lector intende: laetaberis (I.1.6). Selling Apuleius is easy and, hopefully as a consequence, selling Latin to undergraduates becomes easier. After all, tales of fantasy from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games greatly appeal to this generation of students. For years my students of third semester Latin and I have enjoyed reading the Cupid and Psyche tale via Balme and Morwood.1 Bolchazy-Carducci now offers 2 choices of readings from Apuleius for upper intermediate and higher Latin students: Book 1 by James S. Ruebel (2000),2 designed for fourth- semester students, and the volume under review, designed for upper intermediate or advanced students. Finkelpearl mentions in her preface that she hopes her text will be used in conjunction with Ruebel's. In my fourth-semester Latin class this past spring, we read from Finkelpearl's selections.3 We could have moved faster and read part, if not all, of Ruebel's text along with Finkelpearl's but instead, we took a leisurely stroll through this text so that we could marvel at and be charmed by the tales in this little selection – and, of course, we were!

Overview: This reader contains selections from books 1-6 and 9-11, totaling 660 lines. The commentary and the vocabulary list are located in the back of the book, so that students are looking only at the Latin text on each page. Short paragraphs in the commentary fill in the student as to what has taken place in the story since the last selection. Finkelpearl includes selections wide in range, from the saucy description (Apuleius at his best!) when Lucius finds Photis in the kitchen cooking (2.7) to the description of the poor condition of slaves and animals that work in a mill (9.12- 9.13), one of the most moving passages in ancient literature, to his metamorphosis/es at the end of the tale (11). Finkelpearl has tried to preserve the narrative of the novel through these selections while including some of the more famous and interesting passages. I feel certain that one of the most challenging aspects of writing this book was selecting which passages to include from Apuleius.

Introduction: This short (27 pages) introduction succinctly covers Apuleius' life and works, the evidence for the two titles of this work, its classification as a novel, its sources, various ways to interpret the Metamorphoses, the history and various interpretations of the Cupid and Psyche tale and its meaning in this work, and a short history of Isis and her cult. In addition, Apuleius' style is summed up in two pages, the later reception of Apuleius is given in a paragraph, there are a few sentences about the manuscripts, and then a fairly lengthy "suggested readings" is included. There's also a small chapter, "Latin Text", that describes the text Finkelpearl uses, her editorial preferences, and divergences in readings from the text of Helm. All that is included here seems sufficient as a text for an undergraduate class except the discussion of Apuleius' style, which I thought should be lengthier and include more examples in Latin. Typical literary devices used by Apuleius could be given here. Apuleius is a forensic speaker who uses many such devices, which students often study only in a Latin class. Why not discuss these? Text: The text is flawless. The arrangement with the commentary and vocabulary lists located in the rear of the book encourages students to look at the Latin on the page without any aids to help or distract them initially, which is ideal when reading Apuleius; Apuleius' rich language and interesting syntax are to be appreciated.

Commentary: Finkelpearl is strong in explaining the meaning of individual words or phrases as Apuleius seems to be using them (e.g. Commentary 2.7.1 pedibus in sententiam vado "Lucius "votes with his feet," a figure taken from the practice in the Roman senate where senators showed support for a motion by walking to a particular side."). Not many scholarly interpretations are incorporated into the commentary but historical background, customs, religious procedures, and other cultural institutions are elucidated.

Another plus in this book is that Finkelpearl shows a delightful sense of humor in her notes. For example, in the passage, mox in urbe Latia advena studiorum Quiritium indigenam sermonem aerumnabili labore…aggressus excolui, she writes: 1.1.4 aerumnabili labore "Any Latin student should sympathize with this statement!"

More notes could be given, however, to help students with grammatical points. E.g., at Commentary 2.6.5: voto diutino is translated for the reader as "according to the desire you have held for so long" but she does not explain the use of the ablative. Another example is at Commentary 9.13.4 multarum…cognitu: obitu and cognitu are translated and listed as abl. supines with no grammatical explanation to explain this rare use of the supine. There are many other instances where Finkelpearl chooses to translate a phrase without any grammatical explanation or reference to Allen & Greenough, the grammar book which she ties to this text.

While style is discussed in the introduction, it is not often mentioned in the commentary. For example, in the selections from book 2, zeugma is pointed out in 2.1.1 but not defined, and hypallage is both mentioned in the notes and defined. These are rare instances, however. Apuleius' style is a thing to marvel at and could be discussed more often.

Vocabulary List: This is an impressive list with almost every word in the text, even the most elementary, included here. If the word isn't there, it's probably found in the commentary. We found only two or three words omitted. Plus, every "hapax" or "first in Apuleius" or "only in Apuleius" is noted in this list. This is very helpful to the student's understanding of the rich and unique language of this author. Finkelpearl also gives a wide array of translations for a word (e.g. forensis, e, adj. "of the Forum, connected to the law courts, (possibly) foreign").

Appendix: includes one map of places associated with Apuleius.

In sum, this is a useful and engaging book for anyone wishing to read Apuleius in either fourth-semester or upper-level Latin classes. The introduction and the commentary are pitched at the right level for undergraduates and provide enough information for an understanding of the text without overwhelming them. The selections are representative of the work as a whole. At Finkelpearl nobis sermone isto Milesio varias fabulas conseruit auresque nostras benivolas lepido susurro permulsit….


1.   Balme, M.G. and J.H.W. Morwood, Cupid and Psyche: an Adaption from the Golden Ass of Apuleius (N.Y. Oxford Univ. Press, 1976).
2.   See http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2001/2001-09-04.html for the review of this book.
3.   I would like to thank, in particular, Caitlyn Ewers for her insightful comments and questions as we read through this text and Dan Barber for his assistance, as well.

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