The popularity of ‘Metamorphoses’ by Apuleius in the scientific world can be compared only to the popularity of the Homeric poems. The unique combination of ancient ideas and mythology motivates different scientists to discover and interpret the story in various manners. The current paper discusses the gain of Lucius from his devotion to Isis and Osiris.

Plot Overview

The book The Golden Ass talks about the incredible adventures of Lucius, the noble Roman young man, who is enthusiastic about women who are in witchcraft. The story is narrated from his face. Once in the Greek region of Thessaly, which has been regarded as the birthplace of magic in antiquity and famous for its witches, he decided to experience the local witchcraft. He learned that Pamphilus, the wife of the house owner in which he lodges, is a witch. Her maid Fotida hid Lucious in the attic, and he saw how Pamphilus applied the magic ointments, turned to the owl, and flew off on a date to her beloved. Florida got for Lucious an ointment that could turn him into a bird. However, she confused the jars. Instead of becoming a bird, Lucius has been transformed into a donkey.

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To regain human appearance, it was necessary to chew onto the pitch. However, this can be done only in the morning so that Lucius had to spend the night in the appearance of a donkey. Unfortunately, the home of a witch had been attacked by the robbers at night, and a donkey fell into their hands. That starts the wandering of the hero, during which he faced with a wide variety of people, heard and saw a lot of interesting things as no one pays attention to him, exposing the most intimate aspects of their souls. Lucius saw a lot of crime and brutality, suffering hunger, not once he becomes on the verge of death (Walsh 1970).

The donkey became the owner of the robbers and runaway slaves as well as wandering quacks, until finally, escaping from the owners, it went to the beach with a prayer to the goddess Isis, asking her to make him a human again. The goddess appeared to him in a dream, promising salvation. However, in gratitude for the help, she required it to become her faithful servant. The next day, during the holy procession, the priest gave Lucius the wreath of roses to chew, and the donkey took human appearance again. He became a devotee of the goddess, dedicating the various sacraments to her honor. Later, Lucius moved to Rome, where he received the highest initiation.

The Story Analysis

The author of The Golden Ass proves that if a person conducts the bestial life, it is a beast by its very nature so that fate will punish him for it, similarly to how it has punished the hero of the novel. Before turning into a donkey, Lucius acted impudently and was full of curiosity. Being transformed into an ass, Lucius behaves as before. However, now he is the cattle in the spiritual essence and appearance. Only after Lucius has cleared his soul internally, the will of the goddess Isis makes him a man, i.e. a man not only in appearance but also in essence. Now, he is no longer pursuing fate, as before, now he can live peacefully and happily. It means that the gain of Lucius of being devoted to Isis and Osiris implies the physical, religious, and moral transformation (Fantham 1996).

The style of The Golden Ass is pointedly ironic and eccentric, replete with puns, heaps of epithets, and archaic sentence structure. The author uses rare and obsolete words. The extreme stylistic originality shows to the early researchers of the novel the idea that the language change in the last book describes the religious awakening of Lucius. His appeal to the goddess is written in a quite serious and solemn syllable (James 2014).

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The novel implies the veiled esoteric treatise. The first ten books represent the various sensual pleasures and temptations of life, leading to the degradation and the transition to the “bestial” state, while the further novel shows the elevation of man through communion with the divine mysteries. The novel encrypts the life of Apuleius himself as he was devoted to various mystical teachings and tried on charges of witchcraft. The work is a satire on all the features of the life of late Rome, including religion. Ironic notes in the description of initiation rites of Lucius talks about the religious skepticism of Apuleius (Sandy 1994)

Seth, the evil god, the main enemy of Isis and Osiris, is one of the key liaisons between Lucius’ story and the Egyptian ending of the novel. Seth in the appearance of ass has played quite an important role in the Egyptian tradition like its relationship with the goddess Isis and the god Osiris.

In the novel, the decisive role in the fate of the donkey-Lucius, at first glance, belongs to Isis. However, the closer look points to the Egyptian paradigm, i.e. the suffering of a donkey, which humbled him before the goddess, were made other characters. Isis is not involved, although she is deeply interested in them. From this point of view, it is interesting to consider the key scene of the novel, when Lucius-ass appears at the festival of Isis at Corinthian Cenchreae harbor and invades the parade. For researchers of the history of cults, Apuleius’s novel is one of the major and most important reliable sources of information about the cult of Isis in the Roman period.

The novel is considered to be one of the most original works of antiquity, although there are many borrowings. The main plot, which implies the transformation of a young man into a donkey, is taken from the novel Lukiya and Patras, but it lacks the final apotheosis of Isis. This is a short essay with obscenities and without any educational value. The plugged materials of “Metamorphosis” imply criminal and erotic scenes which go back to the “Milesian Tale” of Aristides of Miletus. The novel to the greatest extent reveals its dependence on the philosophy of Plato. For Apuleius, the most important aspect of Plato’s philosophy is the doctrine of the human soul. These views of Plato prove his figurative embodiment at various levels of the novel structure.

At the beginning of the novel, Lucius rides on a white horse. However, after the conversion of the hero into a donkey, the horse refuses to recognize the owner. At the end of the novel, when Lucius regains their human form, the white horse returns to him. This event was preceded by a prophetic dream, i.e. the hero returns to the slave by the name of Candide (literally “white”). Therefore, Apuleius allegorically speaks about violations and restoring harmony between the parts of Lucius’s soul. However, it cannot be said that Lucius exchanged one form of slavery, namely to his curiosity and physical appetites for another, i.e. religious gullibility. The story shows the transformation of Lucius’ soul and appearance so that it can be said that he became free from harmful thoughts and behavior. The adventure story ends with a chapter on religious sacraments. It happens quite organically and naturally due to the transformations of the main character. After going through a series of sacred rites, knowing dozens of mysterious initiations, and eventually returning home, Lucius came back and the judicial activity of the lawyer. However, he received a higher rank than with the addition of sacred duties and positions.


The Golden Ass by Apuleius is a sarcastic and ironic novel that points to the spiritual disadvantages of human nature. The devotion to Isida and Osiris helped the main character to achieve spiritual and physical transformation. However, it cannot be viewed as the change of one slavery form to another, but as the ability of Lucius to gain freedom from his ‘beast’ part of the soul.

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