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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Apuleius (c. 125–c. 180)


From “The Golden Ass”

FOTIS came running to me one day in great excitement and trepidation, and informed me that her mistress, having hitherto made no proficiency by other means in her present amour, intended to assume feathers like a bird, and so take flight to the object of her love, and that I must prepare myself with all due care for the sight of such a wonderful proceeding. And now, about the first watch of the night, she escorted me, on tiptoe and with noiseless steps, to that same upper chamber, and bade me peep through a chink in the door, which I did accordingly.

In the first place, Pamphile divested herself of all her garments, and having unlocked a certain cabinet, took out of it several little boxes. Taking the lid off one of them, and pouring some ointment therefrom, she rubbed herself for a considerable time with her hands, smearing herself all over from the tips of her toes to the crown of her head. Then, after she had muttered a long while in a low voice over a lamp, she shook her limbs with tremulous jerks, then gently waved them to and fro, until soft feathers burst forth, strong wings displayed themselves, the nose was hardened and curved into a beak, the nails were compressed and made crooked. Thus did Pamphile become an owl. Then, uttering a querulous scream, she made trial of her powers, leaping little by little from the ground; and presently, raising herself aloft, on full wing, she flew out-of-doors. And thus was she, of her own will, changed, by her own magic arts.

But I, though not enchanted by any magic spell, still, riveted to the spot by astonishment at this performance, seemed to myself to be anything else rather than Lucius. Thus deprived of my senses, and astounded even to insanity, I was in a waking dream, and rubbed my eyes for some time to ascertain whether or not I was awake at all. At last, however, returning to consciousness of the reality of things, I took hold of the right hand of Fotis, and putting it to my eyes, “Suffer me,” said I, “I beg of you, to enjoy a great and singular proof of your affection, while the opportunity offers, and give me a little ointment from the same box. Grant this, my sweetest, I entreat you by these breasts of yours, and thus, by conferring on me an obligation that can never be repaid, bind me to you forever as your slave. Be you my Venus, and let me stand by you a winged Cupid.”

“And are you, then, sweetheart, for playing me a fox’s trick, and for causing me, of my own accord, to let fall the ax upon my legs? Must I run such risk of having my Lucius torn from me by the wolves of Thessaly? Where am I to look for him when he is changed into a bird? When shall I see him again?”

“May the celestial powers,” said I, “avert from me such a crime! Though borne aloft on the wings of the eagle itself, soaring through the midst of the heavens, as the trusty messenger, or joyous arm-bearer, of supreme Jove, would I not, after I had obtained this dignity of wing, still fly back every now and then to my nest? I swear to you, by that lovely little knot of hair with which you have enchanted my spirit, that I would prefer no other to my Fotis. And then, besides, I bethink me that as soon as I am rubbed with that ointment, and shall have been changed into a bird of this kind, I shall be bound to keep at a distance from all human habitations; for what a beautiful and agreeable lover will the ladies gain in an owl! Why, do we not see that these birds of night, when they have got into any house, are eagerly seized and nailed to the doors, in order that they may atone, by their torments, for the evil destiny which they portend to the family by their inauspicious flight? But one thing I had almost forgot to inquire: what must I say, or do, in order to get rid of my wings and return to my own form as Lucius?”

“Be in no anxiety,” she said, “about all that matter; for my mistress has made me acquainted with everything that can again change such forms into the human shape. But do not suppose that this was done through any kind feeling toward me, but in order that I might assist her with the requisite remedies when she returns home. Only think with what simple and trifling herbs such a mighty result is brought about: for instance, a little anise, with some leaves of laurel infused in spring water, and used as a lotion and a draft.”

Having assured me of this over and over again, she stole into her mistress’s chamber with the greatest trepidation, and took a little box out of the casket. Having first hugged and kissed it, and offered up a prayer that it would favor me with a prosperous flight, I hastily divested myself of all my garments, then greedily dipping my fingers into the box, and taking thence a considerable quantity of the ointment, I rubbed it all over my body and limbs. And now, flapping my arms up and down, I anxiously awaited my change into a bird. But no down, no shooting wings appeared. Instead, my hairs became thickened into bristles, and my tender skin was hardened into a hide; my hands and feet, too, no longer furnished with distinct fingers and toes, formed into massive hoofs, and a long tail projected from the extremity of my spine. My face was now enormous, my mouth wide, my nostrils gaping, and my lips hanging down. In like manner my ears grew hairy and of immoderate length, and I found in every respect I had become enlarged. Thus, hopelessly surveying all parts of my body, I beheld myself changed—not into a bird, but an ass.

I wished to upbraid Fotis for the deed she had done; but, now deprived both of the gesture and voice of man, I could only expostulate with her silently with my under-lip hanging down, and looking sidewise at her with tearful eyes. As for her, as soon as she beheld me thus changed she beat her face with her hands, and cried aloud, “Wretch that I am, I am undone! In my haste and flurry I mistook one box for the other, deceived by their similarity. It is fortunate, however, that a remedy for this transformation is easily to be obtained; for, by only chewing roses, you will put off the form of an ass, and in an instant will become my Lucius once again. I only wish that I had prepared as usual some garlands of roses for us last evening; for then you would not have had to suffer the delay even of a single night. But at the break of dawn the remedy shall be provided for you.”

Thus did she lament; and as for me, though I was a perfect ass, and instead of Lucius, a beast of burden, I still retained human sense. Long and deeply, in fact, did I consider with myself whether I ought not to bite and kick that most wicked woman to death. However, better thoughts recalled me from such rash designs, lest, by inflicting on Fotis the punishment of death, I should at once put an end to all chances of efficient assistance. So, bending my head low, and shaking my ears, I silently swallowed my wrongs for a time, and submitting to my most dreadful misfortune, I betook myself to the stable to the good horse which had carried me so well, and there I found another ass also, which belonged to my former host, Milo. Now it occurred to me that, if there are in dumb animals any silent and natural ties of sympathy, this horse of mine, being influenced by a certain feeling of recognition and compassion, would afford me room for a lodging and the rights of hospitality. But, oh, Jupiter Hospitalis, and all you the guardian divinities of Faith! this very excellent nag of mine and the ass put their heads together and immediately plotted schemes for my destruction; and as soon as they beheld me approaching the manger, laying back their ears and quite frantic with rage, they furiously attacked me with their heels, fearing I had design upon their food. Consequently, I was driven away into the farthest corner from that very barley which the evening before I had placed, with my own hands, before that most grateful servant of mine.

Thus harshly treated and sent into banishment, I betook myself to a corner of the stable. And while I reflected on the insolence of my companions, and formed plans of vengeance against the perfidious steed, for the next day, when I should have become Lucius once more by the aid of the roses, I beheld against the central square pillar which supported the beams of the stable, a statue of the goddess Hippona, standing within a shrine, and nicely adorned with garlands of roses, and those, too, recently gathered. Inspired with hope, the moment I espied the salutary remedy I boldly mounted as far as ever my forelegs could stretch; and then, with neck at full length, and extending my lips as much as I possibly could, I endeavored to catch hold of the garlands. But by a most unlucky chance, just as I was endeavoring to accomplish this, my servant lad, who had the constant charge of my horse, suddenly espied me, sprang to his feet in a great rage, and exclaimed, “How long are we to put up with this vile hack, which but a few moments ago was for making an attack upon the food of the cattle, and is now doing the same even to the statues of the gods? But if I don’t this very instant cause this sacrilegious beast to be both sore and crippled”—and searching for something with which to strike me, he stumbled upon a bundle of sticks that lay there, and, picking out a knotted cudgel, the largest he could find among them all, he did not cease to belabor my poor sides, until a loud thumping and banging at the outer gates, and an uproar of the neighbors shouting “Thieves!” struck him with terror, and he took to his heels.