Apuleius and the Metamorphoses of Platonism, written by Claudio Moreschini

In: The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition
Author: John M. Dillon1
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  • 1 Trinity College Dublin
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Claudio Moreschini, Apuleius and the Metamorphoses of Platonism. Turnhout: Brepols (Nutrix: Studies in Mediaeval and Renaissance Thought, Vol. 10), 2015. Pp. 420. ISBN: 978-2-503-55470-9.

This is a mighty book, and greatly to be welcomed. Claudio Moreschini has been for many years concerned to do justice to the achievements of Apuleius, and has published an accumulation of at least twelve substantial contributions on this subject to date. The present work is in the nature of a definitive summing-up of his position—though we hope it will not be his last word! It is indeed almost an encyclopedia of Apuleian studies, as he reviews and criticises the positions of all his predecessors and contemporaries—such figures as Barra, Helm, Hijmans, Hunink, Regen, Reitzenstein, Sandy, Tatum, Walsh, and Winkler are evaluated, duly praised, and found wanting in various respects. I myself come out pretty well on the whole, but am scolded (p. 25) for describing Apuleius ‘in a reductive manner’ as a rhetorician rather than a philosopher. To that I would plead guilty, though I don’t feel that Apuleius is any the worse for it. It is just that, like Cicero, he is not a ‘professional’ philosopher—nor is he pretending to be (except perhaps in the Apologia, where he is concerned to prove that he is not a magician, and describes himself as ‘philosophus Platonicus’!).

The work is divided into eight substantial chapters, with an introduction and a conclusion. Chapter 1, ‘Popular Philosophy and Platonism: The Apology and the Florida’, provides an excellent discussion of Apuleius in his rhetorical mode, with special attention to his use of Platonic philosophy in that capacity, including his’ sanitizing’ of the magical practices that he is being accused of in his trial at Oea.

In chapter 2, ‘The Metamorphoses: The Novel of a Platonic Philosopher’, he is equally concerned to emphasise the philosophical elements and background of Apuleius’ novel, as against the more purely ‘narratological’ treatments given to it by a series of modern commentators, such as Perry, Sandy, Winkler, Tatum et al. I find this most persuasive, my only demurral being that I noted no reference to the fact (if it is still accepted as a fact; I may be out of date here) that Apuleius borrowed his plot from a previous novel, The Ass, by a certain Lucius of Patras (of which we have a spin-off included among the works of Lucian). This would really support Moreschini’s position, it seems to me, in that Apuleius would be not inventing this story, but rather borrowing an existing plot for his own Platonizing purposes.

The case is somewhat different for the embedded story of Cupid and Psyche, to which a separate chapter (3) is devoted, and of which he discusses in turn the symbolic, folkloric, religious, and literary interpretations, and then seeks, with considerable success, to reconcile them under the umbrella of Platonism.

In chapter 4, he turns to an examination of the De Deo Socratis, and provides a comprehensive study of Apuleius’ theory of daemons, and the personal daemon in particular, against the background of Middle Platonic theories in general, and in particular those of Plutarch, while emphasising that the De Deo is a thoroughly rhetorical work, fitting well into the category of public lectures in the Second Sophistic period.

This leads him, in chapter 5 (‘Rhetoric and Philosophy in Apuleius’ Times’), to embark on a general survey of the employment of philosophical themes by such figures as Fronto, Aulus Gellius, Aelianus, Aelius Aristides and others, though without making any specific connections with Apuleius himself. Gellius is the person most likely to have known him, but no specific links are forthcoming. The chapter is most useful, however, in establishing a background.

In chapters 6-8, which may be regarded as the philosophical core of the book (pp. 187-334), Moreschini turns to, first (ch. 6), an account of all the philosophical works attributed to Apuleius. On this he has much of interest to say. On the matter of chronology, while recognising that all conclusions must be hypothetical, he takes the Apologia to be an early work, the De Deo Socratis middling, and the De Platone late—though he dismisses the ‘son’ Faustinus, to whom the second book is dedicated, as a literary fiction, with what seems to me unnecessary scepticism. The De Mundo he accepts as genuine, but not the De Interpretatione, to which he devotes a penetrating and most useful discussion (it is more likely to be a fourth-century production).

Chapter 7 is devoted to Apuleius’ treatment of the ‘physical’ part of Platonism, in Book I of the De Platone, covering such questions as God, Matter, the Ideas, the Cosmic Soul and cosmogony, the creation of the world, providence and fate, time, and the human soul. In all cases, Moreschini compares the position of Apuleius most usefully with other Middle Platonic sources, notably Alcinous’ Didaskalikos, Plutarch and Atticus, and Calcidius, as well as doxographic and Christian sources. The section on God is by far the longest (pp. 219-49), as it involves the topic of the supreme god as well as secondary deities.

Chapter 8 provides a similar survey of Apuleius’ ethical doctrines, dealing with such topics as primary and secondary goods, man and oikeiosis, virtue as a mean, virtues and vices, goods and ends, the perfect sage, likeness to God, and ‘following God’. There is also a brief intervention concerning rhetoric from a philosophical point of view, answering to Apuleius’ treatment of it in II 8-9.

One odd development of recent years came too late for Moreschini to comment on (though I doubt he would think much of it), and that is the publication by Justin Stover1 of a curious text discovered by Raymond Klibansky many decades ago, appended to a manuscript of Apuleius, and hoarded by him till his death, which is a summary of the dogmata contained in a number of Platonic dialogues. Stover discerns many linguistic analogies between this dialogue and the works of Apuleius, and wants to claim it as the lost third book of the De Platone. I would grant that it may in fact some sort of notebook of Platonic dogmata that Apuleius compiled for his future use, but the third book of the De Platone should treat simply of logic, and this bears no resemblance to that. Moreschini would hold, in fact, that the third book was never composed, and I would agree with him—logic not being Apuleius’ favourite subject!

A final chapter (‘Apuleius and Christian Authors’), also of much interest, discusses the utilisation and criticism of Apuleius by a number of later Latin Christian authors, notably Arnobius, Cornelius Labeo, and above all, Augustine (who devotes much of the eighth and ninth books of the De Civitate Dei to a polemic against Apuleius’ theory of daemons).

The great work is rounded off by a short conclusion. What we have here, as I say, is something like an encyclopedia of Apuleian studies, the summation of a lifetime’s work by a major authority on Apuleius, with whose conclusions I would only rarely disagree—and then with some trepidation! The only complaints I would have as regards its production are a certain degree of eccentricity in the English (though never such as to seriously obscure the sense)—e.g. conferenza is not a conference, but a lecture—which is odd, since the translation was entrusted to an ostensible English-speaker; and Moreschini’s penchant for quoting all Latin passages (not Greek ones) in the original, which seems a rather optimistic decision in this day and age. I can manage with some difficulty, but there are many potential readers, I think, who could not. All in all, though, this is a work to be treasured.


Justin A. Stover. A New Text of Apuleius: The Lost Third Book of the De Platone. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

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