The Golden Ass – a comment on ancient religiosity July 12, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books.
Tags: Apuleius, books, christianity, Latin, religion
I’ve almost finished reading The Golden Ass, by Lucius Apuleius, a novel first published around 158. Yes that’s 158 C.E., and this is an ancient Roman novel, the only one that we have in its entirety. It was written in Latin, and I’m reading a translation by Robert Graves (the author of I Claudius).
There’s a reason it has survived all this time: it’s a rip-roaring good story, with lots of adventures, magic, and bawdy stories about sex. But at the end it comes down to our hero being saved from his misfortunes by turning to the one true religion. That would be the same predictable ending as any number of trite christian books out there, except that our hero in this case devotes himself to the mystery religion of the goddess Isis, and it’s Isis herself that saves him.
But the reason I’m bringing this up is that one particular passage from near the end of the book caught my attention:
“But to secure today’s gains, you must enroll yourself in this holy Order as last night you pledged yourself to do, voluntarily undertaking the duties to which your oath binds you; for her service is perfect freedom. ” (pg 273)
So christians apparently have no monopoly on religious doubletalk. Taking a religious pledge is simultaneously voluntary and mandatory. Our hero can either submit to a lifetime of religious devotion, or stay a donkey forever. A lot of the book is meant as humorous, but I’m not sure if this part is meant to be funny or serious. Either way, it’s in the same spirit as a lot of the stuff I hear from christian preachers who think they are being original.