A Portrait Of The Roman Empire The Golden Ass, written by Apuleius in the second century A. D. , is a primary source that provides historians with an honest view of culture for the Roman Empire. The Golden Ass shows a first hand account of political, social, and religious realities that took place during the second century. Almost every aspect of Roman society is portrayed through this writing. The Golden Ass illiterates the strong pagan beliefs of the Romans.
In almost every chapter the different gods, which the Roman's believed in from Greek history, play a major role in the plot. There are three chapters in the book dedicated to Cupid the god of love, Venus the goddess of beauty, and Psyche the lover of Cupid. His tale of Cupid and Psyche reflects lines from Plato's Phaedo and Republic. (Apuleius, xix).
Plato was one of the greatest Greek philosophers who influenced the lives of many Romans. Many Romans believed in the Greek gods and played a major role in their everyday lives. Many sacrifices for the gods were made daily and many superstitions about the gods also influenced the Romans. The town of Hypatia has a Festival for the god of laughter every year. Lucius visits his friend Milo in this town and actually becomes the butt of a joke for this festival.
Lucius experiences and is initiated into the mysteries of different gods. One of the mystery cults that Lucuis joins was the mysteries of Isis, which was one of the most popular mystery cults in the Roman Empire. (Madden). These mystery cults were a major part aspect of Roman culture and only the virtuous were accepted into them. They offered a sense of comic meaning for people who were initiated into them. Lucius receives messages from gods while he is in his sleep.
This was common for Romans to interpret dreams as symbols or messages from the gods. Magic and witchery is used in the novel which is the primary reason Lucius is transformed into an ass. Magic played an important part in Roman culture; many Roman cults were based on magic. Roman social attitudes are reflected in religious beliefs because many of the mystery cults were only for the elite and wealthy.
Lucuis had to pay to become initiated and it was not a cheap fee. Much of the elite and wealthy of the Roman Empire looked down on the poor and the slaves and did not partake in the activities that they did. The social aspects of Roman culture are reflected in The Golden Ass. The social aspect of public bathing is heavily demonstrated in the book.
Lucuis goes to the baths many times or takes his friends there to bath. It was also shown in the novel that is was common for men to have someone bath them, even by females. Lucius was bathed by his friend's slave, whom he fell in love with, at the public facilities. And even for common for males to help other males bath. Bathing was a primary socializing place for Romans and many discussions took place there. Slaves played a major role in Roman society and are portrayed in almost every chapter of Apuleius's book.
Almost all of Lucius's friends have slaves. Much of the upper class had slaves and was considered a luxury of the time. (Text 128). Lucuis is part of the elite group of Romans and looks at slaves as servants. It is easy to see that he looks at them as below him socially and that they should work for him. Slaves in the book are both agricultural slaves and slaves which worked in the houses of the rich in the cities.
Both of these types of slaves existed in Roman society. Roman society also had its share of crime; most of the crime in The Golden Ass is from bandits. These bandits pop up and loot the houses of the rich. Apuleius continuously remarks the danger of traveling at night from these robbers. In the Roman Empire you were neither safe in the city or countryside at night, these bandits are shown in the novel to travel from the cities and hide in the country, attacking innocent people in both places.
Much of the crime and conflicts were brought to the magistrates. For example in the novel a boy gets killed by a bear but accidentally a cattleman who finds the boy's ass, Lucius, is accused of the crime. .".. they march him (the cattleman) to their hamlet and tied him up their, intending to hand him over to the magistrates the next day on a charge of murder," (Apuleius p. 168-169).
Magistrates could be seen in the Roman Empire as modern day judges. They made sure criminals were seen to justice. The Roman Empire had watchmen to protect travelers on roads and just in everyday life in the public. The Roman laws were for the many and not the few; they looked out for the common good of the people. They had a court system and there political structure was far more advanced than any other place in the world at the time. There are a countless number of examples of Roman culture in The Golden Ass.
Apuleius does a wonderful job to convey the life of Romans to his audience and he may not have known how well of a job he did.