Apuleius, ‘Metamorphoses’ 1. 10: A Jeer at Conventional Magic Motifs?

Some unusual details in Socrates’ account of Meroe’s witchcraft (Met. 1. 9–10) can presumably be explained as hinting at conventional shortcomings of the folktales or magic stories contemporary to Apuleius. (1) The surprising remark on the impossibility of digging through the walls of the enchanted houses might point out that popular magic stories about doors being jammed by witchcraft generally ignore the possibility of alternative exits. (2) The bizarre outcome of the house being transported to a remote city (the witch has to drop it in front of the town gate, since there is not enough room for it in the town) must refer to similar stories in which the transported house ends up amid other houses and the problem of free space is conventionally glossed over. (3) The oddly absurd picture of the lawyer who continues pleading in the shape of a ram (thus shattering the narrative illusion) may have been intended as a pointed criticism of certain magic stories, in which people are transformed into animals without a plausible link between the animal and its former human personality. The literary game played with the reader and zest for the self-exposure of literary convention is typical for the Metamorphoses, and playful hints at the narrative conventions of popular magic motifs would well conform with Apuleius’ manner of writing.

 Denis V. Keyer. Apuleius, ‘Metamorphoses’ 1. 10 A Jeer at Conventional Magic Motifs