Dying to know: five studies on death and identity in Apuleius' Metamorphoses
Vincze, Michael J.
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Of the many metamorphoses in Apuleius' novel, death is a frequent yet under-studied form. On his journey to regain his human identity, Lucius faces many life-threatening experiences, which coincide with other characters' deaths, near-deaths, and apparent-deaths and help create the novel's dark atmosphere. Apuleius also presents metaphorical images of death, as I argue, when he characterizes the loss of identity, e.g., exile and slavery, as a death, a trope with precedent in Roman literature. This dissertation argues that the proliferation of death naturally derives from the novel's folkloric sources, which often address human mortality, and that Apuleius has harnessed this material and other depictions of death to present moments of identity deconstruction and recreation, moments that recall Apuleius' programmatic question quis ille ("Who is that?"). This dissertation comprises five independent yet related studies; the first three examine death and narrative, the latter two concern death and the romance. Study 1 argues thclt necromancy is a metaphor for the act of narrating and even reading the novel. Study 2 shifts to tales about the dead and argues that the bandit's narratives in book 4 serve as funeral oration that aims at commemorating false identities of the dead robbers. Study 3 then examines the paradox of preserving the memories of fictional characters, i.e., people who never existed, by exploring such instances in the Metamorphoses and other works of prose fiction and concludes that ancient fiction was used to critique and perhaps mock antiquity's obsession with postmortem commemoration. The second half focuses on Apuleius' use of death motifs popular in the Greek romances, texts that all begin with the protagonists experiencing a metaphoric death. While these deaths result in a rebirth at the end of the romances, the Metamorphoses presents Lucius as not wholly reborn. This is evident in Lucius' depiction as a death-doomed bride (study 4) and further supported by an examination of the symbolism of the rose in the Metamorphoses and the romances. This flower restores Lucius' human form, but also robs him of his human identity, prolonging his death-like existence even after his anamorphosis (study 5).
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