I believe the Metamorphosis of Lucius Apuleius is written as a set of stories narrated by the protagonist of his own story in order to tell the reader how ultimately, one ends up within and overcoming great tragedies built on the faults, values, and virtues of oneself. The writer does this by, primarily, switching between 1st Person and 3rd Person Narratives, following that, recurrent symbolism, foreshadowing future events, and lastly personifying concepts.
While Lucius struggles throughout the book with his own series of misfortune, he frequently encounters different tragic tales which he or another narrates from the third perspective. This allows him to reflect on the mistakes of others in context to his own life, and evaluate indirectly how to better himself. One example of this is The Story of the Jealous Husband in Book 9, which cautions the listener and Apuleius himself to be wary of the traits of friends and lovers you pick. The narrator is a man named Myrmex, who is commanded to ensure the loyalty of his enslaver’s wife, Arëte. Arëte and Myrmex are convinced to neglect Arëte’s marriage by a man pursuing Arëte, in which they are both paid gold coins for their neglect. While Arëte’s husband grows suspicious, her lover’s quick thinking and consideration for their situation allows Arëte and Myrmex to avoid the husband’s anger. We can break this story down into several applications of the same moral. The husband is a man who failed to be wary of the people he surrounded himself with, and relies on the power he has over them instead of their innate character. Myrmex and Arëte are people who are deprived of their status and power, and are forced to rely on the qualities of the people around them rather than their status and power. The lover is a contradiction to the husband, a man at the aid of Myrmex and Arëte forced to abide by the Husband’s whims. Myrmex and Arëte, presumably for the first time, get to pick who they aid in their decisions, in contrast to how the husband chooses to force Myrmex and Arëte into their loyalty because of how he can take that ability for granted with the power imbalance between Him and Myrmex and Arëte. This directly relates to Lucius’ experience with taking caution to his friends and lovers. We see prior to him turning into a donkey, he is careless with the choices of who he forsakes and connects with. He, like the husband in the tale, has the high status and leisure to be careless. He comes from high status, is an esteemed guest of Milo’s, and because of these combined facts feels entitled to command Fotis to steal Pamphile’s witchcraft, which ends up happening due to his status and power over Fotis. He, like the husband in the fable, leverages his power over an enslaved person, over his lover, to do what he commands, and it ultimately leads to his misfortune as it turns out, there’s no true lover or friend to the Husband or Lucius. The message Lucius has to learn through narrating this story, is that having and utilizing status and power over others to achieve a self-centered goal is going to encourage an environment of forced companionship that will eventually lead to a life of ingenuity and distance between oneself and another. He is forced to understand the consequences of self-instructed ostracization, his greed and the enablement of such in the status he’s privileged to have, is the lack of real companions, and companions as a whole, when he’s turned into a donkey thus losing every bit of status and the security he built upon that status. In this way, the story has Lucius narrate and understand others' faults for the purpose of furthering his own growth to develop fortune and prosperity in his interpersonal relationships and bring an end to unfortunate friendships.
Throughout his journey, several recurring images and actions take place, which serve to demonstrate critical points of Lucius’ journeys and reinforce the value that grows within oneself after overcoming extreme tragedies. One example is the value Lucius is sold as, when his ownership as a donkey is traded again and again. To start, soon after Lucius is turned into a donkey, signifying his grave mistake of self-manufactured ostracization for the purpose of narcissism as discussed in the last paragraph, he is forced into the ownership of a band of thieves. As he endures abuse under an alike cause of those around him and those of the stories he hears, his ownership trades after some time, and he’s sold for an increasing price again and again. Repeating the previous point where the growth of those around Lucius is reflected upon to Lucius himself, the price Lucius is sold for represents the punishment Lucius faces for his flaws, and the value of Lucius himself. If we remember the character of Lucius, Lucius’ flaw was a selfish greed that impeded the personal value others should’ve had to him and over inflated his ego. I believe that by setting the initial value of 0 coins to Lucius, the irony of how Lucius is disregarded in value by others in comparison to how he did the same to others is contained in his worthlessness in coinage, which is further ironic because of his excessive ego. His punishment for his flaws is to endure the same degradation he did to others, but the interesting thing is that his punishment is an evolving process, represented in the increasing value he is sold for when his ownership is traded. Each time he learns more about his flaws, his value grows and he is resold. Eventually, however, he reaches a point where the value he was sold for drops from 50 coins to none, to 11 coins. The recurring image of coinage then represents a new misfortune in Lucius Apuleius’ journey that he must overcome. This misfortune is assumingly, the riddance of Lucius’ owner by the abuse of power a soldier brings, a stark repeat of the original situation of Lucius’ bondage, where his punishment is to be condemned to the same force upon him which he put onto others. The question is now, does he deserve it? A repeat of his punishment must beg the question of if he has once again earned it by greedy malintentions. This is the critical moment to see if his character has improved enough to fix his past actions and cure his fortune. In the end, I believe he has because after he is sold for 11 coins, he comes into the house of a cook and baker and proves a humane elegance and refinement through his unusual abilities of a donkey, symbolizing how alongside his manners as a donkey have matured, his character as a human have matured. After this, the animosity between Lucius and his owners cease, and Lucius is able to earn money for his talents as a donkey. Lucius’ devaluement ceases here, and he begins to partially regain that status and praise he had prior to him turning into a Donkey, because of his humanity. But, how does Lucius free himself from being arbitrarily valued to start to manage his own fate? How does he free himself from this coinage? To save himself from the ownership of others as a whole? To truly be human, not just humane? He frees himself from the whole concept of being devalued and devaluing others, by being more aware of who he has around him and what he needs to become: human. Thus, he flees from the life of a donkey, the constant assignment and reduction of his humanity to a value, and from his past of ego-centricism. In summary, like several symbols in The Golden Ass that serve to signify aspects of Lucius’ character, Lucius Apuleius reconsiders the way he values other people in order to escape a constant karmic cycle of misfortune, learning that the tragedy of devaluement and dehumanization is largely part of a mindset we as humans have ourselves, about ourselves, as we become the bringers of our own misfortunes in the way we engage with the world.
Lastly, the personification of concepts and uncontrollable ideas is a key tool the writer uses to demonstrate Lucius’ development of a personal connection and understanding of these concepts, in addition to demonstrating Lucius’ growth in connecting and valuing other people. The most notable examples are the personification of the world’s order, the image of the Egyptian goddess Isis as the controller of fate and life, and the personification of fortune. After Lucius gives up the mindset of both egotism and subhumanity, he finds his issue of self-worth secondary to the issue of misfortune he finds himself in. Rather than correlating his self-worth with his ability to dominate his fate, he takes initiative to co-exist with the fact that he cannot control fortune, but he can control the way he navigates his fortune. In this way, he learns avoiding misfortune is impossible, but controlling misfortune isn’t, in addition to being more easily able to fathom the importance of genuine connection and companionship in approaching his autonomy, particularly with Isis. He is then also able to relax and consider his life not guided by fortune’s revenge, but a journey with Isis, the personification of control and order, as a guide. In this way, he is fully mortal in his humility and status, with the aid of control and autonomy helping him manage his misfortune and life. By deifying abstract concepts, the writer of The Golden Ass is able to express the virtues of autonomy and self-accountability that help us navigate life’s misfortunes in a broader sense, proving that it is truly us that drives our own journeys and lives in the end.