An online dramaturgical casebook.

The Golden Ass

The iconic image of Midsummer is, of course, Bottom the Weaver with his ass’ head, taken to bed by Titania, Queen of the Fairies.

Titania liebkost den eselköpfigen Bottom, by Johann Heinrich Füssli. Click for the full size.

Lucius transforms into an ass.Shakespeare’s inspiration for this transformation may have been ApuleiusMetamorphoses (not to be confused with Ovid’s work of the same title), also known as Asinus aureus, or The Golden Ass. The Golden Ass is an erotic comedy in eleven books, most likely written sometime between AD 150 and AD 180. The first three books follow the protagonist, Lucius, through a number of misadventures that eventually lead to him accidentally transforming himself into an ass. The only way for him to become human again is to eat a rose, which proves remarkably difficult to do. He is stolen, sold, tormented, nearly butchered for dinner, sold again, sold again, trained as a performing animal — until he finally prays to the Queen of Heaven, known variously as Isis, Venus, Proserpine, and many other names. She returns him to humanity, and he enters her priesthood.

The striking thing about the novel is how often Lucius gets hit on while being a donkey. Perhaps the most famous episode in the novel occurs in book ten:

There fortuned to be amongst the Assembly a noble and rich Matron that conceived much delight to behold me, and could find no remedy to her passions and disordinate appetite, but continually desired to have her pleasure with me, as Pasiphae had with a Bull. In the end she promised a great reward to my keeper for the custody of me one night, who for gaine of a little money accorded to her desire, and when I had supped in a Parler with my Master, we departed away and went into our Chamber, where we found the faire Matron, who had tarried a great space for our comming: I am not able to recite unto you how all things were prepared: there were foure Eunuches that lay on a bed of downe on the ground with Boulsters accordingly for us to lye on, the Coverlet was of cloth of Gold, and the pillowes soft and tender, whereon the delicate Matron had accustomed to lay her head. Then the Eunuches not minding to delay any longer the pleasure of their Mistresse closed the doores of the Chamber and departed away: within the Chamber were Lamps that gave a cleare light all the place over: Then she put off all her Garments to her naked skinne, and taking the Lampe that stood next to her, began to annoint all her body with balme, and mine likewise, but especially my nose, which done, she kissed me, not as they accustome to doe at the stews, or in brothel houses, or in the Curtain Schools for gaine of money, but purely, sincerely, and with great affection, casting out these and like loving words: Thou art he whom I love, thou art he whom I onely desire, without thee I cannot live, and other like preamble of talke as women can use well enough, when as they mind to shew or declare their burning passions and great affection of love: Then she tooke me by the halter and cast me downe upon the bed, which was nothing strange unto me, considering that she was so beautifull a Matron and I so wel bolded out with wine, and perfumed with balme, whereby I was readily prepared for the purpose: But nothing grieved me so much as to think, how I should with my huge and great legs imbrace so faire a Matron, or how I should touch her fine, dainty, and silken skinne, with my hard hoofes, or how it was possible to kisse her soft, pretty and ruddy lips, with my monstrous mouth and stony teeth, or how she, who was young and tender, could be able to receive me.

You should be careful who you Google this around; Apuleius was a lot more explicit that Shakespeare.

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