The Golden Ass

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Ex quovis ligno non fit Mercurius
A Mercury is not made out of any block of wood

The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, which Augustine of Hippo referred to as The Golden Ass (Asinus aureus), is the only ancient Roman novel in Latin to survive in its entirety.

The protagonist of the novel is Lucius. At the end of the novel, he is revealed to be from Madaurus, the hometown of Apuleius himself. The plot revolves around the protagonist's curiosity (curiositas) and insatiable desire to see and practice magic. While trying to perform a spell to transform into a bird, he is accidentally transformed into an ass. This leads to a long journey, literal and metaphorical, filled with inset tales. He finally finds salvation through the intervention of the goddess Isis, whose cult he joins.


  • Ex quovis ligno non fit Mercurius.
    • A Mercury is not made out of any block of wood.
      • Quoted by Apuleius as a saying of Pythagoras
      • Reported in Hoyt’s New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (1922), "Sculpture"; Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1894), "Mercury"
  • En adsum tuis commota, Luci, precibus, rerum naturae parens, elementorum omnium domina, saeculorum progenies initialis, summa numinum, regina manium, prima caelitum, deorum dearumque facies uniformis, quae caeli luminosa culmina, maris salubria flamina, inferum deplorata silentia nutibus meis dispenso: cuius numen unicum multiformi specie, ritu vario, nomine multiiugo totus veneratus orbis.
    • Behold, Lucius, I, moved by thy prayers, am present with thee; I, who am Nature, the parent of things, the queen of all the elements, the primordial progeny of ages, the supreme of Divinities, the sovereign of the spirits of the dead, the first of the celestials, and the uniform resemblance of Gods and Goddesses. I, who rule by my nod the luminous summits of the heavens, the salubrious breezes of the sea, and the deplorable silences of the realms beneath: and whose one divinity the whole orb of the earth venerates under a manifold form, by different rites, and a variety of appellations.
      • Book XI, chapter 5 (Tr. Taylor)
  • Vives autem beatus, vives in mea tutela gloriosus, et cum spatium saeculi tui permensus ad inferos demearis, ibi quoque in ipso subterraneo semirutundo me, quam vides, Acherontis tenebris interlucentem Stygiisque penetralibus regnantem.
    • Thou shalt live blessed in this world, thou shalt live glorious by my guide and protection, and when thou descendest to Hell, where thou shalt see me shine in that subterene place, shining (as thou seest me now) in the darkness of Acheron, and raigning in the deepe profundity of Stix, thou shalt worship me, as one that hath bin favourable to thee.
  • Nam cum coeperis deae servire, tunc magis senties fructum tuae libertatis.
    • For when you have once entered into the service of the Goddess, you will then in a greater degree enjoy the fruit of your liberty.
      • Book XI, chapter 15 (Tr. Taylor)


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