Sexual Violence In Apuleius' The Golden Ass

1054 words - 4 pages

The Golden Ass is not meant to be an accurate portrayal of Roman society in Apuleius' time, yet it reveals many things about the Roman way of life and way of thinking. Though we can't take the fantastical elements of the story seriously, the things that Apuleius treats as everyday occurrences most likely were everyday occurrences. For instance, there is a high level of sexuality among the characters in the book. Sex is not treated as a taboo subject, suggesting a higher degree of sexual openness than we see in many parts of the modern world. Violence is also not as taboo as it is today, by far. The lack of real punishment for violent crime allows the characters of the book, and no doubt the real citizens of Rome, to commit crimes that would be horrifying to modern Americans.Much of the violence seen in this book is in some way related to sex; often it occurs when one lover cheats on the other. This kind of sexual violence is frequent in The Golden Ass. Apuleius shows the negative consequences of adultery to warn his readers about the dangers of cheating on a lover.Apuleius seems to see nothing unusual in people of both sexes taking multiple lovers. He doesn't portray adultery itself as a negative thing, but he does show his readers that cheating can be very dangerous. Men who cheat on their lovers or wives in this novel often find that their lovers become violent when jealous. Both men and women cheat in this novel, but most of the women in these situations are portrayed as violent, jealous, and aggressive. Women commit the majority of the sexual violence in The Golden Ass. Meroe, the lover of Socrates who appears at the beginning of the book, is the most villainous of these women. She commits several violent acts because of jealousy or anger at the behavior of a lover. She changes one cheating lover into a beaver so he will self-castrate, and she creates a perpetual pregnancy in the wife of another lover. The most notable of Meroe's violence is the scene in which she and Pathia attack Socrates and Aristomenes, stabbing Socrates and urinating on Aristomenes. Meroe is just one example, though she may be the most evil. The violence of women when thwarted sexually is a continuing theme in The Golden Ass.There are a few possibilities as to why Apuleius wrote his stories in this way. Perhaps Roman women really were violent and vengeful; perhaps they were constantly looking to seduce beautiful young men. This seems unlikely. What is more probable is that Apuleius exaggerated the facts as a warning to Romans of the time. Apuleius wants his audience to see the possible consequences of adultery, and he wants us to remember that women can be strong and aggressive. As for men, in this book they are often on the receiving end of the sexual jealousy and violence. This seems to contradict our vision of Rome as a military, patriarchal society. Rome was male-dominated in general, but it stands to reason that there were exceptions to the rule, that there were...

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