Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hypata's theater in 'the Golden Ass'

This week I read Apuleius' 'The Golden Ass' or 'Metamorphoses'. Lucius Apuleius (ca. 125-180), wrote this great novel which contains various ludicrous adventures. The central character 'Lucius' is accidentally turned into an ass by using magic. Only the eating of roses can undo his transformation. The story unfoldes in Hypata.

Hypata (τὰ Ὕπατα) is a town of the Aenianes in Thessaly, south of the Spercheus in Greece, whose inhabitants were notorious for witchcraft. Herodotus mentioned a nearby spring. During the Second Macedonian War, it was a village of the Aetolian League. After it, Hypata became a city of the Roman province of Achaea. Its archaeological findings from that time dates back to around the 2nd century.

Before his transformation Lucius is put on trial for murder; with the theater of Hypata used as a courtroom. Unfortunatelly, I can't find any archeological references to this theater. Either it was made of wood, not yet excavated, completely destroyed or just made up. It is, however interesting to learn that a theater was also used for the purpose of a trial.

Apuleius was a Romanized Berber, from Madaurus, who studied Platonist philosophy in Athens and was an initiate in several cults or mysteries. The most famous incident in his life was when he was accused of using magic to gain the attentions (and fortune) of a wealthy widow. He declaimed and then distributed a witty tour de force in his own defense - his Apologia - before the proconsul and a court of magistrates convened in Sabratha.

The above picture is the titlepage of Bohn's Libraries edition of 'The Works of Apuleius', publised in 1902: a portrait of Apuleius flanked by Pamphile changing into an owl and the Golden Ass.

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