The Golden Ass book

A Folio Society limited edition

The Golden Ass


Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Introduced by James Wood
Translated by E. J. Kenney

A new limited edition of Apuleius’ enormously entertaining and immensely influential novel, featuring exuberant illustrations by Quentin Blake. Each copy is signed and numbered by the artist. Fewer than 10 remain

Published price: US$ 585.00


The Golden Ass

The 2nd-century writer and orator Apuleius had a chequered but ultimately glorious career which took him from his native North Africa to Athens and Rome, and from being tried for witchcraft to being appointed a priest of the Roman imperial cult. To the ancients he was primarily famous as a neo-Platonist thinker, but to later centuries his reputation rests on a work which has had an incalculable impact on the development of Western literature – The Golden Ass.

‘The most continuously and accessibly amusing book that has come down to us from classical antiquity’

Production Details

The Golden Ass book
  • 256 pages
  • 11¼˝ x 8½˝
  • 46 illustrations by Quentin Blake
  • Limited to 1,000 copies; limitation page signed and numbered by Quentin Blake
  • Set in Poliphilus and Blado
  • Printed on Old Mill Stucco
  • Bound in Indian goatskin blocked in gold foil
  • Gilded top edge
  • Gold-blocked slipcase

The advent of Romanesque

The Golden Ass
The Golden Ass

The Golden Ass tells the tale of a certain Lucius, a young man who – rather like his creator – leads an itinerant life full of action and incident which ultimately lands him in trouble. His curiosity to discover the secrets of witchcraft (the biographical echoes continue) results in his metamorphosis into an ass. The novel then follows its unfortunate hero through a series of largely bruising, humiliating and hilarious exploits until he is restored to human form through the intervention of the goddess Isis. This meandering plot is punctuated with a number of inserted stories which establish close thematic parallels with the main narrative. The most substantial and best known of these is the tale of Cupid and Psyche, in which Psyche’s disastrous inquisitiveness, subsequent sufferings and eventual salvation echo Lucius’ story. In the novel’s final double twist, Lucius’ adventures are reinterpreted in a religious and providential light, while the identity of the narrator apparently switches from Lucius to Apuleius himself – the novel’s final transformation.

The Golden Ass is the only Latin novel to survive in its entirety. Episodic in construction, it takes larger-than-life characters on extraordinary adventures at breakneck speed, prefiguring the picaresque worlds of Fielding’s Tom Jones, Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Prévost’s Manon Lescaut. Or, before them, Cervantes and the first modern novel, Don Quixote.

Cervantes, Boccaccio (in The Decameron), Shakespeare (the subplot of Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Molière (his play Psyché), Keats (‘Ode to Psyche’) – in every age and every literary form, Western writers have turned to The Golden Ass for inspiration. Perhaps the finest of all homages to Apuleius comes in the scholar, writer and aesthete Walter Pater’s masterpiece Marius the Epicurean (1885), a novel of sonorous beauty which borrows extensively from The Golden Ass and, with a self-consciousness redolent of its parent text, openly dramatises Apuleius’ influence:

The Golden Ass
‘A book, like a person, has its fortunes with one; is lucky or unlucky in the precise moment of its falling in our way, and often by some happy accident ranks with us for something more than its independent value. The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, coming to Marius just then, figured for him as indeed The golden book … It occupied always a peculiar place in his remembrance, never quite losing its power in repeated returns to it for the revival of that first glowing impression.’
The Golden Ass
‘The book of books, the “golden” book of that day’

A rare opportunity for collectors

The Golden Ass

Illustrations by Quentin Blake

It is hard to imagine an artist better suited to the frenetic pace of Apuleius’ narrative and its exquisite blend of wit, cruelty and humaneness than Quentin Blake. In his illustrations for this edition he captures the exuberant quality of the text while conveying all its variety and complexity of tone. His sequence of images depicting Lucius’ transformation into the ass – as the hapless hero moves from hopeful anticipation to panic and horror – is uproariously funny. The central story-within-the-story of Cupid and Psyche is the subject of ten illustrations of extraordinary range, shifting between violence, eroticism and gentle humour. And in a supremely witty twist worthy of Apuleius himself, Quentin Blake has a sceptical reader turning in incredulity from the book to a slightly discomfited ass peering over his shoulder. Where in the recent limited edition of Voltaire’s Candide Quentin Blake demonstrated his sharp satirical eye, and in Fifty Fables of La Fontaine displayed effortlessly expressive powers of characterisation, The Golden Ass shows off his full comic range, as he shifts mesmerizingly through the book’s vagaries of mood and content.

Introduction by James Wood

James Wood is Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. He has been described by Martin Amis as ‘a marvellous critic, one of the few remaining’. His specially commissioned introduction for this limited edition of The Golden Ass offers a subtle and searching analysis of Apuleius’ comic power and makes a compelling case for the work’s enduring impact and relevance.

‘Bursts with wit and verbal performance … captivatingly told’
The Golden Ass

‘A work of genius’

The Golden Ass

An extract from
James Wood’s introduction

The Golden Ass, though in many ways a characteristic fiction of its time, is a work of genius that bursts out of its historical moment; one that has had an enormous influence on the history of the novel, and which continues to influence contemporary literature. But this runs the risk of making Apuleius’ book sound worthy, solemn and scholastic, when it is above all very entertaining – bawdy, funny, irreverent, outrageous …

Our task is not to sympathise (or not too strongly, at least) with Lucius, let alone to ‘empathise’ with him. Our task is to enjoy the comedy of his misfortune, and to benefit from the lesson of his moral correction and redemption . . . Thanks to the farcical, episodic, picaresque nature of Lucius’ sufferings, they take on a cartoonish quality. We understand that each beating cannot really be life-threatening, cannot be truly serious, cannot be truly real, because we know that another beating will come around tomorrow. Lucius is a comic survivor. In this sense, perhaps, the god of Laughter, though undeniably cruel, is also finally ‘kindly’ – no true harm will befall our benighted hero …

What begins as a young man’s picaresque adventure and becomes a raucous and outlandish tale told by an ass-idiot, ends in clouds of harmony and religious rectitude. But perhaps we remember, at this point, that the title Apuleius seems to have given this work – the one found on the manuscript – is Metamorphoses, or ‘Transformations’. Here, at last, is the ultimate metamorphosis, the most important one, in which rogue turns into religionist, learned fool into holy fool; and in which the very gods themselves metamorphose, from malevolent to benign.

The Golden Ass


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Review by nickmuir on 13th Jul 2015

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"Wow, I have just received my copy. It is awesome, Quentin you have done it again. To own such an amazing book, autographed by an artist as well-known as Quentin Blake, in such a limited print run, is ..." [read more]

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