Apuleius: The Captive Woman

As the story begins the hero of Apuleius's novel, a man named Lucius, has been turned into a donkey. He is now in the possession of a band of robbers who are using him as a pack animal; they also have a horse in their possession (he is a normal horse, unlike our magical donkey-hero who does indeed regain his human form at the end of the novel). There is also an old woman who is part of the band; this old woman is going to be our storyteller for the "Cupid and Psyche" fairy tale. As you will see in this passage, the robbers kidnap a young woman and bring her back to the hide-out, and the old woman will eventually tell the story of "Cupid and Psyche" to entertain and comfort this captive young woman. So, pay close attention to both the young woman and the old woman as you get started so that you will see how Apuleius sets up the fairy-tale storytelling scene.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Cupid and Psyche unit. Story source: Apuleius's Golden Ass, as translated into English by Tony Kline (2013).

The Captive Woman

The robbers poured a libation of pure wine from golden cups in memory of their dead comrades, sang some songs in honour of their god Mars, and went to sleep. As for us, the old woman brought boundless, generous quantities of fresh barley, so the horse at least thought himself at a Salian priests’ banquet, though I who’d never eaten the stuff before, except ground fine and cooked as porridge, had to search around for the corner where they’d piled the left-over bread. My jaws ached with hunger, near draped in cobwebs from long neglect, and I gave them a thorough workout.

Behold, in the night, the robbers woke and decamped: variously equipped, some armed with swords, some dressed as ghouls they suddenly vanished. I kept bravely, vehemently chewing away; even impending drowsiness had no effect on me. When I was Lucius, I’d leave the table filled by one or two slices of bread, but now I’d a vast belly to serve and was already gulping down my third basketful as dawn’s clear light caught me at my labours.

Roused at last by an asinine sense of shame, but with extreme reluctance, I trotted off to slake my thirst in the nearby stream. At this moment the robbers returned, anxious and preoccupied, with not a single piece of goods, not even a worthless rag. Despite their swords, and show of force, and the presence of the whole troop, they’d only managed to snatch a girl, though to judge from her refined manner, a child of one of the region’s notable families. Even to an ass like me, she seemed a girl to covet. Sighing, plucking at her hair and clothes, she entered the cave and once inside they tried to soothe her fears with talk.

‘Don’t fear for your life or honour,’ they said; ‘just bear with our need for money: necessity and poverty led us to this profession. Your parents, however mean they are, won’t hesitate to pay a ransom from their great store of riches, for their own flesh and blood.’

How could the girl’s fears be soothed by this sort of blather? She wept uncontrollably, her head between her knees. So they called the old woman aside and told her to sit beside the girl, and console her as best she could with gentle words while they got on with their trade. The girl though could not be kept from tears by anything the old woman could say, but cried all the louder, her breasts heaving with sobs, till it even drew tears from me.

‘Alas,’ she cried, ‘torn from so dear a home, from family and servants and my revered parents, the unhappy spoil of theft become enslaved and shut like a slave in a stony cell, deprived of all the comforts I was born and raised to, tormented by uncertainty as to whether I’ll survive or be butchered by these thieves, this dreadful gang of sword-fighters, how can I help crying, or even endure alive?’

So she lamented, and then exhausted by the pain in her heart, the strain on her throat, and the tiredness of her weary body, she allowed her drooping eyelids to fall in sleep. But her eyes had only been shut an instant when at once like a woman possessed she started up and began to torment herself more violently than before, pounding her breast and tearing her pretty face. When the old woman asked her why she was plunged in fresh grief, she only heaved a deeper sigh and cried: ‘Oh now it’s certain, now I’m totally lost and done for, and not a hope of rescue, I must find a rope or a sword or a nearby precipice.’

At this the old woman grew angry, and asked her, with a scowl, what on earth she was crying for, and what had roused her from deep sleep and provoked that loud wailing again. ‘You think to cheat my young men of their profit from this rich venture, do you? Persist and I’ll make sure those tears are wasted – robbers pay them little attention anyway – and see you roasted alive!’

Next: Her Dream

(700 words)

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