Apuleius: The Escape

Now you will read one last segment of the adventures of Lucius the donkey, seeing how he makes his escape from the robbers. Along the way you will get to hear Lucius swear in Roman style; just as we say "By God," the Romans swore like this: "By Hercules!" (In Latin: Merhercle!)

[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 Escape

No small anxiety gripped me as I pondered the threat of death that menaced me. I thought to myself: ‘Lucius, what are you standing here for, awaiting the end of all? Your death, a cruel one at that, has already been agreed by the robbers and hardly requires much effort. Look at that chasm there, with those sharp rocks jutting upwards, to pierce you before you reach its depths and split your body apart! That marvelous magic spell of yours may have given you an ass’s form, and its labours to perform, but rather than its thick hide, it wrapped you in a skin thin as a leech’s.  Well then, show a man’s courage and try to escape while you can. You’ve a good opportunity now while the robbers are away. Or are you afraid of that old half-dead hag who’s keeping an eye on you? Even if you’re lame, you could still see her off with a kick of your leg. But where in the world to go? Who’ll give you sanctuary? Now there’s a stupid, asinine question: what traveller wouldn’t be glad to take a means of transport along?’

So with a sudden sharp tug I broke the halter by which I was hitched and set off as fast as all four legs could carry me. Yet I still couldn’t evade that vigilant old woman’s hawk-like eye. Seeing I’d broken loose, she grabbed the rope as I went by, with more alacrity than you’d expect from one of her years and gender, then struggled to pull me about and lead me back. But remembering the robber’s murderous decree, I kicked at her with my hind legs, without a shred of pity, knocking her to the ground. Still she clung on stubbornly, lying flat on the earth, so that she followed me as I ran, dragged along in pursuit!

And she began to scream, what a noise, begging the help of some stronger arm, though the feeble sounds that formed her cries were useless, since there was only the captive girl about, who flew out on hearing the shouts and saw before her a scene from a memorable piece of theatre, an aged Dirce, by Hercules, dragged off by an ass instead of a bull. Now she summoned a man’s courage and performed a bold and beautiful feat: she twisted the rope from the old woman’s hands, stayed my headlong flight with caressing words, mounted nimbly on my back, and spurred me onwards once more.

 I was driven not just by my desire to escape in the manner I’d chosen, and my zeal to rescue the girl, but persuaded too by her blows that descended from time to time, and so I hit the track with the speed of a racehorse, galloping flat out. I tried to neigh delicate words to her and, pretending to bite my back, turned my neck and kissed her lovely feet.

She sighed deeply then turned her anxious face towards the sky. “O gods above,’ she cried, ‘help me now in my desperate plight. And you, crueler Fortune, cease your fury at last. I should have atoned enough in your eyes given all these piteous torments I’ve endured. And you, protector of my life and freedom, if you carry me safely home to my parents and handsome lover, how I’ll thank you, honour you, and feed you! First I’ll comb out that mane of yours and adorn it with my maiden’s gems. Then I’ll curl the locks on your brow, part them neatly, and carefully disentangle the hair of your tail, all matted and bristly from neglect. Glittering with golden amulets, bright as the starry sky, you’ll march triumphantly in joyful public procession. I’ll stuff you with food every day, my hero, bringing you nuts and sweet dainties in my silk apron. And with delicacies to eat, to perfect leisure and profound happiness, I’ll add this glorious honour: I’ll enshrine the remembrance of my salvation, through divine providence, in a painting showing our present flight, to be hung in my entrance-hall. There people will see it, and when stories are told they’ll hear it, and the clumsy commentaries of the learned will perpetuate the tale: “How a princess fled her captors, riding on an ass.” You’ll be featured yourself amongst the ancient wonders, and given your example we’ll believe in truth that Phrixus swam the Hellespont on a ram’s broad back, that Arion rode a dolphin, and Europa a bull, and if Jupiter really was that bull and bellowed, perhaps this ass I’m on conceals some deity, or human.’

While she was uttering these sentiments, mingling frequent prayers with her sighs, we reached a fork in the road.

If you want to find out what happened to Lucius in the end, and how he finally regained his human form, you can read the rest of Apuleius's novel online.

(800 words)

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