THE PLATONIC PHILOSOPHER,
LUCIUS APULEIUS, a Platonic philosopher, publicly known by the famous work of the Golden Ass, lived in the second century under the Antonines. He was a native of Madaura, a Roman colony in Africa; his family was considerable; he had been well educated, and possessed a graceful exterior; he had wit and learning; but was suspected of magic. He studied first at Carthage, then at Athens, and afterwards at Rome, where he acquired the Latin tongue without any assistance. An insatiable curiosity to know every thing induced him to make several voyages, and enter himself into several religious fraternities. He would see the bottom of their mysteries. He spent almost all his estate in travelling; insomuch, that being returned to Rome, and having a desire to dedicate himself to the service of Osiris, he lacked money to defray the expence of the ceremonies of his reception, he was obliged to make money of his clothes to complete the necessary sum: after this, he gained his living by pleading; and, as he was eloquent and subtle, he did not want causes, some of which were very considerable. But he improved his fortunes much more by a lucky marriage than by pleading. A widow, whose name was Pudentilla, neither young nor fair, but who had a good estate, thought him worth her notice. He was not coy, nor was he solicitous to keep his fine person, his wit, his neatness, and his eloquence, for some young girl he married this rich widow chearfully (and with the most becoming philosophy overcame all turbulent passions, which might draw him into the snares of beauty,) at a country house near Oëa, a maritime town of Africa. This marriage. drew upon him a troublesome law-suit. The relations of this lady's two sons urged that he had made use of art magic to possess himself of her
person and money; they accused him of being worse than a magician, viz. a wizard, before Claudius Maximus, Proconsul of Africa. He defended himself with great vigour 1. His apology, which he delivered before the judges,
furnishes us with examples of the most shameful artifices that the villainy of an impudent calumniator is capable of putting in practice 1. Apuleius was extremely laborious, and composed several books, some in verse and others in prose, of which but a small part has resisted the injuries of time. He delighted in making public speeches, in which he gained the applause of all his hearers. When they heard him at Oëa, the audience cried out with one voice, that he
ought to be honoured with the freedom of the city. Those of Carthage heard him favourably, and erected a statue in honour of him. Several other cities did him the same honour. It is said that his wife held the candle to him whilst he studied; but this is not to be taken literally; it is rather a figure of Gallic eloquence in Sidonis Apollinaris, Legentibus meditantibusque candelas & candelabra tenuerunt. Several critics have published notes on Apuleius: witness Phillipus Beraldus, who published very large notes on the Golden Ass, at Venice, in folio, ann. 1504, which were reprinted in 8vo, at Paris and at several other places. Godescalk Stewichius, Peter Colvius, John Wiewer, &c. have written on all the works of Apuleius. Precius published the Golden Ass, and the Apology, separately, with a great many observations. The annotations of Casaubon, and those of Scipio Gentilis, on the Apology, are very scarce, and much valued: the first appeared in the year 1594, and the latter in 1607. The Golden Ass may be considered (as Bayle says) as a continued satire on the disorders which the pseudo-magicians, priests, pandars, and thieves filled the world with at that time. This observation occurs in Fleuri's annotations. A person who would take the pains, and had the requisite qualifications, might draw up a very curious and instructive commentary on this romance, and might inform the world of several things which the preceding commentaries have never touched upon. There are some very obscene passages in this book of Apuleius. It is generally believed that this author has inserted some curious episodes in it of his own invention; and amongst others, that of Psyche. Horum certe noster itæ imitator fuit, ut è suo penu enumerabilia protulerit, atque inter cætera venustissimum illud Psyches, Ἐπεισόδιον. This episode furnished Moliere with matter for an excellent Dramatic Piece, and M. de la Fontaine for a fine Romance.
159:1 Besides the accusation of magic, they reproached him with his beauty, his fine hair, his teeth, and his looking-glass. To the two first particulars he answered he was sorry their accusation was false.--"How do I wish," replied he, "that these heavy accusations of beauty, fine hair, &c. were just! I should, without difficulty, reply, as Paris in Homer does to Hector,
---------------- nor thou despise the charms
With which a lover golden Venus arms.
Soft moving speech, and pleasing outward show,
No wish can gain them, but the Gods bestow.
"Thus would I reply to the charge of beauty. Besides that, even philosophers are allowed to be of a liberal aspect; that Pythagoras, the first of philosophers, was the handsomest man of his time; and Zeno--but, as I observed, I am far from pretending to this apology; since, besides that nature has bestowed but a very moderate degree of beauty on me, my continual application to study wears off every bodily grace, and impairs my constitution. My hair, which I am falsely accused of curling and dressing by way of ornament, is, as you see, far from being beautiful and delicate: on the contrary, it is perplexed and entangled like a bundle of flocks or tow, and so knotty through long neglect of combing, and even of disentangling, as never to be reduced to order." As to the third particular, he did not deny his having sent a very exquisite powder for the teeth to a friend, together with some verses, containing an exact description of the effects of the powder. He alleged that all, but especially those who spake in public, ought to be particularly careful to keep their mouths clean. This was a fine field for defence and for turning his adversary into ridicule; though, in all probability, he had given occasion enough for censure by too great an affectation of distinguishing himself from other learned men. Observe with how much ease some causes are defended, although the defendant be a little in the wrong. "I observed that some could scarce forbear laughing when our orator angrily accused me of keeping my mouth clean, and pronounced the word tooth-powder with as much indignation as any one ever pronounced the word poison. But, surely, it is not beneath a philosopher to study cleanliness, and to let no part of the body be foul, or of an ill savour, especially the mouth, the use of which is the most frequent and conspicuous, whether a man converses with another, or speaks in public, or says his prayers in a temple. For speech is previous to every action of a man, and, as an excellent poet says, proceeds from the Wall of the Teeth."
We may make the same observation upon the last head of his accusation. It is no crime in a doctor of what faculty soever, to have a looking-glass; but if he consults it too often in dressing himself, he is justly liable to censure. Morality in Apuleius's time was much stricter than at present as to external behaviour, for he durst not avow his making use of his looking-glass. He maintains that he might do p. 160 it, and proves it by several philosophical reasons, which, to say the truth, are much more ingenious than judiciously applied; but he denies that he ever consulted his looking-glass; for he says, alluding to this ludicrous accusation, "Next follows the long and bitter harangue about the looking-glass; in which, so heinous is the crime, that Pudens almost burst himself with bawling out--'A philosopher to have a looking-glass!'--Suppose I should confess that I have, that you may not believe there is really something in your objection, if I should deny it; it does not follow from hence that I must necessarily make a practice of dressing myself at it. In many things I want the possession but enjoy the use of them. Now, if neither to have a thing be a proof that it is made use of, nor the want of it of the contrary, and as I am not blamed for possessing, but for making use of, a looking-glass, it is incumbent upon him to prove farther at what time, and in what place, and in the presence of whom, I made cc use of it; since you determine it to be a greater crime in a philosopher to see a looking-glass, than for the profane to behold the attire of Ceres."
160:1 I shall instance one to shew that in all ages the spirit of calumny has put men upon forging proofs by . false extracts from what a person has said or written. To convict Apuleius of practising magic, his accusers alledge a letter which his wife had wrote during the time he paid his devoirs to her, and affirmed that she had confessed, in this letter, that Apuleius was a wizard, and had actually bewitched her. It was no hard matter to make the court believe that she had written so, for they only read a few words of her letter, detached from what preceded or followed, and no one pressed them to read the whole. At last Apuleius covered them with confusion by reciting the whole passage from his wife's letter. It appeared, that far from complaining of Apuleius, she justified him, and artfully ridiculed his accusers. These are his words: you will find that precisely the same terms may either condemn or justify Apuleius, according as they are taken with or without what precedes them. "Being inclined to marry, for the reasons which I have mentioned, you yourself persuaded me to make choice of this man, being fond of him, and being desirous, by my means, to make him one of the family. But now, at the instigation of wicked men, Apuleius must be informed against as a magician (or wizard), and I, forsooth, am enchanted by him. I certainly love him: come to me before my reason fails me." He aggravates this kind of fraud as it deserves; his words deserve to be engraved in letters of gold, to deter (if possible) all calumniators from practising the like cheats. He says, "There are many things which, produced alone, may seem liable to calumny. Any discourse may furnish matter of accusation, if what is connected with foregoing words be robbed of its introduction; if some things be suppressed at pleasure, and if what is spoken by way of reproach to others, for inventing a calumny, be pronounced by the reader as an assertion of the truth of it."