Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Classical Studies

First Advisor

Emily Wilson


Apuleius is often considered to be a Latin sophist, a master of narratological and hermeneutic games, with no particular philosophical agenda. But complexity and playfulness are not necessarily synonymous with intellectual or moral emptiness. Indeed, Apuleius’ self-proclaimed Platonism links him to a figure whose very choice of medium, the dialogue, always plays philosophical games with the reader. This dissertation shows that Apuleius engages with Plato on a deeper level than has previously been thought, framing both his own texts and those of Plato in terms of a high-stakes choice to the reader in the spirit of the ‘choice of Heracles’. I focus on Apuleius’ use of the mirror trope – a trope he inherits from Plato but refracts through the Roman literary tradition. I argue that when Lucius looks into mirrors in the Metamorphoses, such as the mirroring water of Byrrhena’s atrium or the catoptric hair of the maid-servant Photis, Apuleius invites the reader into a complex game of identification and criticism. Lucius’ specular contemplation, though he attempts to fashion it after idealized Platonic mirroring encounters, begins to appear more like the delusional mirror-gazing of Ovid’s Narcissus or Seneca’s Hostius Quadra upon further analysis. Readers, who have been tricked into participating in a shared voyeurism with Lucius, are compelled to see themselves at the same time as they see Lucius in the mirror. At that moment, the reader is put into a kind of Platonic bind, whereby he or she is forced to choose whether or not to continue following Lucius into voyeuristic delusion.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."