This paper will consider the 1887 Japanese translation of Apuleius' Golden Ass from the angle of classical reception. Although this was the first translation of Greco-Roman literature to appear in modern Japanese, it has, at least in print, never been examined by a classicist before. With the rising interest in the study of classical receptions, including those taking place outside the West, the time may be ripe for a serious look at this early Meiji translation by Morita Shiken—its content, source, intellectual climate surrounding its production, and its own subsequent reception in Japan.
The ancient novel, as Whitmarsh observes, is a genre uniquely suited for reception studies, especially of the more usual kind that is concerned with the modern period. Although a late and ignoble genre within antiquity, despite its often considerable linguistic and literary artistry, it came to enjoy relatively wide cultural recognition and circulation in the early modern period, before being outshone by the modern Western novel and sinking back into relative obscurity again both in the public and in academia—and its literary character is still very much controversial, to the extent that it is debated whether the ancient genre may justifiably be called ‘novel’. The history of the reception of the novel therefore may show more intriguing twists and contradictions than that of such established and uncontroversially ‘great’ genres as epic or tragedy.