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11 - The Politics of Transgender Representation in Apuleius’ the Golden Ass and Loukios, or the Ass

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2020

Allison Surtees
Affiliation:
University of Winnipeg, Canada
Jennifer Dyer
Affiliation:
Memorial University of Newfoundland
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Summary

In the second-century ad novels Loukios, or the Ass and Apuleius’ The Golden Ass (also known as the Metamorphoses), the man-turned-into-a-donkey Lucius is sold to a group of priests of the Syrian Goddess. Like the priests of Cybele with whom they are frequently linked, these figures are infamous in Greek and Latin literature for ecstatic music and dance, transvestism, self-castration, and suspect sexuality. In both the Greek and Latin novels, the first-person narrator Lucius calls them cinaedi, Graeco-Roman scare figures of gender and sexual deviance. The priests, however, never use this derogatory term, instead calling themselves ‘girls’ (puellae: Met. 8.26; korasia: Onos 36) and using feminine grammatical forms. In their own words, they construct feminine identities, adding to the evidence that some of the followers of Cybele and the Syrian Goddess – commonly referred to as galli – were transwomen and other assigned-male-at-birth individuals with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations (Roscoe 1996; Taylor 1997: 336, 371; Adkins 2014: 35–55; Blood 2015; Blood forthcoming; Carlà- Uhink 2017: 16–19). I argue that in the Greek and Latin novels, the primary locus of the priests’ contested identities is their speech. By juxtaposing Lucius‘ interpretation of the priests’ speech with their own words, I highlight the role of language as a mechanism of power, focusing on who has the authority to impose meaning and how this affects those whose social labels are at odds with their own identities and self-representations.

While Apuleius’ Latin novel is longer and has a different ending than the Greek Loukios, or the Ass (hereafter referred to by its abbreviated Greek name Onos), both relate the story of Lucius, a Roman Greek aristocrat who is transformed into a donkey. After a year of being stolen, bought and sold, he changes back into a man. Based on the similarities between these novels and the comments of the ninth-century patriarch Photios, they are thought to derive separately from a third novel, the lost Greek Metamorphoseis of Lucius of Patrae (Phot. Bibl. 129; van Thiel 1971: 1–21; Mason 1994, 1999a, 1999b).

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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