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Apuleius on Raising the Dead Crossing the Boundaries of Life and Death while Convincing the Audience

From the book Recognizing Miracles in Antiquity and Beyond

  • Regine May


This paper discusses the blurring of the differences between necromancy and resurrection from apparent death in Apuleius’ works, focusing on the necromantic tales of Socrates and Thelyphron in Metamorphoses 1 and 2, and two episodes where doctors wake supposed corpses from coma (Met.10.5-12 and Florida 19, on Asclepiades of Prusa). The necromancers and the doctors are portrayed similarly, while verbal allusions between all four Apuleian episodes enhance the confusing effect. The behaviour of the comatose and the necromantically revived dead is similar, too, and their appearance is often undistinguishable, mystifying their audience as to their exact nature. Surprisingly, the biaiothanatoi Thelyphron and Socrates both speak, but the two comatose patients do not, although they are alive. Other contemporary texts (Philostratus VA 4.45; Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri 26-27) do not blur this boundary and use speech to mark revived comatose patients as alive. Apuleius’ boundary-blurring is unsurprising in a novel featuring Isis, a goddess who herself crosses the border of life and death in her myth. During his Isiac mystery initiations, Lucius, too, experiences death and rebirth and keeps mystical silence about the initiation process. This cross-over of miracles and medicine is therefore Apuleius’ preparation of his readership for the end of the novel.

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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