The Golden Ass, Book III

Book III:1-3 On trial


No sooner had Dawn, her rosy arm uplifted, begun to drive her steeds with purple trappings over the sky, than I was woken from carefree slumber, and night bound me over to day. Pain flooded my mind as I recalled the evening’s violence, and I sat there hunched on my bed, feet crossed, hands locked together, the fingers clasped across my knees, weeping profusely and already conjuring up the scene in the market-place, the trial, the sentence, and the executioner himself. ‘How will they find,’ I thought ‘a single juror kind and merciful enough to find me not guilty, smeared as I am with the blood of triple slaughter, and steeped in the gore of their fellow-citizens? This is the fame Diophanes the Chaldaean clearly foretold, this notoriety is what my journey has brought me.’

As I was repeating this to myself and bemoaning my misfortune, a crowd started to shout and bang at the door which began to shake. In a trice the house was forced, and a vast throng entered; the magistrates, their assistants, and a miscellaneous swarm of others filled the place. Two lictors arrested me, on these officials’ orders, and began to drag me off at once, myself offering no resistance at all. The townsfolk poured out onto the streets in amazing numbers, and started to follow us from the very moment we set foot in the alleyway. Though I walked along dejectedly, with my eyes towards the ground, or rather turned towards the infernal regions, I was dumbfounded to see, out of the corners of my eyes, that there wasn’t a single one of all those people crowded round that wasn’t lost in fits of laughter. At length, after we’d traipsed through every street, and I’d been led round every last corner, like those processions of purification where they drag sacrificial victims through the town to avert menacing portents, I was brought to the forum and placed before the tribunal.

The magistrates were already seated on the high dais and the town crier was calling for silence, when a universal outcry rose, demanding that a trial of such importance be moved to the theatre, because of the crowds involved and the danger of being crushed in the throng. People immediately hurried there by every route, and filled the whole auditorium in a flash. They even crammed the entrances, and packed the roof. Some clung to the pillars, others draped the statues, and some were half-visible through the windows, hanging from cornices; all careless of the risk to their lives, in their eagerness to watch. Then the officers of state led me like the sacrificial lamb to centre stage, and set me in the midst of the orchestra.

The crier shouted a summons, and an elderly man rose to present the prosecution’s case. So as to time his speech, water was poured into a small glass jar, pierced to let it flow out drop by drop. This was his address to the crowd:

‘Most revered citizens, the case before us is no laughing matter, but one which greatly affects the peace of this whole city, and will serve us as a vital precedent. All the more important then to uphold our reputation that you all ensure this evil killer is soundly punished for a multiple murder perpetrated in cold blood. And don’t think I’m moved by any private grievance, any personal animosity, but you see here your appointed commander of the night-watch, and till now I’m sure no one can fault my constant vigilance.

I’ll faithfully recount the facts as to what occurred last night. Making my rounds, about midnight, on an ultra-careful inspection, door to door, through every quarter of the town, I came upon this vicious young man, with his sword out if its sheath, wreaking havoc everywhere. I saw he’d already savagely murdered three men; they were breathing their life out at his feet, their bodies still quivering in a pool of blood. Justly troubled by the enormity of his crime, he had fled under cover of darkness, and slipped into the house where he lay hidden throughout the night. But by an act of providence, the gods never allowing the guilty to go unpunished, I was ready and waiting at the crack of dawn before he could vanish by some secret route. I it was who ensured he was brought before the weighty justice of your court. You have before you an alien, defiled by repeated murder, and taken in the act. Be severe, and pass heavy sentence on a foreigner for a crime which you would punish harshly if he were one of our own.’


Book III:4-8 Lucius states his defence


With these words the merciless prosecutor closed his ruthless speech. The crier told me to start at once on whatever defence I could make against the charge. But at that moment I could do no more than weep, though less because of my accuser’s ferocious speech, but more because of the promptings of my own bad conscience. Still, heaven sent me the courage to make the following defence:

‘I am scarcely unaware, your honours, how difficult it will be, denounced by those corpses, for the accused, though he speak the truth and willingly concede the facts themselves, to persuade so many of you that he is innocent. But since you kindly grant me this public hearing, I’ll easily convince you that I’m not on trial for my life through any fault of mine, but rather I’m suffering the shame of a groundless accusation, through having succumbed to righteous indignation.

You see I was returning home from dinner, somewhat inebriated, and that bit of the charge I won’t deny, when in front of my host’s house, I’m staying with Milo your good fellow-citizen, I found some vicious thieves trying to force their way in, with a view to breaking the hinges and pulling the door apart. All the carefully fastened bolts had been violently torn away and the men          were planning among themselves how to murder the people inside. One of them bigger and readier for action than the rest was rousing them with the following speech:

‘Hey, lads, let’s attack them while they’re sleeping with all our strength and manly courage. Let cowardice and hesitation be absent from your hearts! Let murder draw her sword and stride through the whole house. Slaughter anyone who’s asleep and knock down any who try to resist. We’ll only get out alive ourselves if we leave no one alive in there.’

Citizens, I confess I approached these desperate thieves – as a good citizen should, at the same time extremely afraid for myself and my hosts – armed with only the short sword I carry for just such emergencies, and tried to frighten them off and send them packing. But they were huge fellows, utter barbarians, who refused to flee and stood their ground despite seeing my weapon.

The battle-lines were drawn. Their general and standard-bearer made for me at once, grasped my hair with both hands, bent me backwards, and was about to finish me off with a stone; but while he was shouting for someone to pass the stone, I struck him with sure aim and happily laid him low. A second had fastened his teeth in my calf, but I felled him with a neat blow between the shoulder-blades, while the third ran towards me improvidently and I killed him with a sword-stroke through the chest.

So with peace restored, my host’s house rescued, and the public safe, I trusted to my innocence and even expected public praise. I’ve never been in court before on even the slightest charge but have always been respected at home for setting my reputation before every advantage. And then my motive was defence against the vilest kind of thieves, so I see no reason for this trial. No one can say I had any prior cause to dislike them, in fact they weren’t known to me at all. At least let someone show how I could profit from their deaths, which would grant a credible motive for committing such a crime.’

With this my tears welled up once more and I stretched out my arms in supplication, pleading sorrowfully with one lot and asking for their mercy, and then with another in the name of their love for their own dear children. When I thought they were all sufficiently moved by human sympathy and affected by my pathetic crying, I called on the eye of Justice and the Sun as witness, entrusting my present predicament to the impartiality of the gods then, lowering my eyes a little, glanced again at the audience – they were weeping with laughter, every one – even Milo my kindly host, who was like a father to me, was totally dissolved in mirth. At this point I said quietly to myself: ‘Well there’s loyalty and conscience! I’ve become a murderer to save his life, am being tried on a capital charge, and he not content with denying me the solace of his assistance, even laughs at my plight.’

To top it all a woman dressed in black with a child in her arms came hastening through the theatre, and behind her an old lady clothed in rags both of them wailing equally mournfully. They were waving olive branches and draped themselves beside the bier on which the covered corpses of the victims lay. ‘In the name of public justice, and the common rights of humanity, take pity on these wrongfully slaughtered youths, and grant us solace in our widowhood and bereavement. At last show your concern for this little child of misery, orphaned in infancy. Propitiate your laws, and show your concern for public order, with the blood of that murderer!’

Now the senior magistrate rose, and addressed the crowd: ‘Regarding the crime itself, which must be severely published, not even the guilty party denies the deed. But there’s one missing piece of information, the names of his confederates in this bold felony, since it’s hardly likely that he took the lives of three strong men alone. So the truth will now be extracted by torture. The servant who was with him has secretly fled; he is the only one left to interrogate so his co-conspirators may be exposed and fear of such deadly acts eliminated.’


Book III:9-11 Justice is served


In an instant fire and wheel appeared, and assorted whips, in the Greek manner. My gloom increased, doubled rather, since I’d not even meet death in one piece, but the old crone who’d caused such turmoil with her tears, suddenly spoke: ‘Before you tie that brigand to the cross, the one who murdered my poor little darlings, let the victims’ bodies be uncovered so that seeing their youth and beauty you may be roused to the highest pitch of righteous indignation and match your severity to the crime.’

Her speech met with applause, and the magistrate ordered me to uncover the bodies on the bier with my own hands. Resisting for some time I refused to add to my earlier deed with this new exposure. But the lictors, at the magistrates’ orders, forced me to comply. Finally they dragged my hand from my side and stretched it over the corpses to my own destruction. Succumbing at last to necessity, I yielded though unwillingly, and snatching away the pall revealed the bodies.

Oh gods, what sight was this! How extraordinary! What a sudden transformation of my fate! Though I’d been counting myself already among Proserpina’s crew, enrolled as a member of the house of Orcus, appearances were instantly altered, and there I stood, dumbfounded. How can I find the words to give a rational account of that sight? You see, the corpses of the murdered men were three swollen wine-skins pierced with sundry holes, and recalling my struggles of the night before I saw they were in the very places where I’d stabbed the thieves.

Then the laughter which the crowd had been cunningly repressing broke out without restraint everywhere. Some were cackling in a sheer excess of mirth, others pressed their fists to their stomachs to relieve the ache. At any event they were all drowned in delight, and kept turning to look at me again as they exited the theatre. As for me, from the moment I’d pulled the cloth back, I’d been standing there frozen, transformed to stone, just like one of the theatre’s columns or statues. Nor did I rise from the dead till Milo my host came and grasped me, I resisting, while tears flew once more and I kept sobbing. He urged me gently along and led me to his house by a winding route, careful to avoid the busy streets. I was still in a state of shock, and trembling with fear, and he could find no way to ease the indignation, at the treatment I’d endured, constricting my heart.

Behold, clad in the full regalia of office, the magistrates themselves entered the house, and tried to calm me with these words: ‘Master Lucius, we’re not unaware of your dignity, and your ancestry. Indeed the whole province knows your family’s noble reputation. The experience you’ve undergone, that you’re grieving over so deeply, was far from being intended as an insult. So banish the melancholy you feel, from your heart, and overcome your mental anguish, because you see our annual holiday in honour of Laughter, most delightful of the gods, always has to be embellished by some new jest. The god will always be with the man who originates and performs it, lovingly and propitiously accompanying him wherever he goes, will never allow him to grieve, and always garland his serene brow with beauty. The whole city awards you its highest honour in gratitude for your deed, inscribes your name among its patrons, and decrees that your image be preserved in bronze.’

To this I could only reply in kind: ‘Yours, the most splendid city in Thessaly is unique. I thank you kindly for this great honour, though I suggest you keep your statues and portraits for far greater and worthier men than I.’


Book III:12-18 Photis confesses


After this modest speech, I smiled a little and looked cheerful, pretending to feel fine, as best I could; and gave the magistrates a courteous goodbye.

Then a servant rushed in: ‘Lady Byrrhena,’ he said, ‘reminds you; the party that last night you promised to attend will soon commence, and she invites you to join her.’

Even at that distance I was fearful, terrified by the mere thought of her house. I sent a reply: ‘Dear aunt, I wish I could comply with your request. If only it were honourable to do so. But Milo, my host, made me pledge myself, in the name of today’s omnipresent deity, to dine with him. He will not leave nor allow me to depart. Please grant therefore a delay to my appearance at your table.’

While I was still giving the message, Milo grasped me firmly and ordering a servant to follow with the bathing things, led the way to the public baths nearby. I walked close to his side trying to hide myself, to escape the gaze and laughter of the people, a laughter I myself had engendered. Because of the state I was in, I can barely remember washing and drying myself, and returning home again. I was utterly distracted, marked by the brand of endless stares, and nods, and pointing fingers.

I consumed Milo’s meagre little supper ravenously, and alleging a fierce headache prompted by constant weeping, I was excused readily and retired to my room. I threw myself down and lay there thinking glumly of everything that had happened, until at last my darling Photis entered, having seen her mistress off to bed, but quite different from her usual self. There was no cheerful glance, or raillery, but a lined forehead and a serious and affected look.

At last she began to speak, timidly and hesitantly: ‘It was me,’ she said, ‘I confess it, I am the source of all your troubles.’ With that she pulled out a leather belt and handed it to me saying: ‘Here, take vengeance on a traitress, I beg you, or inflict what worse punishment you wish, instead. But please don’t think I caused your torment intentionally. The gods forbid you ever to suffer the least hardship because of me. And if adversity threatens you, may it be expiated speedily with my blood. I was ordered to do it for another reason, and through my bad luck it rebounded on you and hurt you.’

Now my usual curiosity egged me on to lay the cause of what happened bare: ‘That’s the naughtiest, most audacious leather strap ever, and intended for your own whipping,’ I said, ‘but it will rather perish, slashed to pieces by me, than touch your feather-soft milk-white skin. But tell me truly: what did you do that sheer bad luck diverted to my destruction? For I swear on that dear little head of yours no one could make me credit, even if you declared it, that you could ever plan to hurt me. And even a perverse matter of chance can’t make innocent intention crime.’

When I’d finished speaking Photis’ eyes were quivering moistly, languid with eager passion, and half-closed; I licked them thirstily, sipping them with gentle kisses.

Her cheerfulness revived: ‘Please let me lock the bedroom door tightly,’ she said, ‘lest the careless indiscretion of a wanton tongue incur a monstrous punishment.’ And with that she slid home the bolts and firmly turned the key. Returning to me, and clasping her arms about my neck, she spoke in a tiny whisper: ‘I’m afraid;’ she said, ‘no I’m petrified, at the thought of revealing this house’s secrets, at unveiling my mistress’ hidden mysteries. But I trust in you and your good sense. Besides your sublime knowledge, and the nobility of your birth, you’re an initiate of several cults and you know the value of silence on sacred matters. Whatever facts I entrust to the inner recesses of your god-fearing heart, keep locked away forever in that shrine, and please repay my guileless revelations with stubborn silence. There are things which I alone among mortals know, and only the love which binds me to you compels me to disclose them. Now you’ll learn everything about our house, now you’ll learn of my mistress’s astounding hidden powers, by which ghosts are made to obey her, stars are hurled about, deities forced to do her bidding, and the elements enslaved. Never is she more engaged in her arts than when she has gazed longingly on some young man with a handsome form, which does indeed happen to her quite often.

Right now she’s desperately in love with a good-looking Boeotian lad, and is deploying all the force of her skill, all the devices of her art, with passion. I heard her this evening – heard her with my very own ears –

Threatening the sun itself with a veil of cloud and perpetual darkness, just because he’d lingered in the heavens and not given way earlier to night, so she could exercise her magic charms. On her way back yesterday from the baths, she caught sight of this youth in a barber’s shop, and ordered me to steal a few strands of his hair, from all the fragments lying on the ground, snipped by the shears. I was gathering some, carefully and furtively, when the barber saw me. The reputation of this town for practising black arts is so bad that he grabbed me and denounced me without mercy.

‘You wretch,’ he screamed, ‘will you never cease stealing young men’s hair! If you don’t stop these criminal acts I’ll hand you over to the magistrates straight away.’ He followed his words with action, stuck his hand between my breasts, rooted around and angrily pulled out the strands I’d hidden away. It upset me terribly, and knowing my mistress’ temper, how violently she reacts to failures of that kind, beating me terribly with the utmost savagery; I planned to run away, till I remembered you and immediately quenched the thought.

But as I was walking sadly away, afraid to return home empty-handed, I saw someone trimming a goatskin bag with scissors. I noticed other bags hanging there, neatly tied off and inflated, and the hairs lying on the ground. They were blonde, thus very much like her Boeotian’s, so I gathered a handful and brought them to my mistress, Pamphile, hiding the truth. Then at twilight, before you returned from dinner, my mistress, quite deceived, climbed up to the roof. There’s a place on the far side of the house, exposed to every breeze, with a clear view to the east and all the other directions, which she secretly uses as a fitting lair for those arts of hers.  First she prepared for the deadly rite, with the usual equipment, setting out aromatic spices of every kind, metal plaques with unintelligible inscriptions, the surviving bits of birds of ill-omen, and numerous pieces of corpses from funerals and tombs: here noses and fingers, there flesh-covered spikes from crucified bodies, preserved blood from murder victims, and shattered skulls wrenched from the jaws of wild creatures.

Then chanting over some quivering entrails she made offering with various liquids; spring water, cow’s milk, mountain-honey, and even mead.

Then she bound the hairs together and knotted them into braids, and threw them onto the live coals with several kinds of incense. Then suddenly, by the unconquerable strength of her magic powers, and the invisible strength of divine forces subject to her will, the forms whose hairs were sizzling and frazzling were drawn to where the stench from the stolen hairs brought them, exhaling human breath, feeling, hearing, walking. Instead of the young Boeotian it was they that banged at our doors, in their longing to get inside. Then you appeared, sodden with wine and confused by the darkness of improvident night, audaciously drawing your sword armed like mad Ajax, not like him turning his anger on living sheep and slaughtering whole flocks, but even more bravely letting the air out of three inflated goatskin bags. So the enemy was laid low without a spot of blood, and I embrace you now, not as my killer of men, but my slayer of bags.’


Book III:19-23 Spying on the mistress


I took light from Photis’ clever speech and sparked in turn: ‘Let’s name it the first heroic encounter of a glorious career, like one of Hercules’ twelve labours, with those perforated wineskins counting as Geryon’s three bodies or Cerberus’ triple heads. But if you want my willing and complete forgiveness for a crime that caused me so much anguish, grant me my heart’s desire. Let me spy on your mistress when she’s at her supernatural games, let me watch while she invokes the gods, or when she undergoes some transformation. I’ve an overwhelming longing to experience magic at first hand, though you yourself seem knowledgeable enough and skilled; I know; I’ve felt it. I’ve always disdained the girls’ embraces, but now I’m sold and delivered; a slave, and a willing one, to your flashing eyes and blushing cheeks, your gleaming hair, your parted lips, your fragrant breasts. I’ve forgotten my home town already, no intention of returning, and nothing matters but the night and you.’

‘Lucius, I only wish I could grant your desire’ she said, ‘but besides her innate jealousy she always performs her arcane acts in secret, and alone. Yet I’ll face danger at your bidding; I’ll wait my moment and try to do as you want: only, as I said, promise to keep silent about such things.’

As we were chattering away, mutual passion swept our minds and bodies. We threw off all our clothes and, naked and coverless, revelled in the delights of Venus. When I was tired Photis, generous to a fault, offered herself as a boy, as a bonus. At last, with eyelids drooping from staying awake, sleep filled our eyes, and held us tight till broad daylight.

We passed not a few nights in like pleasures, and then one day Photis came to me excited and trembling to say that since her mistress had failed to further her love affair by means of other devices, she intended to be-feather herself, and so take wing to the object of her desire, and I was to prepare carefully for a glimpse of her performance. And at twilight Photis led me silently on tiptoe to the attic and invited me to peep through a crack in the door to see what happened.

Firstly Pamphile took off all her clothes, opened a chest and removed several little alabaster boxes, lifting the lid off one and scooping out some ointment, which she worked for a while between her fingers, then smeared all over herself from the tips of her toes to the crown of her head. After a murmured conversation with her lamp, she began to quiver and tremble and shake her limbs. As her body gently shimmered, plumage appeared, and firm wing-feathers; her nose grew curved and hardened, and her toenails bent into talons. Pamphile was now an owl. So she let out a querulous hoot, tried a few little hopping flights, then soared from the ground and glided away from the house, wings outspread.

Hers was a voluntary transformation through the power of her art. But I, not enchanted by any spell, was yet so transfixed by awe at the fact of it that I seemed to be something far different to Lucius. I was out of my mind, amazed to the point of madness, dreaming yet not in sleep. I rubbed my eyes again and again to make sure I was truly awake. When at last the sense of present reality returned, I seized Photis’ palm and pressed it to my eyes. ‘I beg you,’ I said, ‘by those pretty breasts of yours, my honey-sweet, as the moment demands let me enjoy a great and singular proof of your affection, fetch me a dab of ointment from that little receptacle. Make me your slave forever with a favour I can’t repay, and let me hover about you, a winged Cupid to your Venus.’

‘Ah, you sly fox,’ she cried, ‘would you have me willingly lay my axe to the branch I sit on? I can barely keep you safe from those Thessalian she-wolves as it is. If you had wings how could I keep track of you? I’d never see you again!’

‘The gods preserve me from such a crime,’ I replied, ‘though I might roam the entire sky on an eagle’s lofty course, though I were the sure messenger, the fortunate arms-bearer of almighty Jove himself, would I not always return to the nest after every regal flight? I swear by the lovely knot of hair by which you’ve bound my heart, that there’s no other woman I’d rather have than my Photis.

And here’s another thought: if I smeared myself with that potion and changed myself into a bird, I’d have to keep far away from the houses. What kind of lover would an owl make for a woman? Very fine and handsome! Why, when those birds of night are trapped inside a house, don’t they nail them to the doorpost to expiate in death the bad luck their ill-omened flight threatened? But, I almost forgot to ask, what do I say and do to lose the feathers again and return to being Lucius?’

‘It’s fine, you need have no fear. My mistress has shown me how all such shapes can be changed back to human form. Don’t think she showed me out of kindness; no, it was so I could prepare the restorative when she comes home from her adventures. See how little of these inexpensive herbs can work such mighty effects: “Sprinkle a pinch of aniseed on laurel leaves steeped in spring water; use as lotion and potion.”’


Book III:24-29 Lucius transformed!


After repeating the formula several times, she crept nervously upstairs and brought me the box from the chest, which I first clasped and kissed praying it might bring me a fortunate flight. Then I threw off all my clothes, plunged my hand eagerly inside, took a large dollop and smeared my body all over. Then I spread out my arms and flapped them up and down one after the other, trying my best to become a bird, as Pamphile had. No plumage appeared, not a single feather! Instead the hair on my body turned to bristles, and my soft skin hardened to hide, my fingers and toes merged with hands and feet, squeezing together into individual hooves, and a long tail shot from the tip of my spine. Now my face was enormous, my mouth immense, my nostrils gaped, and my lips hung down. My ears too were ludicrously long and hairy. The only consolation I found in my wretched transformation was that though I could no longer embrace Photis, at least my member had grown.

I examined every part of my body hopelessly, and saw I was no bird but an ass, and wanting to protest at what Photis had done, and finding myself without human voice or gesture, I did the only thing I could, hung my lower lip, looked sideways at her out of moist eyes, and expostulated with her in silence.

On first realising my state, she slapped her head violently with her hands and screamed: ‘I’m done for! Nervousness and haste have misled me, and I’ve confused the boxes. Luckily there’s a ready cure for your transformation. A mouthful of roses to chew and, in a trice, you’ll be no ass but my own Lucius. I wish, as usual, I’d woven some garlands for us this evening, and then you’d not have to suffer all night like this. But at first light the remedy will be here.’

So she grieved. But in truth, though I was a perfect ass, a beast of burden, no longer Lucius, I still retained my human reason. So I held long and earnest debate in my mind with regard to that utterly worthless and felonious woman, as to whether to kick her again and again with my hooves, bite her with my teeth, and destroy her. But that would have proved rash, and deeper thought brought wisdom, for by punishing Photis with death I’d also be killing the one who could help me regain my shape. So bowing and shaking my head, I swallowed my temporary humiliation, and adjusting to the harsh vicissitudes of fortune, I went off to join my fine thoroughbred in the stable, where I found another ass, the possession of my one time host, dear Milo. I thought that, given the unspoken bond of natural allegiance among dumb creatures, my horse on seeing me would show some marks of recognition, and be stirred by pity to offer friendship. But oh, Jove god of guests and you invisible powers of Loyalty! That noble steed of mine and the other ass conferred, and at once agreed on my destruction. No doubt fearing for their rations, the moment they saw me near the manger they lowered their ears and kicking out savagely attacked me in blind fury. I was driven away from the feed that I’d put there with my very own hands for that ungrateful servant of mine that evening.

So spurned and condemned to solitude, I withdrew to a corner of the stable. While I was cogitating on my colleagues’ insolence, and planning the revenge I’d take on my treacherous steed next day, once I was Lucius again with the help of sundry roses, I noticed a statue of Epona, goddess of asses and horses, in a little shrine at the top of the pillar that held up the stable roof. It was well adorned with wreaths of fresh-picked roses. I recognised the means of salvation, and stretching out my front legs with eager anticipation, and straining as hard as I could, I stood powerfully upright, neck extended and lips thrust out, and tried as hard as I could to reach the garlands. But with my bad luck of course the slave appeared, who always looked after the horse, and spied my actions. He ran up angrily shouting: ‘How long do we have to put up with this gelded ass; it doesn’t just go for the horse’s feed; now it’s attacking sacred statues? I’ll cripple, I’ll maim you, sacrilegious brute!’ And searching around swiftly for a weapon, he came on a bundle of sticks lying there. Hunting out a leafy branch for a flail, the thickest of them all, he began to beat me unmercifully, only stopping when he heard a crash and the sound of doors being kicked hard, and shouts of alarm and cries of ‘Robbers!’ from which he fled in terror.

In an instant the doors were forced, and in rushed a band of brigands, armed to the teeth, who occupied every part of the house, attacking the servants who came running from every side. And the night was lit by men with torches and swords, and flame and steel flared, like the rising sun. Then they used large axes to break into Milo’s store, a room in the centre sealed and closed by heavy bolts, and once they’d succeeded hauled out his treasure through the gaps in every wall, tying the goods in bundles and each taking a share. But the number of bales was greater than the number of thieves so, swamped by the overflow of riches, they led the horse and us two asses out of the stable-door, loaded us with the heaviest of the wares, and drove us out of the now-empty house, urging us on with blows.  One of their number they left behind as a spy to report on the outcome, while the others, beating us all the time, set off through the pathless mountains at high speed.

What with the weight of the load and the height of the mountain slopes and the endless distance travelled, I was as good as dead. But the idea dawned on me slowly, but none the worse for that, of calling on the civil powers, demanding help to free myself from all my ills, in the Emperor’s holy name. So when, in broad daylight now, we passed through a busy village, thronged with market-stalls, I tried to shout Caesar’s august name, among those Greeks, in my native tongue. And indeed I managed ‘O’ with vigour and eloquence, but Caesar’s name was beyond me. The robbers scorned my raucous clamour, lashed my wretched hide and left it not whole enough to make flour-sifters from.

But at long last mighty Jupiter offered me a chance of salvation. Past a host of little villas and spreading farms I caught sight of a pleasant little garden where, amongst the flowers, virgin roses bloomed, wet with the morning dew. My eyes gaped wide, and eager, joyful at the thought of being set free I trotted closer and was just about to touch them with trembling lips when I suddenly realised the risk I ran: if I appeared as Lucius again, and not an ass, I’d clearly face death at the brigands’ hands, on the grounds of my practising the magic arts, or for fear I’d inform against them. So I had to shun the roses from necessity, and patiently bearing present misfortune, carried on munching hay in the form of an ass.