Isis and “humanitas”

Dec 12th, 2008 | author Ambra Antonelli | posted in In Focus, Reason and Desire

What Flaubert tried to express in his letters about the Metamorphoses by Apuleio reminds to a sense of vertigo, a physical feeling above all. The mixture of fabulous adventures of Lucio, the protagonist of the story, is not subjected to an immediate understanding, just like the experience when it is caught as it happens. The underlying theme of the “novel” written by Apuleio is the trip with its related events, meetings and told stories… A fabulous and magical land that is the necessary background narration, a Thessaly “homeland of magical spells and art” (II, 1) that favors and excites the mind of Lucio, by its nature cupid “to know every rare and wonderful phenomenon.” Luck favors his inclination: he is welcomed in the home of the loanshark Milone, whose wife, Panfile, is represented as an expert and dangerous magician. Lucio becomes the lover of Fotide, the servant of Milone, and thank to her he can look, without having seen, how the magician with an ointment transforms herself in an Owl and flies through the night. This is the opportunity that Lucio expects to experience the rapture of the flight, the magical metamorphosis.

Fotide on behalf of that sensual relationship that joins her to Lucio and that makes them lovers in the name of Venus “gladiatrice” (II, 15), offers to the lover the magic ointment, but she makes a mistake that will change the adventures of the protagonist. The arms of Lucio become not wings, but fingers legs welded into a single socket, and he is transformed into a donkey with intellect, but without the word to express it. The anxiety of knowledge, a fundamental element of humanitas (essence of man), seems to condemn the protagonist to the degrading experience of a conscious bestiality. Under the shape of the most stupid animal he rushes in the flow of life knowing pain and degradation, violence and perversion. Lucio, to recover the human aspect, must obtain roses, but during the night some robbers entered the house of Milone and led him away to carry the loot. Then begin the vicissitudes of the ass Lucio that becomes silent spectator for more disparate events: the presence of an animal in fact always goes unnoticed.
The lightness and fun way of life that characterize the figure of Lucio in the first part of the narrative, necessarily evolve into a new, larger and deeper understanding of reality.
What drove Lucio to approach art magic was “curiositas”, still a slight and superficial feeling that takes place in trying to “steal”, hidden from view of Panfile, the experience of magic.
His fault is very serious: he wanted to dominate the world of the divine with the human art of deception. The blame must follow an expiation that will bring Lucio to a form of deep knowledge and true that, through the wisdom and moral virtue, can exalt the ideal of “humanitas”. This expiation is also a gift because, through such an arduous and painful path, the prospect of the protagonist becomes deeper and more mature. He flees from overloading and confused sequence of events to take refuge in the solitude of a beach of the Aegean Sea, and in the silence of the night, in the mystery of that loneliness, he feels “the sovereign majesty of the Goddes” and recognizes “that all human affairs are governed from her providence “(XI 1).
The Goddes contains within herself the same female principle that find a different expression in its various representations of Minerva, Venus, Diana, Proserpine, Ceres, Juno, Ecate… but that “the people that the rising sun illumines with its first rays, namely the ancient wise Ethiopians and Egyptians” called with the real name of Queen Isis.
She is “mother of all things, of all the elements, the beginning of all generations for ever…”. She reveals to Lucio the way to receive, with the human form, also his essence of man, his “humanitas” precisely.
Ambra Antonelli – translated by Genna Nielson