Vigilans Somniabar: Some Narrative Uses of Dreams in Apuleius' Metamorphoses

David P.C. Carlisle

Abstract


The dreams in the Metamorphoses, however bizarre they may appear, have real significance for the waking world. The exact relationship of dreams to waking reality, as others have observed, is made ambiguous. This paper argues that this ambiguity has the effect of diverting incredulity from the author to his source of authority. Apuleius is thus able to present the most extraordinary event of all, the revelation of Isis and Lucius’ conversion to her religion, in such a way that the narrative is protected from disbelief: since it is entirely directed and confirmed by a series of dreams, the possibility is left of interpreting it as a real event or as a fantasy. Two important effects result: 1) any skeptical reader’s incredulity, which is inevitable, is directed towards the authority of dreams, rather than the authority of the narrator; 2) the suggestion is subtly made that the story—especially since stories are closely related to dreams in this novel—, no matter its relation to the real world, may still have real counsel for the reader.

David P. C. Carlisle earned a B.A. in Classical Languages in 2003 at Carleton College in Northfield, MN and his M.A. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2006, where he is currently teaching and writing his dissertation on dreams in the ancient novels. His interests range widely from epic poetry to late imperial prose, but focus on questions about the construction of narratives. He is also interested in exploring and developing the connections between Classics and related disciplines, especially History and Linguistics.


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