Roman frieze

“Procul a nobis: Apuleius and India”
Sonia Sabnis ( Reed College, Portland)

The cultural interaction between Romans and their subjects is a topic of increasing depth and possibility, especially as ideas of empire and alterity expand in their specificity and relevance.  I propose to address the career of the cosmpolitan citizen Apuleius through his short piece on India, Florida 6.  Apuleius describes the four-varna caste system of the Vedas, contrary to other Greek and Latin accounts of caste.  His example of Brahmanic (or gymnosophistic) virtue is surprisingly mundane but attests to a theme of eating as a reward that appears throughout his most famous work, the Metamorphoses. After presenting these and other unique features of Florida 6, I will offer a reading that uses Apuleius’ own Africanness in considering this presentation of India.  Apuleius introduces the Indians as procul a nobis ad orientem siti; here nobis enables an affinity between Rome and Africa by looking far off to a virtually equidistant eastern horizon.  A mystical reading of India (cf. Grant Parker, The Making of Roman India, Ch. 6) is superseded by an admiration of their cultivation of practical wisdom, whereby Apuleius undercuts the stereotypes of eastern peoples with which the piece begins.

Return to CAPN program