Apuleius & Milo Manara

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The Italian artist, Maurilio Manara, known professionally as Milo Manara, is a bold sensualist, very much in the style of the classical, civilised societies of Greece and Rome. His work is far too moving to be called cartoon art.

It is no wonder Manara turned his practiced eye to write and draw a faithful edition from the Latin of Apuleius’ Metamorphosis of its protagonist Lucius as The Golden Ass. The original was rather naughty so we suspect the double entendre was intended! The Romans were no prudes–being politically-correct is sooooo boring!

Golden Ass

PDF: The Golden Ass

Katherine McGowan reviews Manara’s book at Lulu.com:

http://connect.lulu.com/t5/Print-Books/THE-GOLDEN-ASS-by-MILO-MANARA/td-p/28223

For those who haven’t read it, Apuleius’s original text documents the the travels of Lucius, a young man obsessed with magic, who has a mishap with some enchanted ointment and transforms into a donkey. Hijinks ensue from there, and eventually the goddess Isis returns things to their proper order. In the meantime, the narrative provides us with a wealth of colorful side-stories through a broad sampling of genres, including the famous tale of Cupid and Psyche. There’s scholarly debate as to whether Apuleius meant his tale as a serious spiritual journey or as an ironic and humorous yarn, but it can be read as both, depending on what the reader chooses to focus on.

Manara’s version, being only sixty pages long, condenses things quite a bit. I’m told Manara’s known for his erotic art, so given that, I’m not surprised at his choice to focus on the erotic episodes in Apuleius. I was a little surprised by his tone, though–while Apuleius’s sex scenes often came across as deliberately humorous, I was a bit confused as to how Manara wanted us to read the sex scenes in the graphic novel. Were they meant to be taken seriously? It seemed like many of the moments from the novel that weren’t erotic were forced into an erotic mold, which didn’t work so well. On that note, I was surprised at Manara’s decision to omit the Cupid and Psyche episode from his work. Of all of the stories in The Golden Ass, that one seems the most likely candidate for the “serious erotica” genre.

Manara also seems to be taking a more serious approach to Lucius’s characterization, downplaying his flaws, and depicting him as a fairly good-looking, youngish guy. I blinked confusedly at this, since I’m rather fond of Apuleius’s self-absorbed, self-pitying Lucius and his obsession with pretty hair. I was also confused as to whether or not Manara was capitalizing on the “spiritual journey” aspect of the story. On one hand, the spiritual journey interpretation seems like a good way to get the readers to take Lucius seriously. On the other hand, the whole “meeting with the goddess” scene at the end is rather rushed, and Demeter–not Isis!–delivers Lucius’s revelation.

My concerns might sound nitpicky, but isn’t the fact that the revelation’s from Isis sort of the whole point of Lucius having a revelation in the first place? Isis is a universal goddess with lots of power, and Demeter is only one of her aspects. Unlike Fortune, she doesn’t kick Lucius around. Most importantly, Isis seems to inspire change in Lucius by the end of the book… though Apuleius may just be engaging in a healthy dose of irony.

Overall, I’d have to say that Manara’s version of The Golden Ass left me perplexed as to what story he was trying to tell. He left out a lot of my favorite twists to the original, too, which I guess makes me the grumbling Classicist. Finally, I have to say that I’m fairly disinterested in pornish stuff in general, so perhaps it was me who was cosmically missing the point. I think, perhaps, the graphic novel adaptation may have been too short for what it was trying to say. Not that shorter retellings can’t be done, but this didn’t seem to work so well.

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