THE WORKS OF LUCIUS APULEIUS Vicenza, Henricus de Sancto Urso, 9th August 1488 Click on any thumbnail to see a larger image (opens in new window)

APULEIUS, ‘Lucius’ [Lucii Appuleii platonici . . . Metamorphoseos liber: ac nonnulla alia opuscula eiusdem: necnon epitoma ALCINOI in disciplinarum [sic] Platonis.] Folio. [176] leaves (of 178, lacking first and final blanks). Roman letter with occasional Greek, 38 lines and running titles. Woodcut device on penultimate leaf. Final register leaf. Initials supplied (later, but in appropriate style) in red & blue, together with illuminated ‘title-page’ on front endpaper. Old ink foliations. Leaves l1 and l2 each have two repaired holes affecting few letters of 7–8 lines; these have been carefully restored in manuscript. Fore-margins of first 26 leaves restored with old paper, occasionally with fractional loss of final letter in each line on recto; similar restorations (without loss of text) to head- or tail-margins of six further leaves, mainly in quires q and r. Two small ragged holes (c. 2 x 5mm) in last five leaves, each touching a few letters; occasional worm-holes, mostly in first three quires. Some leaves very palely inked, especially in quires h and i. Some pinkish damp-staining. Final leaf laid down on old paper. Re-cased in 20th-century panelled calf, black label on spine, joints split at foot of spine (but firm elsewhere) and scrap of leather lost and repaired at head. Pencil notes inside front cover. Recent bookplate.

ISTC ia00935000; Goff A935; Hain-Cop. 1316*; BMC VII.1047.


Vicenza, impræssa [sic] per Henricum de Sancto Vrso, 9th August 1488.

Apuleius (fl. c. 150–170 A.D.) was a well-born Latin-speaking North African, Roman in culture but perhaps at least partially Berber by descent. He studied philosophy and rhetoric in both Rome and Athens, distinguished himself as a courtroom orator, and at one time had to call on his professional skills in his own defence when he was accused of inveigling a rich widow into marrying him. His best-known work is the Metamorphoses, often known as The Golden Ass, a fantastic novel about a young man who is magically changed into a donkey and passes through a succession of ludicrous, macabre and bawdy experiences before recovering his human shape. His other works include the Florida (a selection from his speeches), the Apologia (his oration in his own case, here presented as two books), and treatises on Platonic philosophy. As an orator Apuleius is clever, erudite and apparently confident even when he himself is at risk; as a writer of prose fiction he is witty, imaginative, comic, poetic and at times broadly salacious. Books 4 to 6 of the Ass embody the story of Cupid and Psyche, often described as the last-born of the Greco-Roman myths; this contains an early example of a motif found in folk-tales from many lands and ages, where a character (Psyche in this instance) gains the help of animals and insects in performing seemingly impossible tasks. Book 10 includes what is probably the earliest surviving ballet scenario, a representation of the Judgement of Paris with a corps de ballet and elaborate scenery, while Book 11, in which the narrator recovers his human form through the goddess Isis and becomes her votary, introduces a mystical element, with a priest whose utterances sound almost like Christian exhortations.


The works of Apuleius were first printed by Sweynheim and Pannartz of Rome in 1469 in an edition prepared by Giovanni Andrea Bussi, bishop of Aleria (1417–75). Gustav Hildebrand, in his exhaustive critical edition of Apuleius (1842), says that Bussi worked from good materials which have not survived, so that his work deserves to rank alongside the manuscripts as a primary source. The present edition, only the second to appear, is largely a reprint of the Roman text, with headings and running-titles added and with some attempt to bring the still entirely mediæval spelling of 1469 up to a more classical standard, but otherwise exactly reproducing the older version even to the extent of copying its often eccentric punctuation. It must be said that the changes are not always for the better: there is a duplication of three words on the first page of the text, a mistake not found in the Rome edition, and the spelling reforms (largely a matter of reinstating the diphthongs æ and œ where the older text has a plain e) sometimes run into over-correction, so that more than once Lucius, the narrator and anti-hero of the Ass, is made to speak of his ‘equal’ (æquus) instead of his ‘horse’ (equus). Similarly, the occasional Greek quotations – including a remarkable passage attributed to the mythical Orpheus which portrays the god Zeus as a universal figure, present in all things and both male and female – have acquired a few extra blunders.


The printer Henricus de Sancto Urso (or Ursio), also surnamed Zenus, is recorded between 1480 and 1508. He may have been of Piedmontese descent, since the Irish missionary St. Ursus is practically unknown outside that area. In the Venetian tongue his name appears as Rigo di ca’ Zeno. He is sometimes designated librarius, a name which implies that he worked as a scribe before, or concurrently with, his involvement in printing. While neither a scholar nor a first-rate craftsman, Henricus does seem to have taken an interest in adding to the available supply of less familiar classical texts; thus in 1499 he produced the ed. princeps of Martianus Capella’s De nuptiis Mercurii et Philosophiæ, by which time he had acquired a Greek typeface with accents and breathings.

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