Metamorphoses and other novels of the period are less familiar to undergraduates than more canonical texts, but it's important for students to be introduced to these surprisingly modern – and fun – stories that can help us reflect on both the ancient world and our own.
In the novel Metamorphoses, a Roman man named Lucius has an insatiable curiosity about magic. While attempting to transform himself into a bird, he accidentally changes himself into a donkey. Throughout his time as a donkey, Lucius, retaining his human mind, experiences the darker side of life in the Roman Greek world.
Professor Ashli Baker, classics & ancient Mediterranean studies, focuses her research on this novel, written by the Roman North African author Apuleius in the 2nd Century, CE. "It's interesting as a study of the question of identity," she says. "An elite Roman citizen is stripped of his identity and has to adapt to life as a donkey." The novel is also one of the first "conversion narratives," according to Baker: Lucius joins the cult of Isis as a condition of his transformation back to human form. In his real life, says Baker, Apuleius was an accomplished orator who found himself accused of witchcraft, a capital charge in the Roman world. She examines his orations and defense speech in addition to his fiction.
Baker includes Metamorphoses in her seminar on the ancient novel as a way to engage students in discussions about the intersection between fiction and lived reality. "Metamorphoses and other novels of the period are less familiar to undergraduates than more canonical texts," she says, "but it's important for students to be introduced to these surprisingly modern – and fun – stories that can help us reflect on both the ancient world and our own."
Baker, who also teaches Latin, Heroic Epic and Roman History, sees her work as a "multi-directional conversation between students and teachers."
"I have high expectations for active student participation and I strongly encourage students to add their voices to the classroom environment," she says. This environment is vital to her work on Apuleius and other ancient writers, because every class contributes to her research in a constant loop. "My conversations with students inform my research, and my research in turn contributes to student learning," she says.
"I am so pleased to be a member of a department filled with dynamic and supportive teachers and scholars," says Baker. "I am also excited to act as a mentor to my students, both those who intend to pursue a profession in Classics and those who have other dreams for the future."
Posted Oct. 10, 2013