11 May, 2006

Apuleius and the Golden Bough

The Golden Ass contains a scene in which the narrator, Lucius the ass, spots in a shady grove the wild roses he needs to transform back into a man:
Ergo igitur cum in isto cogitationis salo fluctuarem aliquanto longius frondosi nemoris convallem umbrosam, cuius inter varias herbulas et laetissima virecta fungentium rosarum mineus color renidebat. Iamque apud mea usquequaque ferina praecordia Veneris et Gratiarum lucum illum arbitrabar, cuius inter opaca secreta floris genialis regius nitor relucebat.
The phrases in red: 'the shadowy valley of a leafy grove', 'the grove of Venus and the Graces', 'among shaded recesses'. Compare this description of the Golden Bough's setting, from Book Six of the Aeneid, lines 136-139:
latet arbore opaca
aureus et foliis et lento uimine ramus,
Iunoni infernae dictus sacer; hunc tegit omnis
lucus et obscuris claudunt conuallibus umbrae.
The Bough lies 'on a shaded tree', the sacred 'grove' of Proserpina conceals it, and the 'shadows enclose it with dark valleys'. In Vergil the religious setting is the occult of Diana/Hecate and Persephone, the Bough as a liminal symbol of bright life glowing in darkness—in Apuleius the sacred roses, which Lucius imagines to be situated in a field dedicated to Venus and the Graces, turn out to be fakes, poisonous 'rose laurels'. Their hue, bright against the surrounding shadows, is the rosarum mineus color or 'bright red colour of roses'—that word, mineus, a variant of the minium or red lead of medieval illumination (whence miniature), but suggesting also minari, to threaten.

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