Apuleian Images

Apuleian Images I

From W. Weber, Constantinische Deckengemalde aus dem romischen Palast unter dem Trierer Dom (Trier 1984), identifying representations of Apuleius and of Cupid and Psyche as represented in Apuleius' Metamorphoses. (Translation by Bill Murad.)

Whether the visitor entered from the North or from the South, at each point the portrait of a man looked across at him, whom he had to understand from the model here as a wise man or a poet. The enterer was thus familiarized with the notion that philosophical thoughts were being pondered over in the program of the ceiling. The typological determination of the portraits can not be refuted by the excavator, as has already been mentioned. A different question, however, is whether they should be considered as contemporaries of Constantine. Lactantius and other scholars of the Trier palace belonged to the group of people who would scarcely be portrayed in so prominent a place. If court scholars had a part in the ceiling, it was as authors of the program that it is valuable to elucidate here, and not in persona. Accordingly, they are 3 "Literaten" men of intellect (des Geistes) from earlier periods. But were they, for the ancient visitor, general wise men, as Brandenburg supposes, or did the visitor see in them quite definite figures? If one starts from the question of what remains preserved from the Trier of late antiquity, one would like to argue for the second possibility. One only has to think about the many wise men and poets in the Monnus-Mosaic, who were all indicated by name, though some with completely lost names. Since the inscriptions were missing on the ceiling, the identity of the writers had to be inferred from their context. That should occur with the following.

If one entered through the side door in the North, one saw the bearded wise man over the southern entrance and the Putto at his head in the intended point of view [i.e. the man and a trad. "putto" would have been the only two facing the visitor]. In this latter image [the putto], it is not, as it is in the remaining images with Putti, a matter of two winged boys but rather of the pair Cupid & Psyche, whereby all the remaining putti can be labeled as representations of Eros. Psyche, in a white garment and with golden shoes, is floating on light butterfly wings toward Cupid, who advances boldly through the air. Psyche holds a tablet in her left hand, on which her right hand lies as if protecting something: she seems to be holding something tightly, so that it does not blow away. Cupid holds a golden arrow in his right hand. No one has yet noticed that this charming, floating pair is similar to a mosaic from Antioch that illustrates the tale of Cupid and Psyche from Apuleius' Metamorphoses. In Trier the image represents the place in the story shortly before the happy ending (Met. 6,21). "By a harmless prick of his arrow," Cupid has awoken Psyche, who had fallen into a death-like slumber on the journey back from the underworld. He had given her back the container with the beauty ointment, acquired from Proserpina, by the name of formonsitas, which had fallen from her grasp. Then he "throws himself gently into flight" and shows Psyche the way to Olympus. Thus in the ceiling-painting, she holds the salve, formonsitas, on a cosmetic tray [Schminkpalette] for Venus.

The wise man associated with this field has thick, grey-speckled hair, strong white brows and a tapered, brownish-grey beard. He wears a Greek philosopher's mantel, out of which he raises his right hand (which is not quite completely restored) in the manner of a teacher. Around the back of his head in prestigious fashion lies a greenish garland [Wulstkranz], a corona tortilis, which was not of plant but rather of textile origin. It is already well-known in late antiquity as coming from Anatolia through Attic vase paintings, specifically for Partakers in the Symposium. Hellenistic symposiasts likewise wear them, often larger and wider than their predecessors. It shows up in images of priests, to whose service the banqueters belonged, of heroes, who are reclined at the banquet, as well as in images of Asklepios, the high god of the hero class. The corona tortilis around the head of the writer on the ceiling may also point to a philosophical banquet in platonic style: Lactantius himself [before conversion] had also written a Symposium.

The represented man is certainly not Plato, whose portrait is well-known. He is, however, similar to him in bearing and can be labelled as a Platonist. Apuleius, the author of the tale of Cupid and Psyche, called himself a Platonist. No representations of him are as yet identified, though we know that he had statues of honor in his North-african hometown. He lived in the times of the Antonines, to which full heads of hair and full beards would have been proper in portrait busts. So he is hypothetically named Apuleius. The fame of this author was no less in the fourth century than in his own lifetime. He was one of only 2 Latin poets who received bronze statues in the new Metropole on the Bosporus and in the Zuexippos-Thermen of Constantinople. Among 80 statues of greek gods, heroes, poets, statesmen and philosophers, Apuleius and Virgil stood completely apart.

"Exactly how Apuleius emerges here is not completely clear," it says in a new treatment of each of the statue groups, which are traced back in their raison d'etre [Grundbestand] probably to Constantine. The Trier ceiling paintings now suggest that the tale of Apuleius belonged to the body of accepted representations [Bildungsgut] of the time. That the platonizing poet was still being honored in late antiquity is shown in his frequent mentionings up to the church father Augustine. Also a contorniat is dedicated to him, but unfortunately without a full portrait [plural, Portraetzuege]. Yet that, too, informs us about the fame of Apuleius in every age.