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Choose a novel from the 16th-18th century. Compare and contrast with one or both of the Latin novels. (Petronius’ Satyricon and/or Apuleius’ The Golden Ass)

The Spanish picaresque novel, exemplified in Don Quixote by Cervantes, can be seen to have antecedents in the Roman novels, Petronius' Satyricon and Apuleius' The Golden Ass or Metamorphoses. This essay will examine some of the shared traits of these styles as well as some of the differences. Particular attention will be paid to direct literary allusions to scenes in Don Quixote, which are directly related to scenes in The Golden Ass. It will be shown that, while the influence of Petronius is palpable, Apuleius' The Golden Ass was by far a more important model for Cervantes. While this essay will look in on the influence of the Satyricon, the focus will fall upon the influence of the The Golden Ass.

The picaresque novel is defined generally as a realistic novel following the adventures of a low-life rascal or rogue. However, the genre is also characterised by its humorous and satirical elements. In the English literary tradition, we might also think of works such as Swift's satirical Gulliver's Travels or Henry Fielding's Tom Jones. Although strict definitions of the picaresque vary, nevertheless, the blend of the serious and the humorous, the social-commentary entailed, and the focus on the experiences of characters outside the social elite (who were more often than not the focus of literary texts), reminds us of novels of the Roman period. Many commentators have linked the later Spanish form to the Roman novels of Imperial period - though their influence on the Spanish picaresque can be felt in varying degrees. Walsh, who obviously takes a wider view of the picaresque, writes in his definitive study of the Roman novel: "The Satyricon is the first known picaresque novel, and Encolpius as peripatetic rogue is the forebear of the heroes of the Spanish, French, and English picaresque traditions… Petronius' influence is chiefly oblique; the Spanish realistic novelists must have known about the Satyricon and the kind of work it was, but they know The Golden Ass intimately." The first Spanish translation of Apuleius' Metamorphoses appeared in 1513. The tale of Lucius' wanderings and transformation into an ass and back again appears to have influenced Cervantes considerably. It also influenced the earlier example of Spanish picaresque, Lazarillo de Tormes, written in 1545. But why this imitation? Graff argues that there is a moral element to Cervantes' imitation of Apuleius: "As we have seen, Cervantes' references to The Golden Ass are more than a matter of literary tradition; they have a specific moral purpose….Apuleius…was one of those enigmatic authors of late classical antiquity who so impressed the Renaissance Neoplatonists. From his own day, well into the Medieval period Apuleius was regarded as either a serious philosopher or a powerful magician, often both." Clearly Apuleius held some fascination for writers and thinkers of the 16th and 17th centuries in Spain, which, from the 15th century on, underwent a period of significant religious turmoil.

The episodes of the slaughter of the wineskins and the herds of sheep are thus a dense nexus of literary allusion. Cervantes plays with the legitimising and elevating effects of allusions to classical works by deferring to them for ideas of misplaced bravery. Of these allusions De Armas writes: "The novel, then, is pointing to classical auctoritas and diverting it through the imaginative whimsies of a hero who re-configures the classics by transforming evidentia into an indictment on the reliability of the senses and into a ludic game in which autopsy and teichoskopia are emptied of their historical accuracy and epic grandeur." In Cervantes' hands, the classical literary tradition becomes yet another example of the foolishness of literature - rather than a legitimising force.

In conclusion, Cervantes was very much influenced by the wandering tale of Lucius, and, through this story of asinine transformation, he was probably also influenced by that other story of wandering roguishness, the Satyricon. Although the Satyricon was known in Spain during the sixteenth century, Apuleius' novel was far better known and much more extant. We have seen many parallels between The Golden Ass or the Metamorphoses and Don Quixote, both on the wider levels of structure, style, and narrative voice, and on the more detailed level of explicit allusion and imitation, and similar character traits. However, the overall tones of the works are quite different. Although Lucius and Don Quixote are both hampered by their love of adventure and their passionate curiosity, Don Quixote remains a far dreamier character given to idealised flights of fancy, while Lucius is a more down-to-earth figure. Just as Apuleius drew upon the Satyricon and earlier genres such as Menippean satire and the Milesian tales to fashion his wandering comic-satire, Cervantes drew upon Apuleius' work.

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