“DREAM OF LUCIUS APULEIUS,
WRITER AND MAGICIAN
On an October night in 165 AD, in the city of Carthage, Lucius Apuleius, writer and magician, had a dream.
He dreamed that he was in a small Numidian town. It was evening in a torrid African summer. He was walking near the main gates of the city when he was attracted by laughter and commotion. He went through the gate and saw near the red clay walls a group of acrobats putting on a show. One seminaked acrobat, his body painted with white lead, was balancing precariously on a rope, pretending to be on the point of falling. The crowd was laughing and apprehensive, and dogs were barking. Then the acrobat lost his balance, but remained hanging there, clinging with one hand to the rope. The crowd
broke into a cry of terror and then applauded happily. The acrobats turned a winch that held the rope taut, and the acrobat let himself down to the ground, making funny faces. A piper came forward into the circle of packed-down earth lit by glints of firelight and began to play Oriental music. And then from a wagon stepped a full-breasted woman, covered with veils, who held a whip in her hand. The woman advanced, whipping the air; and she wound the whip around her body.
She was a woman with dark-brown hair and eyes ringed with dark circles, and, because she was sweating, her makeup ran down her face.
Apuleius would have liked to leave, but a mysterious force obliged him to stay, to keep his eyes fixed on the woman. The drums began to play, at first slowly and then in a frenzy, and at that point, from under the big tent where the animals were kept, came four majestic white horses and one poor, tired ass.
The dancer cracked the whip and the horses reared, prancing out at carousel speed. The ass lay down on one side, near the monkey cages, and slowly began to swish flies with its tail. The dancer cracked the whip again, and the horses stopped and knelt, emitting long neighs. Then the woman, with surprising agility given her corpulence, took a leap and, keeping one foot on one horse and one foot on another, began to ride two animals, standing up with her legs spread open above their backs. And as they galloped, she obscenely shook the handle of the whip in front of her belly while the crowd murmured with delight. Then the drums stopped beating and the tired ass, as if it were obeying an invisible command, turned over on its back with its hooves in the air, and it exhibited to the public its erect phallus. The woman, turning around, shouted that for the continuation of the performance only those could remain who had paid hard cash, and two acrobats dressed as guards, equipped with whips, chased away the children and beggars.
Apuleius was alone, in the circle of the few. He took two silver coins out of his bag, paid, then began to watch the performance. The woman grasped the ass’s phallus and, lustily fondling it against her belly, began to dance a languid dance, removing the veils to display her charms. Apuleius approached and raised a hand, and then the ass opened its mouth, but instead of braying it uttered human words.
I am Lucius, he said. Don’t you recognize me?
Which Lucius? asked Apuleius.
Your Lucius, said the ass, the one from your adventures, your friend Lucius.
Apuleius looked around, convinced that the voice came from somewhere nearby, but the door in the wall was already closed, the sentinels were sleeping, and behind him breathed the silence of the deep African night.
This witch put a curse on me, said the ass. She imprisoned me in this semblance. Only you can free me, you who are a writer and magician.
Apuleius leapt toward the fire and seized a blazing firebrand, traced signs in the air, pronounced the words he knew should be pronounced. The woman screamed, her mouth made a grimace of disgust and her face grew wrinkled, assuming the appearance of an old woman. Then, as if by magic, the woman dissolved into thin air, and with her disappeared the acrobats, the walled enclosure, the African night. Suddenly it was day:
it was a splendid bright day in Rome. Apuleius walked along the Forum and his friend Lucius walked by his side. Strolling along, they chatted, while they looked at the most beautiful slaves that wandered through the market. At a certain point, Apuleius stopped and, seizing Lucius by his toga, looked him in the eye and said to him: last night I had a dream.”
Text: Antonio Tabucchi, Sogni di Sogni
Art: Laura Livia Grigore
Curation for Part 3 of my novel