Apuleius and Baudelaire

 Thelyphron

The dead man’s chest began to swell, his life-giving veins began to throb, and his body filled with breath.Then the corpse sat up, and the young man spoke. “Why, I implore you, now that I have drunk of the cups of Lethe and am swimming in the marshy water of the Styx, why do you haul me back to life’s duties for a brief moment? Leave me alone, I say, leave me alone! Let me sleep undisturbed.” These were the words heard from the corpse, but the necromancer addressed him rather sharply: “What? You refuse to address your fellow citizens here and clear up the mystery of your death? Don’t you realize that if you hold back a single detail, I am prepared to call up the dreadful Furies and have your weary limbs tortured on the rack?” The dead man raised himself from the bier and groaned out to the crowd: “I was destroyed by the evil arts of my new bride. The bed in which I lay only yesterday is no longer empty; my rival sleeps in it. My newly married wife has bewitched and poisoned me.”

The widow showed remarkable courage in the circumstance. She denied everything with oaths and began contradicting and arguing with her late husband as though there were no such thing as respect for the dead. The citizens where fired up, but took opposite stances. Some claimed that this was the worst woman alive, and that she should be buried alive in the same grave as her victim, But others refused to admit the evidence of a senseless corpse–it was quite untrustworthy, they said.

From Apuleius’ The Golden Ass

 

A Martyr

And yet one sees from the graceful slimness
Of the angular shoulders.
The haunches slightly sharp, and the waist sinuous
As a snake poised to strike,

That she’s still quite young! — Had her exasperated soul
And her senses gnawed by ennui
Thrown open their gates to the thirsty pack
Of lost and wandering desires?

The vengeful man whom you could not with all your love
Satisfy when you were alive,
Did he use your inert, complacent flesh to fill
The immensity of his lust?

Reply, impure cadaver! and by your stiffened tresses
Raising you with a fevered arm,
Tell me, ghastly head, did he glue on your cold teeth
The kisses of the last farewell?

— Far from the sneering world, far from the impure crowd,
Far from curious magistrates,
Sleep in peace, sleep in peace, bizarre creature,
In your mysterious tomb;

— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

Photo: Kendrick Mar

 

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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  1. Dead Man, Who Killed You? | Brittle Paper - 2012/02/13

    […] bit more complicated. It was many years later, when on reading a similar event in Apuleius‘s Golden Ass, that I realized that no one asked the gossip whether the corpse actually spoke and what it said. […]

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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