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Ancient History Sourcebook:
Lucius Apuleius (c.155 CE):
Isis, Queen of Heaven


The cult of Isis was one of the most important of the empire wide cults in the later empire, and perhaps its greatest monument is in Lucius Apuleius very strange novel, The Golden Ass. Here Isis appears to Lucius, and claims to be all goddesses. We see here the workings of an intense religious syncretism. Isis is here the Queen of Heaven, and principal of all the gods and goddesses.
When I had ended this prayer, and made known my needs to the Goddess, I fell asleep, and by and by appeared unto me a divine and venerable face, worshipped even by the Gods themselves. Then by little and little I seemed to see the whole figure of her body, mounting out of the sea and standing before me, and so I shall describe her divine appearance, if the poverty of my human speech will allow me, or her divine power give me eloquence to do so.
First she had a great abundance of hair, dispersed and scattered about her neck, on the crown of her head she wore many garlands interlaced with flowers, just above her brow was a disk in the form of a mirror, or resembling the light of the Moon, in one of her hands she bore serpents, in the other, blades of corn, her robe was of fine silk shimmering in divers colors, sometime yellow, sometime rose, sometime flamy, and sometimes (which sore troubled my spirit) dark and obscure, covered with a black robe in manner of a shield, and pleated in most subtle fashion at the skirts of her garments, the welts appeared comely, whereas here and there the stars peaked out, and in the middle of them was placed the Moon, which shone like a flame of fire, round about the robe was a coronet or garland made with flowers and fruits. In her right hand she had a timbrel of brass, which gave a pleasant sound, in her left hand she bore a cup of gold, out of the mouth whereof the serpent Aspis lifted up his head, with a swelling throat, her sweet feet were covered with shoes interlaced and wrought with victorious palm.
Thus the divine shape breathing out the pleasant spice of fertile Arabia, disdained not with her divine voice to utter these words unto me:
"Behold Lucius I am come, thy weeping and prayers has moved me to succor thee. I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of powers divine, Queen of heaven, the principal of the Gods celestial, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the air, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be disposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners, in variable customs and in many names, for the Phrygians call me Pessinuntica, the mother of the Gods: the Athenians call me Cecropian Artemis: the Cyprians, Paphian Aphrodite: the Candians, Dictyanna: the Sicilians , Stygian Proserpine: and the Eleusians call me Mother of the Corn. Some call me Juno, others Bellona of the Battles, and still others Hecate. Principally the Ethiopians which dwell in the Orient, and the Egyptians which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustomed to worship me, do call me Queen Isis. Behold I am come to take pity of thy fortune and tribulation, behold I am present to favor and aid thee. Leave off thy weeping and lamentation, put away thy sorrow, for behold the healthful day which is ordained by my providence, therefore be ready to attend to my commandment."

Source:
Lucius Apuleius: Metamophoses or The Golden Ass. Book 11, Chap 47. Adapted by Paul Halsall from the translation by Adlington 1566 in comparison with Robert Graves translation of 1951. Complete version online at ESERVER - http://eserver.org/books/apuleius/bookes/eleven.html

This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
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© Paul Halsall May 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu