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Siddhartha

by Herman Hesse

An allegorical novel which deals with the spiritual journey of an Indian man called Siddhartha during the time of the Buddha.

The book was originally written in German, using simple, powerful and lyrical language. First published in 1922 after Hesse had spent some time in India, it became quite influential during the 1960s.

"Siddhartha" means "he who has attained his goals". The full name of the Buddha was Siddhartha Gautama.

Reviewed on 2004.09.25

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Written in the second century CE, The Golden Ass is a precursor to the literary genre of the episodic picaresque novel, in which Rabelais, Boccaccio, Voltaire, Defoe, and many others have followed. It is an imaginative, irreverent and amusing work that relates the ludicrous adventures of one Lucius, a virile young man who is obsessed with magic. Finding himself in Thessaly, the "birthplace of magic", Lucius eagerly seeks an opportunity to see magic being performed. His over-enthusiasm leads to his accidental transformation into an ass. In this guise, Lucius, a member of the Roman country aristocracy, is forced to witness and share the misery of slaves and destitute freemen who are reduced, to little more than beasts of burden by their exploitation at the hands of wealthy landowners.

The Golden Ass is the only surviving work of literature from the ancient Greco-Roman world to examine, from a first-hand perspective, the abhorrent condition of the lower classes. Yet despite its serious subject matter, the novel remains imaginative, witty, and often sexually explicit. Numerous amusing stories, many of which seem to be based on actual folk tales with their ordinary themes of simple-minded husbands, adulterous wives, and clever lovers, as well as the magical transformations that characterize the entire novel, are included within the main narrative. The longest of these inclusions is the tale of Cupid and Psyche, encountered here for the first but not the last time in Western literature. Apuleius' style is as amusing as his stories, for though he was not a Roman by birth, Apuleius was a master of Latin prose.

Reviewed on 2004.09.25

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