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The Good Word

Michael was a guest on ep. 4.7 on 12 April 2012
Third Party Productions, airing on TVNZ7

The Good Word is a series about “books and the people who love them”.  Regular features include a panel
discussion about the book of the week, a visit to a book group, a guest talking about their favourite book, and
Finlay Macdonald highlighting a notable NZ book in his ‘Under the Covers’ feature.  Hosted by Emily Perkins.

Michael was on the show to talk about a favorite book,The Golden Ass by Apuleius, translated by Robert Graves.

Emily Perkins:  "Now, what's the book you're going to tell us about?"
Michael:  "It's The Golden Ass by Apuleius, translated by Robert Graves.  So, written around about 170, 180 A.D."

"I came across it through reading Robert Graves ... he makes this world, this ancient world, really visceral and really alive, and a complex web of tribal and religious themes".

"It's kind of like The Canterbury Tales of the ancient world.  It's so colourful - you know, you've seen the cover of it, this is a very apt cover - 'cause it's so bright.  We tend to think of the classical world as very austere and full of Platonic thought and all that.  Which it was in some ways, but it was vivid and alive".

Emily Perkins:  "[This book] is really a story about transformation, isn't it?"
"It is.  It's a redemptive story, but it doesn't have the guilt.  That's what I really responded to, it's the joy inside the story".

"Lucius is the man who's ... he's obsessed with magic.  And he wants to sort of find out about it.  And, of course, it's women who do magic ... and it's kind of a bit secret".

"He stays at the house that he's recommended to stay at, and he has a tryst with the maid ... and then spies on the mistress who's turning herself into a bird - he wants to become a bird".

"And he gets the servant woman to help him to do that, but she gets the wrong concoction, and he becomes as ass.  And the only way he can turn himself back into a human is to eat a rose - rose is a symbol of redemption, and the ass is the stupid animal".

"And the rose is tantalizingly there all the time, and he goes to get it, and then he gets taken away by robbers, and he goes to get another one and then something else happens".

"And in his incarnation as an ass, he gets to see all of these things, and there are so many little side tales.  They're piccadilloes really 'cause they're quite juicv and quite naughty".
Emily Perkins:  "And quite bawdy, yeah, raunchy stuff".

"There's a classic one, the wife with the tub where the wife's having her lover, and the husband comes home, so she hides the lover in the tub, turns the tub upside down and sits on it.  And the lover is in the tub, and the husband comes home and he says, I've just sold that tub, I'm gonna take it away.  I've just sold it for five -whatever it is - five drachmae.  And the wife says, oh, well, I've just sold it for seven.  And actually, the man who bought it is inside it as we speak, and he's checking it out.  So she shows him that and he says, yes, this is pretty murky, you've got to clean this 'fore I pay seven for it.  So the husband says, oh, well, ok, I'll get in.  And he gets in and starts cleaning it, they put it over the husband, the wife sits on it again, and her lover and - they make love while the husband is busy cleaning the thing underneath.  And she's telling him what to do while she's being sexually aroused.  And this is one of them, and it's full of this stuff".

"But what's really interesting is that you see - it's the heyday of the Roman Empire and everything's Pax Romana, except within that, workers and servants are treated abominably.  And as an ass, he gets to see that".

"And, of course, they in turn treat him abominably quite often, and they beat him to within an inch of his life all the time, and he suffers - and he keeps wanting redemption!"

Emily Perkins: "Thank you.  We could talk about this forever ... but it's wonderful you've given us a really tantalizing glimpse.  Thank you very much".

Michael signs The Good Word's graffti wall on the way out.


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