Porro queerites! Formulating national and sexual difference through the “gall” pals of Apuleius
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Eunuchs, including eunuch priests, were visible at all levels of society in the ancient Mediterranean, but they were perhaps at their most visible in the cult of the Great Mother imported into Rome and Greece from the east. In this function, these eunuch priests, known as galli, became important actors at the heart of religious and civic life as their goddess was rapidly assimilated into the popular religions of Rome and Greece, but also attracted widespread hate for their gender, sexuality, and eastern origins, especially within the city of Rome. The best explanation for this apparent double standard in Rome was formulated by Mary Beard, who proposed that the tension between sexually depraved galli and civic virtue as embodied by the Great Mother was a tool developed by and for Romans to interrogate Roman male identity in a rapidly expanding empire. This paper will use Beard’s model to demonstrate that this same interrogation occurs in books 8 and 9 of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, using Pseudo-Lucian’s Ὄνος as a Greek comparison, and to show through Lucius’ encounters with the priests of the Great Mother in the Met that Apuleius participates in this process, too. Apuleius’ participation in the process of defining Roman identity, I argue, is part of his larger interest in colonial conflict in the Roman empire.