I read this because Professor Timothy Shutt of Kenyon College recommended it in an audiobook lecture as a great way to see what life was like in the provinces of the Roman Empire; because it’s the only surviving ancient Latin novel, and a rare documentation of life in the lower classes; and for the story within the story in “Cupid and Psyche,” which C.S. Lewis reworked for Till We Have Faces (which I think was why Shutt was talking about it in the first place). Later I read that a leading authority on St. Paul called the book the “best primary source for conditions under which Paul traveled” (Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: His Story, discussed elsewhere on this site).
In all events, it is a picaresque and bawdy story, reminding me of The Canterbury Tales. The narrator believes in many gods from many cultures (there’s a slighting reference to a monotheist) and in the fickleness of fate. It’s interesting that Juno manifests herself as a somewhat different god in different cultures (128). And the life of provincials was, while lusty rather than solitary, still poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
It is worthwhile to think about Jesus’ message and how it would be received and appreciated in such a world.
Postscript: Sarah Ruden has translated this work; she is a Christian classicist whose other work I’ve enjoyed. Her translation was favorably reviewed by Tracy Lee Simmons in National Review.