a1 Corpus Christi College, Oxford
I quote Griffiths' translation: ‘A crown of many designs with all kinds of flowers had girt her lofty head; in its centre a flat disk above the forehead shone with a clear light in the manner of a mirror or indeed the moon, while on its right and left it was embraced by coils of uprising snakes; from above it was adorned also with outstretched ears of corn’. This is the detailed description of the crown worn by Isis in her epiphany to Lucius at Cenchreae. ‘Sulcis’ is strange; it can only refer to the tracks or furrows left by snakes, a notion wholly irrelevant here – we require a noun referring to actual physical parts of the two snakes (or rather reproductions of snakes) which border Isis' moon-disk on either side, preferably a reference to their hanging coils – so Griffiths' translation runs ‘on its right and left it was embraced by coils of uprising snakes’, though this does not render his text, which keeps ‘sulcis’. Read ‘spiris’, a word of similar shape to ‘sulcis’; ‘spirae’ is twice used of the coils of snakes by Vergil, at Aen. 2.217 and 12.848; ‘serpentum spiris’ in the latter passage may influence Apuleius’ ‘spiris…viperarum’. The alliteration and assonance of ‘spins’ and ‘spicis’ would be very much in Apuleius' manner as a jingle involving the change of a single consonant between two words – cf. Florida 3 (p. 5.10–11 Helm) ‘ita Marsyas in poenam cecinit et cecidit’, Apologia 85 (p. 94, 12–13 Helm) ‘acerbiores morsus viventi et videnti offeruntur’ and H. Koziol, Der Stil des L. Apuleius (Vienna, 1872), 204–5.
1 My thanks to Professor R. G. M. Nisbet for helpful criticism.