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Pygmalion (mythology)

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Pygmalion Adoring His Statue by Jean Raoux, 1717

In Greek mythology, Pygmalion (/pɪɡˈmliən/; Ancient Greek: Πυγμαλίων Pugmalíōn, gen.: Πυγμαλίωνος) was a legendary figure of Cyprus. He is most familiar from Ovid's narrative poem Metamorphoses, in which Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved.

In Ovid[edit]

In book 10 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory alabaster. Post-classical sources name her Galatea.

According to Ovid, when Pygmalion saw the Propoetides of Cyprus practicing prostitution, he began "detesting the faults beyond measure which nature has given to women".[1] He determined to remain celibate and to occupy himself with sculpting. He made a sculpture of a woman that he found so perfect he fell in love with it. Pygmalion kisses and fondles the sculpture, brings it various gifts, and creates a sumptuous bed for it.

In time, Aphrodite's festival day came and Pygmalion made offerings at the altar of Aphrodite. There, too afraid to admit his desire, he quietly wished for a bride who would be "the living likeness of my ivory girl". When he returned home, he kissed his ivory statue, and found that its lips felt warm. He kissed it again, and found that the ivory had lost its hardness. Aphrodite had granted Pygmalion's wish.

Pygmalion married the ivory sculpture, which changed to a woman under Aphrodite's blessing. In Ovid's narrative, they had a daughter, Paphos, from whom is derived the name of the city.

In some versions, Paphos was a son, and they also had a daughter, Metharme.[2]

Ovid's mention of Paphos suggests that he was drawing on a more circumstantial account[3] than the source for a passing mention of Pygmalion in Pseudo-Apollodorus' Bibliotheke, a Hellenic mythography of the 2nd-century AD.[4] Perhaps he drew on the lost narrative by Philostephanus that was paraphrased by Clement of Alexandria.[5] In the story of Dido, Pygmalion is an evil king.

Parallels in Greek myth[edit]

The story of the breath of life in a statue has parallels in the examples of Daedalus, who used quicksilver to install a voice in his statues or to make them move; of Hephaestus, who created automata for his workshop; of Talos, an artificial man of bronze, and (according to Hesiod) of Pandora, who was made from clay at the behest of Zeus.

The moral anecdote of the "Apega of Nabis", recounted by the historian Polybius, described a supposed mechanical simulacrum of the tyrant's wife, that crushed victims in her embrace.

The trope of a sculpture so life-like that it seemed about to move was a commonplace with writers on works of art in antiquity. This trope was inherited by writers on art after the Renaissance. An example of this trope appears in William Shakespeare's play, The Winter's Tale, where the king of Sicily is presented with an extremely lifelike statue of his wife (which is actually his wife, long presumed dead).

Cultural depictions[edit]

The basic Pygmalion story has been widely transmitted and represented in the arts through the centuries. At an unknown date, later authors give as the name of the statue that of the sea-nymph Galatea or Galathea. Goethe calls her Elise, based upon the variants in the story of Dido/Elissa.

A variant of this theme can also be seen in the story of Pinocchio, in which a wooden puppet is transformed into a "real boy", though in this case the puppet possesses sapience prior to its transformation; it is the puppet and not its creator, the woodcarver Geppetto, who beseeches the divine powers for the miracle.

In the final scene of William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, a statue of Queen Hermione which comes to life is revealed as Hermione herself, so bringing the play to a conclusion of reconciliations.

In George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, a modern variant of the myth, the underclass flower-girl Eliza Doolittle is metaphorically "brought to life" by a phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, who teaches her to refine her accent and conversation and otherwise conduct herself with upper-class manners in social situations. This play in turn inspired a 1938 film adaptation, as well as the 1956 musical My Fair Lady and its 1964 film adaptation.

The 2007 film Lars and the Real Girl tells the story of a man who purchases a doll and treats her as a real person in order to reconnect with the rest of the world. Although she never comes to life, he believes she is real, and in doing so develops more connections to his community. When he no longer needs her, he lets her go. This is a reversal of the myth of Pygmalion.[6]

Étienne Maurice Falconet: Pygmalion et Galatée[notes 1] (1763)
Pygmalion et Galatée by Girodet


Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786, Musée National du Château et des Trianons
Miniature from a 14th-century manuscript of Pygmalion working on his sculpture

The story has been the subject of notable paintings by Agnolo Bronzino, Jean-Léon Gérôme (Pygmalion and Galatea), Honoré Daumier, Edward Burne-Jones (four major works from 1868–1870, then again in larger versions from 1875–1878 with the title Pygmalion and the Image), Auguste Rodin, Ernest Normand, Paul Delvaux, Francisco Goya, Franz von Stuck, François Boucher, Eduardo Chicharro y Agüera and Thomas Rowlandson, among others. There have also been numerous sculptures of the "awakening".


Ovid's Pygmalion has inspired many works of literature, some of which are listed below. The popularity of the Pygmalion myth surged in the 19th century.


United States[edit]

Short stories[edit]

Novels and plays[edit]


Opera, ballet, and music[edit]

  • The story of Pygmalion is the subject of Jean-Philippe Rameau's 1748 opera, Pigmalion.
  • It was also the subject of Georg Benda's 1779 monodrama, Pygmalion.
  • Ramler's poem Pygmalion was set to music as an aria by J.C.F.Bach in 1772, and as a cantata by Friedrich Benda in 1784.
  • Pygmalion was the subject of Gaetano Donizetti's first opera, Il Pigmalione.
  • Fromental Halévy wrote an opera Pygmalion in the 1820s, but it was not performed.
  • Franz von Suppé composed an operetta Die schöne Galathée, which is based on the characters of Pygmalion and Galatea.
  • The ballet Coppélia, about an inventor who makes a life-sized dancing doll, has strong echoes of Pygmalion.
  • The choreographer Marius Petipa and the composer Prince Nikita Trubetskoi created a four-act ballet on the subject called Pygmalion, ou La Statue de Chypre. The ballet was revived in 1895 with the great ballerina Pierina Legnani.
  • British shoegaze band Slowdive named their third LP Pygmalion in 1995.
  • Kahimi Karie's 2000 EP "Journey To The Centre Of Me" contains the song "Pygmalism".
  • The song "Trial By Fire" by darkwave/gothic band ThouShaltNot recreates the idea of a modern-day Pygmalion with lyrics such as "I sculpt your nature within, I am your Pygmalion" and "I dust away the plaster from off your breathing body...You'll never be the same."
  • Lunatic Soul's 2014 album Walking on a Flashlight Beam includes the track "Pygmalion's Ladder".[32]
  • The progressive house artist Hellberg (Jonathan Hellberg) released a song called 'The Girl' featuring vocalist Cozi Zuehlsdorff in 2015. They have both admitted to having been inspired by the Pygmalion myth when creating the track.
  • Wonderbound Ballet Company in Denver, Colorado premiered the piece "Patterns" in 2018 as part of their work Aphrodite's Switchboard. The piece centers on a reinterpretation of the Pygmalion story in which Aphrodite falls in love with Pygmalion's sculpture herself.[33]
  • My Fair Lady stage musical
  • Musical project The Scary Jokes's third album Burn Pygmalion!!! A Better Guide to Romance (2019) and the track "Pygmalion" references the myth through its titles and themes. The song takes on a more critical view of the story, with the character Pygmalion being used as an allegory for an abuser who manipulates a romantic partner into changing themselves.
  • South Korean band Pentagon's 2022 mini album's title track "Feelin' Like" is based on the Pygmalion story, centered on the moment Galatea awakens.
  • South Korean band Oneus's 9th mini album is titled Pygmalion. The album features songs loosely related to the Greek figure and myth.

Stage plays[edit]

W. S. Gilbert's stage version, 1871

Though it is not based on the story of Pygmalion, Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure references Pygmalion in a line spoken by Lucio in Act 3, Scene 2: "What, is there none of Pygmalion's images, newly made woman, to be had now, for putting the hand in the pocket and extracting it clutch'd?"[34]

There have also been successful stage-plays based upon the work, such as W. S. Gilbert's Pygmalion and Galatea (1871). It was revived twice, in 1884 and in 1888. The play was parodied by the musical 1883 burlesque Galatea, or Pygmalion Reversed, which was performed at the Gaiety Theatre with a libretto by Henry Pottinger Stephens and W. Webster, and a score composed by Wilhelm Meyer Lutz.

In January, 1872, Ganymede and Galatea opened at the Gaiety Theatre. This was a comic version of Franz von Suppé's Die schöne Galathee, coincidentally with Arthur Sullivan's brother, Fred Sullivan, in the cast.

In March 1872, William Brough's 1867 play Pygmalion; or, The Statue Fair was revived, and in May of that year, a visiting French company produced Victor Massé's Galathée.

George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (1912, staged 1913) owes something to both the Greek Pygmalion and the legend of "King Cophetua and the beggar maid"; in which a king lacks interest in women, but one day falls in love with a young beggar-girl, later educating her to be his queen. Shaw's comedy of manners in turn was the basis for the Broadway musical My Fair Lady (1956), as well as numerous other adaptations.

P. L. Deshpande's play Ti Fulrani ("Queen of Flowers") is also based on Shaw's Pygmalion. The play was a huge success in Marathi theater and has earned many accolades. Madhu Rye adapted Pygmalion in Gujarati as Santu Rangili (1976) which was successful.


  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 3rd-season episode "The Galatea Affair" from 1966 is a spoof of My Fair Lady. A crude barroom entertainer (Joan Collins) is taught to behave like a lady. Noel Harrison, son of Rex Harrison, star of the My Fair Lady film, is the guest star.
  • The Japanese anime series Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 includes a character named Galatea, an artificial life form designed to be the next evolution of the human race.
  • In Disney's Hercules: The Animated Series, Pygmalion was Hercules' art teacher. His success in crafting a perfect wife for himself prompted Hercules to do the same to create a date for a school dance, naming her Galatea.
  • The science-fiction franchise Star Trek explores the Pygmalion theme in episodes such Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Inheritance" (Episode 7x10), where Data's creator Dr. Soong constructs a female android to replace his deceased wife, and Star Trek: The Original Series' "Requiem for Methuselah" (Episode 3x19), where an immortal human builds a presumably immortal android as a life partner.[35] The character of Data, himself an android "sculpted" by man and his longing to become more "human," are a recurrent arc of the series.
  • The 1897 flashback of the Gothic TV serial Dark Shadows includes a painter, Charles Delaware Tate (portrayed by Roger Davis), whose portraits come to life. The character of Amanda Harris is one of Tate's creations, falling in love with Quentin Collins.
  • In the TV series Gotham in season 4 the run into a bad guy that calls himself "The Pyg". He says "I spell it with a y because it’s short for Pygmalion."
  • In the TV series King of the Hill's season 7 episode 9 "Pigmalion", Luanne dates a wealthy pork supplier who attempts to model her after the woman on his company's logo.


Interactive fiction[edit]

  • The text adventure Galatea, by Emily Short, is based on the myth of Galatea.
  • In the interactive science fiction novel Choice of Robots, by Kevin Gold, it is possible to create a lifelike human robot with whom the protagonist can fall in love. One of the default name options for this robot is Galatea.

Audio drama/podcasts[edit]

  • One of the protagonists of science fiction/horror podcast Dining In The Void is a model named Galatea Ivory, known for her white skin and unparalleled beauty.[38] One of her main arcs in the show revolves around her physical beauty and how it gets compromised by the show's villain Jo. In episode six, "Aligning Their Goals," Galatea reveals that her manager is called Pygmalion and that he sometimes tells her to "be quiet" on set. However, she defends him when Aveline Lion asks if that's controlling by saying he's looking out for her career.[39]

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ The invention of the name Galatea is modern; Falconet's title was Pygmalion aux pieds de sa statue qui s'anime, "Pygmalion at the feet of his statue, which comes to life".


  1. ^ Hamilton, Edith (June 1953). Mythology (PDF). Calcutta: Tridibesh Basu. p. 108.
  2. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, iii.14.3.
  3. ^ The Greek sources of Ovid's tale are fully discussed at Galatea.
  4. ^ Bibliotheke, iii.14.3 simply mentions "Metharme, daughter of Pygmalion, king of Cyprus".
  5. ^ Clement, Exhortation to the Greeks, 4: "So the well-known Pygmalion of Cyprus fell in love with an ivory statue; it was of Aphrodite and was naked. The man of Cyprus is captivated by its shapeliness and embraces the statue. This is related by Philostephanus".
  6. ^ Bazzoli, Meredith. "The Metamorphoses of the Pygmalion Myth: A Narrative Critique of Lars and the Real Girl". allacademic. NCA 95th Annual Convention. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  7. ^ John Marston (1856). The Works of John Marston. John Russell Smith. p. 199. Retrieved 2016-11-25 – via Internet Archive.
  8. ^ John Dryden (2002-09-01). The Works of John Dryden, Volume VII: Poems, 1697-1700. ISBN 9780520905276. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  9. ^ Thomas Lovell Beddoes (2009-01-28). The Poetical Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes: Memoir. Poems collected in 1851 ... Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  10. ^ Arthur Henry Hallam (1863). Remains in Verse and Prose of Arthur Henry Hallam: With a Preface and Memoir. Ticknor and Fields. Retrieved 2016-11-25 – via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ Robert Williams Buchanan (1901). Sammlung. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  12. ^ "The Earthly Paradise (March–August) Index". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  13. ^ a b c d "Poems about Pygmalion and Galatea" (PDF). Shslboyd.pbworks.com. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  14. ^ Thomas Woolner (1881). Pygmalion. Macmillan. Retrieved 2016-11-25 – via Internet Archive.
  15. ^ Frederick Tennyson (1891). Daphne and Other Poems. Macmillan. Retrieved 2016-11-25 – via Internet Archive.
  16. ^ [1][dead link]
  17. ^ "Archived copy". www.freewebs.com. Archived from the original on 4 May 2009. Retrieved 15 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ Emily Henrietta Hickey (1881). A Sculptor, and Other Poems. K. Paul, Trench & Company. Retrieved 2016-11-25 – via Internet Archive.
  19. ^ Schiller, Friedrich (1844). The Minor Poems of Schiller of the Second and Third Periods: With a Few of ... Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  20. ^ "Poezii Romanesti". Romanianvoice.com. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  21. ^ Grace Greenwood (1851). Poems. Ticknor, Reed, and Fields. Retrieved 2016-11-25 – via Internet Archive.
  22. ^ Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. "Galatea". Harpers.org. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  23. ^ "Hermione by Edward Rowland Sill - Famous poems, famous poets. - All Poetry". Oldpoetry.com. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  24. ^ Hilda Doolittle; Louis L. Martz (1986). Collected Poems, 1912-1944. ISBN 9780811209717. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  25. ^ Katham Pollitt (April 1979). "Pygmalion". Poetry. 134 (1). Poetry Foundation: 14. JSTOR 20593401.
  26. ^ "Galatea Encore by Joseph Brodsky - Famous poems, famous poets. - All Poetry". Oldpoetry.com. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  27. ^ "Galatea Poem by Katherine Solomon". Twitter.com. Retrieved 2019-10-18.
  28. ^ "Galatea by Madeline Miller - short story". madelinemiller.com. Retrieved 2021-10-12.
  29. ^ a b Judith H. Montgomery (May 1971). "The American Galatea". College English. 32 (8). National Council of Teachers of English: 890–899. doi:10.2307/375627. JSTOR 375627.
  30. ^ George Macdonald (1858). Phantastes: a faerie romance. Retrieved 2016-11-25 – via Internet Archive.
  31. ^ Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Horace Coignet (1997). Pygmalion: scčne lyrique. ISBN 9782884330107. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  32. ^ "the albums – lunatic soul". Lunaticsoul.com. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  33. ^ "Dance: In Wonderbound's latest, Greek gods play matchmaker during The Depression". The Know. 2018-02-07. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  34. ^ "SCENE II. The street before the prison". shakespeare.mit.edu.
  35. ^ Grech, Grech (August 2012). "The Pinocchio Syndrome: Revisited" (PDF). The New York Review of Science Fiction: 17. The wife of Dr. Soong, Data's creator, is such an individual, created by Dr. Soong himself in Pygmalion fashion, complete with real memories, as a replacement when his original wife died. When the Enterprise crew accidentally discover this, Data chooses not to reveal her true nature to her, deeming that it is more important for her to live a normal and happy life, believing herself to be human ("Inheritance"). This is prefigured by the original Star Trek episode "Requiem for Methuselah" (1969), wherein an immortal human strives to create an immortal android woman companion who initially does not know that she is an artificial construct, and on discovering emotions, her brain overloads, causing her termination.
  36. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Surjokonna | সূর্য কন্যা | Bulbul Ahmed | Razashree Bose | Ahsan Ali | Jayashree Roy | Bengali Movie". YouTube.
  37. ^ Bicentennial Man on IMDB
  38. ^ "Characters | Dining in the Void". Audio Drama | Dining in the Void. Retrieved 2018-07-06.
  39. ^ "6. Aligning Their Goals [Transcript]". Google Docs. Retrieved 2018-07-06.

Further reading[edit]

  • Burnham, Jack. Beyond Modern Sculpture (1982). Allan Lane. A history of 'living statues' and the fascination with automata—see the introductory chapter: "Sculpture and Automata".
  • Buschor, Ernst. Vom Sinn der griechischen Standbilder (1942). Clear discussion of attitudes to sculptural images in classical times.
  • Ciofalo, John J. (December 1995). "Unveiling Goya's Rape of Galatea". Art History, pp. 477–98.
  • Ciofalo, John J. (2001). "The Art of Sex and Violence: The Sex and Violence of Art". The Self-Portraits of Francisco Goya. Cambridge University Press.
  • d'Huy, Julien (2012). "Le motif de Pygmalion: origine afrasienne et diffusion en Afrique". Sahara. 23. pp. 49–58.
  • d'Huy, Julien (2013). "Il y a plus de 2000 ans, le mythe de Pygmalion existait en Afrique du nord". Préhistoires Méditerranéennes.
  • Danahay, Martin A. (1994). "Mirrors of Masculine Desire: Narcissus and Pygmalion in Victorian Representation". Victorian Poetry. No. 32. pp. 35–53.
  • Gross, Kenneth. (1992). The Dream of the Moving Statue. Cornell University Press. (A wide-ranging survey of 'living statues' in literature and the arts).
  • Hersey, George L. (2009). "Falling in love with statues: artificial humans from Pygmalion to the present", Chicago, 2009, ISBN 978-0-226-32779-2
  • Almost Human: Puppets, Dolls and Robots in Contemporary Art, Hunterdon Museum of Art, Clinton, New Jersey. 2005. (Catalogue for a group exhibition March 20 – June 12, 2005.)
  • Joshua, Essaka (2001). Pygmalion and Galatea: The History of a Narrative in English Literature. Ashgate.
  • Law, Helen H. (Feb. 1932). "The Name Galatea in the Pygmalion Myth", The Classical Journal, Vol. 27 No. 5. Published by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South, JSTOR 3290617.
  • Marshall, Gail. (1998). Actresses on the Victorian Stage: Feminine Performance and the Galatea Myth. Cambridge University Press.
  • Morford, Mark. (2007). "Classical Mythology Eighth Edition". Oxford University Press
  • Shanken, Edward A. (2005). "https://web.archive.org/web/20060622174528/http://artexetra.com/Hot2Bot.pdf Hot 2 Bot: Pygmalion's Lust, the Maharal's Fear, and the Cyborg Future of Art]", Technoetic Arts 3:1: 43–55.
  • Wettlaufer, Alexandra K. (2001). Pen Vs. Paintbrush: Girodet, Balzac, and the Myth of Pygmalion in Post-Revolutionary France. Palgrave Macmillan.

External links[edit]