Pygmalion (mythology)

For other uses, see Pygmalion (disambiguation).
Étienne Maurice Falconet: Pygmalion et Galatée[notes 1] (1763)

Pygmalion (/pɪɡˈmliən/; Greek: Πυγμαλίων, gen.: Πυγμαλίωνος) is a legendary figure of Cyprus. Though Pygmalion is the Greek version of the Phoenician royal name Pumayyaton,[notes 2] 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

Depiction of Ovid's narrative by Jean Raoux.

In Ovid's narrative, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. According to Ovid, after seeing the Propoetides he was "not interested in women",[1] but his statue was so beautiful and realistic that he fell in love with it.

In time, Aphrodite's festival day came, and Pygmalion made offerings at the altar of Aphrodite. There, too scared 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 changed to a woman under Aphrodite's blessing. In Ovid's narrative, they had a daughter, Paphos, from whom the city's name is derived.

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[notes 3] than the source for a passing mention of Pygmalion in Pseudo-Apollodorus' Bibliotheke, a Hellenic mythography of the 2nd-century AD.[notes 4] Perhaps he drew on the lost narrative by Philostephanus that was paraphrased by Clement of Alexandria.[3] Pygmalion is the Greek version of the Phoenician royal name Pumayyaton, and figures in legend of Paphos in Cyprus.

Parallels in Greek myth

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; 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 lifelike 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.

Re-interpretations of Pygmalion

The basic Pygmalion story has been widely transmitted and re-presented 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 sentience prior to its transformation; it is the puppet and not its creator, the woodcarver Mister 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 play Pygmalion, a modern variant of the myth with a subtle hint of feminism, 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.


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, 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

Short stories

Novels and plays


Opera, ballet, and music

Stage plays

W. S. Gilbert's stage version, 1871

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.

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.

In 1883, the musical burlesque Galatea, or Pygmalion Reversed was performed at the Gaiety Theatre with a libretto by Henry Pottinger Stephens and W. Webster, and a score composed by Wilhelm Meyer Lutz.

George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (1912, staged 1914) 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).

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.


Interactive fiction

See also


  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".
  2. See Pygmalion of Tyre.
  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."


  1. Morford, Mark (2007). "Classical Mythology". Oxford University Press, p. 184
  2. Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, iii.14.3.
  3. 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".
  4. John Marston. The Works of John Marston. p. 199. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  5. John Dryden (2002-09-01). The Works of John Dryden, Volume VII: Poems, 1697-1700. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  6. Thomas Lovell Beddoes (2009-01-28). The Poetical Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes: Memoir. Poems collected in 1851 ... Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  7. Arthur Henry Hallam. Remains in Verse and Prose of Arthur Henry Hallam: With a Preface and Memoir. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  8. Robert Williams Buchanan. Sammlung. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  9. "The Earthly Paradise (March-August) Index". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 "Poems about Pygmalion and Galatea" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  11. Thomas Woolner. Pygmalion. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  12. Frederick Tennyson. Daphne and Other Poems. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  13. "Galatea, Melanie Challenger - Salt". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  14. Emily Henrietta Hickey (2006-12-30). A Sculptor, and Other Poems. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  15. The Minor Poems of Schiller of the Second and Third Periods: With a Few of ... Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  16. "Poezii Romanesti". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  17. Grace Greenwood (2008-07-17). Poems. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  18. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. "Galatea". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  19. "Hermione by Edward Rowland Sill - Famous poems, famous poets. - All Poetry". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  20. Hilda Doolittle; Louis L. Martz. Collected Poems, 1912-1944. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  21. Harry C. Morris (1956). "Pygmalion". The Kenyon Review. Kenyon College. Vol. 18, No. 1: 123.
  22. Melvin H. Bernstein (December 1970). "Mr. Pygmalion to Miss Galatea: An Interior Monologue". AAUP Bulletin. American Association of University Professors. p. 374.
  23. Katham Pollitt (April 1979). "Pygmalion". Poetry. Poetry Foundation. Vol. 134, No. 1: 14.
  24. "Galatea Encore by Joseph Brodsky - Famous poems, famous poets. - All Poetry". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  25. "Pygmalion, a narrative poem by John Hooley". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  26. "PYGMALION, a poem by David Kimel, USA". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  27. Walid Bitar. 2 Guys on Holy Land. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  28. "The Project Gutenberg eBook of Pygmalion's Spectacles, by Stanley G. Weinbaum". 2007-10-05. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  29. 1 2 Judith H. Montgomery (May 1971). "The American Galatea". College English. National Council of Teachers of English. 32, No. 8: 890–899.
  30. George Macdonald (2006-07-11). Phantastes: a faerie romance. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  31. Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Horace Coignet. "Pygmalion: scčne lyrique". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  32. "the albums – lunatic soul". Retrieved 2016-11-25.

Further reading

External links

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