Galatea – The Statue That Came to Life

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The story of Galatea and Pygmalion is among the most popular of the Greek myths, and is known throughout the world. It tells the tale of a famous sculptor who fell in love with his own masterpiece. The myth has inspired numerous visual and literary works of art.  

Galatea and Pygmalion

The accounts vary as to who Pygmalion was. In some myths, Pygmalion was the King of Cyprus and a skilled ivory sculptor, but in other accounts, he wasn’t a king, but a common man who was brilliant at his trade.

  • Pygmalion and women

Pygmalion despised women and were tired of them. He saw them as flawed, and had lost interest in them completely. Realizing that he couldn’t stand the imperfections of women, Pygmalion decided that he would never marry. Why he felt this way is unknown, but in some accounts, it was because he saw women working as prositutes and felt shame and revulsion for them.

Pygmalion decided to focus on his work and began to sculpt statues of perfect women with no flaws. Soon he created ‘Galatea’, a beautiful ivory statue with exquisite detail, sculpted to perfection. This statue was his masterpiece and he became famous for creating it.

  • Pygmalion creates Galatea

Pygmalion’s statue was more beautiful and perfect than any woman or any other carving of a woman ever seen. Once he had completed it, the statue of a stunningly beautiful woman stood before him. Pygmalion, who had until now disliked all woman, fell deeply in love with his perfect creation. He called her Galatea. Pygmalion was obsessed by the statue and began to treat it as he would a woman, giving it gifts, speaking to it and showing it affection. Unfortunately, he felt the pangs of unrequited love, as he pined away for an object that could never love him back.

  • Aphrodite enters the scene

Aphrodite, the goddess of love, saw how lost in love Pygmalion was and she pitied him. She decided to give him a sign, and chose her moment when he was at her temple sacrificing a bull. While his offerings burned on the altar, the flames flared three times. Pygmalion was confused and unaware of what the Aphrodite’s message could be.

However, when he returned home and embraced the statue, he suddenly felt that it was warm and soft. A glow of life began to appear from it. Aphrodite had brought the statue to life. 

Pygmalion married Galatea and he never forgot to thank the goddess Aphrodite for what she had done for him. He and Galatea had a son and they often visited Aphrodite’s temple throughout their lives with offerings to thank her. She in turn, blessed them with love and joy and they continued to live peaceful, happy lives. 

Symbolism of Galatea

Galatea plays only a passive role in her story. She doesn’t do or say anything, but simply exists because of Pygmalion, and comes fully formed from his hand. Many have viewed this story as reflecting the status that women have typically held throughout history, seen as belonging to either their fathers or husbands.

Galatea has no agency. She exists because a man decided to create the perfect woman, and is given life because the man fell in love with her. In other words, she exists because of him and for him. Galatea is created from an inaminate object, i.e. marble, and has no power over her creator.

What her feelings are on the subject is unknown and deemed unimportant. The story says that the two fall in love with each other and go on to have a child together. But it’s unknown why she fell in love with him or wanted to be with him.

Galatea is an idealized woman, a mirror of Pygmalion’s desires. She symbolizes Pygmalion’s view of what a woman should be.

Cultural Representations of Galatea

Several poems have been written about Pygmalion and Galatea by famous poets such as Robert Graves and W.S. Gilbert.  The story of Pygmalion and Galatea also became a major theme in artwork such as Rousseau’s opera titled ‘Pygmalion’.

The play ‘Pygmalion’ written by George Bernard Shaw describes a different version of the story, about how Galatea was brought to life by two men. In this version, the goal was for her to marry and finally become a duchess. It received positive feedback and most people view it as an interesting and unique version of the original tale. This play was then adapted as the stage musical My Fair Lady, which was made into a highly successful movie by the same name.

In Brief

The uncommon and unconditional love between Galatea and Pygmalion is one that has enthralled countless people for decades. However, Galatea plays only a passive role in her own story, and who she was and what sort of character she had, is unknown.