Pygmalion – Greek Sculptor of Galatea

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Pygmalion, a legendary figure of Cyprus, was a king and a sculptor. He’s known for falling in love with a statue he had sculpted. This romance inspired several notable literary works, making Pygmalion’s name famous. Here’s a closer look.

Who was Pygmalion?

According to some sources, Pygmalion was a son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. But there are no records of who his mother was. He was the king of Cyprus as well as a famous ivory sculptor. His artworks were so fantastic that they seemed real. He lived in the city of Paphos in Cyprus. Other stories propose that Pygmalion was not a king, but just a common man, whose skills as a sculptor were superb. 

Pygmalion and Women

After watching women working as prostitutes, Pygmalion started despising them. He felt shame for women and decided that he would never marry and waste time with them. Instead, he delved into his sculptures and created beautiful depictions of perfect women. 

Pygmalion and Galatea

His best work was Galatea, a sculpture so gorgeous that he could not help but fall in love with her. Pygmalion dressed his creation in the finest clothes and gave her the best ornaments he could find. Every day, Pygmalion would adore Galatea for hours. 

Pygmalion decided to pray to Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, to give him her favor. He asked Aphrodite to give life to Galatea so that he could love her. Pygmalion prayed in Aphrodite’s festival, a famous festivity in all Cyprus, and made offerings to Aphrodite. When Pygmalion returned home from the festival, he hugged and kissed Galatea, and suddenly the ivory statue started to soften. Aphrodite had favored him with her blessing.

In some myths, Aphrodite granted Pygmalion his wish due to the resemblance Galatea had with her. Galatea came to life thanks to Aphrodite’s powers, and the two of them married with the blessing of the goddess. Pygmalion and Galatea had a daughter, Paphos. A coastal city in Cyprus was named after her. 

Similar Greek Stories

There are several other Greek stories where inanimate objects come to life. Some of these include:

  • Daedalus used quicksilver to give his statues voices
  • Talos was a bronze man who was had life but was still artificial
  • Pandora was created out of clay by Hephaestus and given life by Athena
  • Hephaestus would create automata in his workshop
  • People have also drawn comparisons between the myth of Pygmalion and the story of Pinocchio.

Pygmalion in the Arts

Ovid’s Metamorphoses details Pygmalion’s story and made it famous. In this depiction, the author describes all the events of Pygmalion’s story with the statue. The name Galatea, however, does not come from Ancient Greece. It appeared most likely during the renaissance.

Pygmalion’s and Galatea’s love story became a theme in later artworks, such as Rousseau’s 1792 opera, titled Pygmalion. George Bernard Shaw based his 1913 play Pygmalion on Ovid’s tragedy.

In recent times, Willy Russel wrote a play named Educating Rita, taking the Greek myth as his inspiration. Several other authors and artists have based their works on the myths of Pygmalion.

Some authors have used the story of Pygmalion and Galatea to show not the coming to life of an inanimate object, but the enlightenment of an uneducated woman. 

In Brief

Pygmalion was an intriguing character for how he received Aphrodite’s favor thanks to his abilities. His myth became influential in the artworks of the renaissance and recent times. Although he was not a hero or a god, Pygmalion’s love story with his sculpture makes him a famous figure.