Pygmalion Adoring His Statue by Jean Raoux, 1717
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, who was a king and a sculptor. 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

In book 10 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. 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 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, which 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[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

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 long-presumed dead wife).

Cultural depictions

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


Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786, Musée National du Château et des Trianons
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
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

Short stories

Novels and plays


Opera, ballet, and music

Stage plays

W. S. Gilbert's stage version, 1871
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 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.


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Interactive fiction

Audio drama/podcasts

See also

Explanatory notes

  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". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  13. ^ a b c d "Poems about Pygmalion and Galatea" (PDF). 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.
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  17. ^ "Archived copy". 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". 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". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  23. ^ "Hermione by Edward Rowland Sill - Famous poems, famous poets. - All Poetry". 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. Poetry Foundation. 134 (1): 14. JSTOR 20593401.
  26. ^ "Galatea Encore by Joseph Brodsky - Famous poems, famous poets. - All Poetry". Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  27. ^ "Galatea Poem by Katherine Solomon". Retrieved 2019-10-18.
  28. ^ "Galatea by Madeline Miller - short story". Retrieved 2021-10-12.
  29. ^ a b Judith H. Montgomery (May 1971). "The American Galatea". College English. National Council of Teachers of English. 32 (8): 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". 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".
  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