Greek and Roman Mythology > Pygmalion


Pygmalion saw so much to blame in women that he came at last to
abhor the sex, and resolved to live unmarried. He was a
sculptor, and had made with wonderful skill a statue of ivory, so
beautiful that no living woman could be compared to it in beauty.
It was indeed the perfect semblance of a maiden that seemed to be
alive, and only prevented from moving by modesty. His art was so
perfect that it concealed itself, and its product looked like the
workmanship of nature. Pygmalion admired his own work, and at
last fell in love with the counterfeit creation. Oftentimes he
laid his hand upon it, as if to assure himself whether it were
living or not, and could not even then believe that it was only
ivory. He caressed it, and gave it presents such as young girls
love, bright shells and polished stones, little birds and
flowers of various hues, beads and amber. He put raiment on its
limbs, and jewels on its fingers, and a necklace about its neck.
To the ears he hung earrings and strings of pearls upon the
breast. Her dress became her, and she looked not less charming
than when unattired. He laid her on a couch spread with cloths
of Tyrian dye, and called her his wife, and put her head upon a
pillow of the softest feathers, as if she could enjoy their

The festival of Venus was at hand, a festival celebrated with
great pomp at Cyprus. Victims were offered, the altars smoked,
and the odor of incense filled the air. When Pygmalion had
performed his part in the solemnities, he stood before the altar
and timidly said, "Ye gods, who can do all things, give me, I
pray you, for my wife" he dared not say "my ivory virgin," but
said instead "one like my ivory virgin." Venus, who was
present at the festival, heard him and knew the thought he would
have uttered; and, as an omen of her favor, caused the flame on
the altar to shoot up thrice in a fiery point into the air. When
he returned home, he went to see his statue, and, leaning over
the couch, gave a kiss to the mouth. It seemed to be warm. He
pressed its lips again, he laid his hand upon the limbs; the
ivory felt soft to his touch, and yielded to his fingers like the
wax of Hymettus. While he stands astonished and glad, though
doubting, and fears he may be mistaken, again and again with a
lover's ardor he touches the object of his hopes. It was indeed
alive! The veins when pressed yielded to the finger and then
resumed their roundness. Then at last the votary of Venus found
words to thank the goddess, and pressed his lips upon lips as
real as his own. The virgin felt the kisses and blushed, and,
opening her timid eyes to the light, fixed them at the same
moment on her lover. Venus blessed the nuptials she had formed,
and from this union Paphos was born, from whom the city, sacred
to Venus, received its name.

Schiller, in his poem, the Ideals, applies this tale of Pygmalion
to the love of nature in a youthful heart. In Schiller's
version, as in William Morris's, the statue is of marble.

"As once with prayers in passion flowing,
Pygmalion embraced the stone,
Till from the frozen marble glowing,
The light of feeling o'er him shone,
So did I clasp with young devotion
Bright Nature to a poet's heart;
Till breath and warmth and vital motion
Seemed through the statue form to dart.

"And then in all my ardor sharing,
The silent form expression found;
Returned my kiss of youthful daring,
And understood my heart's quick sound.
Then lived for me the bright creation.
The silver rill with song was rife;
The trees, the roses shared sensation,
An echo of my boundless life."
Rev. A. G. Bulfinch (brother of the author).

Morris tells the story of Pygmalion and the Image in some of the
most beautiful verses of the Earthly Paradise.

This is Galatea's description of her metamorphosis:

"'My sweet,' she said, 'as yet I am not wise,
Or stored with words aright the tale to tell,
But listen: when I opened first mine eyes
I stood within the niche thou knowest well,
And from my hand a heavy thing there fell
Carved like these flowers, nor could I see things clear,
But with a strange confused noise could hear.

"'At last mine eyes could see a woman fair,
But awful as this round white moon o'erhead,
So that I trembled when I saw her there,
For with my life was born some touch of dread,
And therewithal I heard her voice that said,
"Come down and learn to love and be alive,
For thee, a well-prized gift, today I give."'"

Myth Collection

Achelous and HerculesAcis and GalateaAdmetus and Alcestis
Agamemnon, Orestes, and ElectraAmphionAmphitrite
AntigoneApollo and DaphneApollo and Hyacinthus
Aurora and TithonusBacchusBaucis and Philemon
CadmusCastor and PolluxCephalus and Procris
Ceyx and HalcyoneClytieCupid and Psyche
DaedalusDiana and ActaeonDryope
Echo and NarcissusEndymionErisichthon
Glaucus and ScyllaHebe and GanymedeHercules
IbycusIo and CallistoLeucothea dnd Palaemon
LinusMarsyasMedea and Aeson
MelampusMenelaus and HelenMidas
Minerva and ArachneMonstersMusaeus
NeptuneNereus and DorisNiobe
Nisus and ScyllaOrionOrpheus and Eurydice
Pegasus and the ChimaeraPenelopePerseus and Medusa
PhaetonPluto and ProsperinePrometheus and Pandora
PygmalionPyramus and ThisbePython
ThamyrisThe Calydonian HuntThe Camenae
The CentaursThe Golden FleeceThe Graeae and Gorgons
The Griffin, or GryphonThe IliadThe Myrmidons
The PygmiesThe Rural DeitiesThe Sphinx
The Trojan WarThe Water DeitiesThe Winds
TheseusThetisVenus and Adonis
Vertumnus and Pomona

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