Based on a 1717 English
Translation by John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Others
By Michael J. Cummings ©
the island of Cyprus, a young sculptor named Pygmalion loathes women as
wantons and vows never to marry. Thus, rather than spending time wooing
young ladies, he devotes all his energies to his craft. One of his creations
is an ivory statue of a maiden. So exquisite is it—so flawlessly beautiful
and desirable—that he falls in love with it.
He knows 'tis madness,
yet he must adore,
the statue is cold and lifeless, he embraces it and provides it gifts:
rare shells, pearls, and other gems; parrots, singing birds in silver cages,
flowers, robes, earrings, a necklace, and rings. He also makes a splendid
bed for himself and the statue, outfitting it with coverings
in the royal color, purple. Then he holds a wedding that unites him with
the ivory beauty. Afterward, he places the statue on the bed, its head
on a soft pillow, so that he may lie next to it.
And still the more he knows
it, loves the more:
The flesh, or what so seems,
he touches oft,
Which feels so smooth, that
he believes it soft.
a special day dedicated to Venus, the Cypriots sacrifice heifers to the
goddess on altars, as is the custom. At one of the altars, Pygmalion is
about to ask for divine intervention that will make the statue his flesh-and-blood
wife. However, out of shame, he withholds this prayer. But Venus, well
knowing what he wants, causes the flames of the sacrificial fire to shoot
up, a sign indicating she has granted his wish.
returning home full of expectation, he lies down next to the statue. When
he kisses it, its lips seem to redden. He also notices that its body appears
to give, like flesh, when he touches it.
Soft, and more soft
at ev'ry touch it grew;
When he checks the pulse, he
feels a throbbing. Convinced now that the statue has become human, he gives
thanks to Venus.
Like pliant wax, when chasing
The former mass to form,
and frame for use.
Then lips to lips
he join'd; now freed from fear,
Venus blesses the bed, and before
the passage of ten months Pygmalion’s beloved gives birth to a boy, Paphos.
Years later, a city in southwestern Cyprus is named after him.
He found the savour of the
At this the waken'd image
op'd her eyes,
And view'd at once the light,
and lover with surprise.
The action is set in ancient
Cyprus, an island nation in the eastern Mediterranean south of Turkey.
Young sculptor who despises women but becomes infatuated with an exquisite
statue of his creation.
Statue: Figure of a beautiful young woman sculpted in ivory by Pygmalion.
After Pygmalion passionately desires it, Venus intervenes on his behalf
and animates the statue. Ovid does not give a name to the new human being,
but other accounts of the Pygmalion myth call her Galatea.
Roman name for the goddess of love. In Greek mythology, her name is Aphrodite.
Son of Pygmalion and the "humanized" statue.
The story is part of the
tenth book of Metamorphoses, a long narrative poem by Ovid about
mythological, legendary, and historical characters and circumstances that
undergo a transformation. The tale of Pygmalion is one of the most famous
in the fifteen books that make up Metamorphoses.
Pronunciations of key words
in this study guide are as follows: Ovid (Ah vid), Pygmalion (pig MAIL
yun), Paphos (PAH foss or PAY foss), Aphrodite (AF roh DYE te).
Mental and Physical Change
What readers remember most
about this story is that a statue changes into a human being. But they
generally forget that a profound change takes place in Pygmalion; it alters
his attitude about women—or at least a particular woman. (It is possible,
however, to argue that Pygmalion's attitude toward women in general remains
the same: They are loathsome because they do not measure up to his concept
of the ideal woman, a concept that he created in stone and that Venus incarnated.)
Pygmalion becomes enamored
of the statue, as if it were the most beautiful flesh-and-blood woman in
the world. One may loosely call his obsession with the statue love. However,
since the statue has no personality, it is impossible to term his passion
for it true love. But after Venus transforms the statue into a human, Pygmalion
may well have fallen in love with his creation.
Venus, taking pity on Pygmalion,
grants his wish and makes the statue human.
and Verse Format
The climax occurs when the
statue becomes human after Pygmalion kisses it.
he based the tales in Metamorphoses on existing stories, Ovid presents
them with a freshness and originality that made them uniquely his own.
His writing is vivid, elegant, and succinct, with the stories—including
moving swiftly from beginning to end without tedious digressions or inflated
language. Metamorphoses was highly popular with readers of the Augustan
age (27 BC to AD 14, when Caesar Augustus ruled the Roman Empire) and became
one of the best read books of the Renaissance, influencing Shakespeare
and other prominent writers. The themes and motifs are as timely today
as they were 2,000 years ago.
wrote Metamorphoses in heroic hexameter,
the dignified verse format of ancient epic poetry. Heroic hexameter consists
of unrhymed lines that each contain six feet. Each foot
is either a dactyl (a stressed
syllable followed by two unstressed syllables) or a spondee
(two stressed syllables). The number of syllables per line varies depending
on the number of dactyls and spondees in it.
A dactyl tends to accelerate
the narrative in the same way that an allegro and a presto accelerate music;
a spondee tends to slow the narrative like an adagio in music. Ovid chose
dactyls more often than spondees so that the narrative moves along briskly.
in English and Latin
Introduction to the Texts
translating Latin classics into English, writers generally interpret the
Latin words rather than presenting a verbatim rendering of them. One reason
for this approach is that Latin inflection and word order differ substantially
from English inflection and word order.
Another reason is that there
is no Latin equivalent of the English definite article (a, an,
or the). Consider the following Latin phrase:
means eye, and dexter means right. However, the phrase in English
does not mean eye right; rather, it means the right
eye. As you can see, Latin places the adjective after the noun, not
before it, and it does not use an article before the noun. In addition,
a verb in a Latin sentence or phrase usually has a different position than
a verb in an English phrase or sentence. Consider the following Latin sentence:
puellam amat. A word-for-word literal translation renders it as Poet
girl loves. However, its correct translation is The poet loves the
are many other differences—too
numerous to discuss here—between
Latin and English.
a result of these differences, translators of Latin literary works try
to capture the spirit of them rather than presenting a literal rendering
of them. In addition, they may change the meter of a verse work and add
rhyme to it. For example, the following English translation of "Pygmalion"
uses pentameter with iambic
feet rather than hexameter with dactylic or spondaic feet. It also contains
From a 1717 Translation of Metamorphoses
by John Dryden,
Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison,
William Congreve, and Others
loathing their lascivious life,
all womankind, but most a wife:
single chose to live, and shunn'd to wed,
pleas'd to want a consort of his bed.
fearing idleness, the nurse of ill,
sculpture exercis'd his happy skill;
carv'd in iv'ry such a maid, so fair,
Nature could not with his art compare,
she to work; but in her own defence
take her pattern here, and copy hence.
with his idol, he commends, admires,
and last, the thing ador'd, desires.
very virgin in her face was seen,
had she mov'd, a living maid had been:
wou'd have thought she cou'd have stirr'd, but strove
modesty, and was asham'd to move.
hid with art, so well perform'd the cheat,
caught the carver with his own deceit:
knows 'tis madness, yet he must adore,
still the more he knows it, loves the more:
flesh, or what so seems, he touches oft,
feels so smooth, that he believes it soft.
with this thought, at once he strain'd the breast,
on the lips a burning kiss impress'd.
true, the harden'd breast resists the gripe,
the cold lips return a kiss unripe:
when, retiring back, he look'd again,
think it iv'ry, was a thought too mean:
wou'd believe she kiss'd, and courting more,
embrac'd her naked body o'er;
straining hard the statue, was afraid
hands had made a dint, and hurt his maid:
her limb by limb, and fear'd to find
rude a gripe had left a livid mark behind:
flatt'ry now he seeks her mind to move,
now with gifts (the pow'rful bribes of love),
furnishes her closet first; and fills
crowded shelves with rarities of shells;
orient pearls, which from the conchs he drew,
all the sparkling stones of various hue:
parrots, imitating human tongue,
singing-birds in silver cages hung:
ev'ry fragrant flow'r, and od'rous green,
sorted well, with lumps of amber laid between:
fashionable robes her person deck,
her ears, and pearls adorn her neck:
taper'd fingers too with rings are grac'd,
an embroider'd zone surrounds her slender waste.
like a queen array'd, so richly dress'd,
she shew'd, but naked shew'd the best.
from the floor, he rais'd a royal bed,
cov'rings of Sydonian purple spread:
solemn rites perform'd, he calls her bride,
blandishments invites her to his side;
as she were with vital sense possess'd,
head did on a plumy pillow rest.
feast of Venus came, a solemn day,
which the Cypriots due devotion pay;
gilded horns the milk-white heifers led,
before the sacred altars, bled.
off'ring, first approach'd the shrine,
then with pray'rs implor'd the Pow'rs divine:
Gods, if all we mortals want,
all we can require, be yours to grant;
this fair statue mine, he wou'd have said,
chang'd his words for shame; and only pray'd,
me the likeness of my iv'ry maid.
golden Goddess, present at the pray'r,
knew he meant th' inanimated fair,
gave the sign of granting his desire;
thrice in cheerful flames ascends the fire.
youth, returning to his mistress, hies,
impudent in hope, with ardent eyes,
beating breast, by the dear statue lies.
kisses her white lips, renews the bliss,
looks, and thinks they redden at the kiss;
thought them warm before: nor longer stays,
next his hand on her hard bosom lays:
as it was, beginning to relent,
seem'd, the breast beneath his fingers bent;
felt again, his fingers made a print;
flesh, but flesh so firm, it rose against the dint:
pleasing task he fails not to renew;
and more soft at ev'ry touch it grew;
pliant wax, when chasing hands reduce
former mass to form, and frame for use.
would believe, but yet is still in pain,
tries his argument of sense again,
the pulse, and feels the leaping vein.
o'erjoy'd, his studied thanks, and praise,
her, who made the miracle, he pays:
lips to lips he join'd; now freed from fear,
found the savour of the kiss sincere:
this the waken'd image op'd her eyes,
view'd at once the light, and lover with surprise.
Goddess, present at the match she made,
bless'd the bed, such fruitfulness convey'd,
ere ten months had sharpen'd either horn,
crown their bliss, a lovely boy was born;
his name, who grown to manhood, wall'd
city Paphos, from the founder call'd.
Lines 55-166 of Book IV of Metamorphoses
Quas quia Pygmalion aevum
per crimen agentis
viderat, offensus vitiis,
quae plurima menti
femineae natura dedit, sine
vivebat thalamique diu consorte
interea niveum mira feliciter
sculpsit ebur formamque
dedit, qua femina nasci
nulla potest, operisque
sui concepit amorem.
virginis est verae facies,
quam vivere credas,
et, si non obstet reverentia,
ars adeo latet arte sua.
miratur et haurit
pectore Pygmalion simulati
saepe manus operi temptantes
admovet, an sit
corpus an illud ebur, nec
adhuc ebur esse fatetur.
oscula dat reddique putat
et credit tactis digitos
et metuit, pressos veniat
ne livor in artus,
et modo blanditias adhibet,
modo grata puellis
munera fert illi conchas
et parvas volucres et flores
liliaque pictasque pilas
et ab arbore lapsas
Heliadum lacrimas; ornat
quoque vestibus artus,
dat digitis gemmas, dat
longa monilia collo,
aure leves bacae, redimicula
cuncta decent; nec nuda
minus formosa videtur.
conlocat hanc stratis concha
adpellatque tori sociam
mollibus in plumis, tamquam
Festa dies Veneris tota celeberrima Cypro
venerat, et pandis inductae
conciderant ictae nivea
turaque fumabant, cum munere
functus ad aras
constitit et timide "si,
di, dare cuncta potestis,
sit coniunx, opto," non
ausus "eburnea virgo"
dicere, Pygmalion "similis
mea" dixit "eburnae."
sensit, ut ipsa suis aderat
Venus aurea festis,
vota quid illa velint et,
amici numinis omen,
flamma ter accensa est apicemque
per aera duxit.
ut rediit, simulacra suae
petit ille puellae
incumbensque toro dedit
oscula: visa tepere est;
admovet os iterum, manibus
quoque pectora temptat:
temptatum mollescit ebur
subsidit digitis ceditque,
ut Hymettia sole
cera remollescit tractataque
flectitur in facies ipsoque
fit utilis usu.
dum stupet et dubie gaudet
rursus amans rursusque manu
sua vota retractat.
corpus erat! saliunt temptatae
tum vero Paphius plenissima
verba, quibus Veneri grates
agat, oraque tandem
ore suo non falsa premit,
dataque oscula virgo
sensit et erubuit timidumque
ad lumina lumen
attollens pariter cum caelo
coniugio, quod fecit, adest
dea, iamque coactis
cornibus in plenum noviens
illa Paphon genuit, de qua
tenet insula nomen.
Questions and Essay Topics
1. If Pygmalion hates women,
why does he sculpt the figure of one?
Do you believe Pygmalion modeled his statue after an existing woman? Or
did he create it from an ideal image in his mind?
In ancient times, why did people make animal sacrifices to gods?
Each story in Ovid's Metamorphoses reports a transformation. In
"Pygmalion," the statue is transformed into a human being. But what ....transformation
takes place in Pygmalion's outlook?
Write an essay informing the reader about misogyny (hatred of women) or
avoidance of women as a major motif in literary works. ....Among
the works you may wish to research are Shakespeare's Love's
Labours Lost, Shakespeare's Venus and
Adonis, and ....Turgenev's
a Guide to the Complete Works...................................................
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