By Ovid (43 BC-AD 17)
From Book X of Metamorphoses
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Writing Style
Verse Format
Free Text: English, Latin
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Ovid Biography
Plot Summary
Based on a 1717 English Translation by John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Others
By Michael J. Cummings © 2008
. .
.......On 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,
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.
.......Though 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. 
.......On 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. 
.......Upon 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;
Like pliant wax, when chasing hands reduce
The former mass to form, and frame for use.
When he checks the pulse, he feels a throbbing. Convinced now that the statue has become human, he gives thanks to Venus. 
Then lips to lips he join'd; now freed from fear,
He found the savour of the kiss sincere:
At this the waken'd image op'd her eyes,
And view'd at once the light, and lover with surprise.
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. 

The action is set in ancient Cyprus, an island nation in the eastern Mediterranean south of Turkey. 

Pygmalion: Young sculptor who despises women but becomes infatuated with an exquisite statue of his creation.
The 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. 
Venus: Roman name for the goddess of love. In Greek mythology, her name is Aphrodite.
Paphos: Son of Pygmalion and the "humanized" statue.

Type of Work
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.

The climax occurs when the statue becomes human after Pygmalion kisses it. 

Style and Verse Format
.......Although 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 storiesincluding "Pygmalion"generally 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. 
.......Ovid 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. 

Pygmalion in English and Latin
Introduction to the Texts

.......When 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:
oculus dexter. Oculus 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: Poeta puellam amat. A word-for-word literal translation renders it as Poet girl loves. However, its correct translation is The poet loves the girl.
.......There are many other differencestoo numerous to discuss herebetween Latin and English. 
.......As 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 end rhyme. 

From a 1717 Translation of Metamorphoses by John Dryden, 
Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, William Congreve, and Others
Pygmalion loathing their lascivious life,
Abhorr'd all womankind, but most a wife:
So single chose to live, and shunn'd to wed,
Well pleas'd to want a consort of his bed.
Yet fearing idleness, the nurse of ill,
In sculpture exercis'd his happy skill;
And carv'd in iv'ry such a maid, so fair,
As Nature could not with his art compare,
Were she to work; but in her own defence
Must take her pattern here, and copy hence.
Pleas'd with his idol, he commends, admires,
Adores; and last, the thing ador'd, desires.
A very virgin in her face was seen,
And had she mov'd, a living maid had been:
One wou'd have thought she cou'd have stirr'd, but strove
With modesty, and was asham'd to move.
Art hid with art, so well perform'd the cheat,
It caught the carver with his own deceit:
He knows 'tis madness, yet he must adore,
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.
Fir'd with this thought, at once he strain'd the breast,
And on the lips a burning kiss impress'd.
'Tis true, the harden'd breast resists the gripe,
And the cold lips return a kiss unripe:
But when, retiring back, he look'd again,
To think it iv'ry, was a thought too mean:
So wou'd believe she kiss'd, and courting more,
Again embrac'd her naked body o'er;
And straining hard the statue, was afraid
His hands had made a dint, and hurt his maid:
Explor'd her limb by limb, and fear'd to find
So rude a gripe had left a livid mark behind:
With flatt'ry now he seeks her mind to move,
And now with gifts (the pow'rful bribes of love),
He furnishes her closet first; and fills
The crowded shelves with rarities of shells;
Adds orient pearls, which from the conchs he drew,
And all the sparkling stones of various hue:
And parrots, imitating human tongue,
And singing-birds in silver cages hung:
And ev'ry fragrant flow'r, and od'rous green,
Were sorted well, with lumps of amber laid between:
Rich fashionable robes her person deck,
Pendants her ears, and pearls adorn her neck:
Her taper'd fingers too with rings are grac'd,
And an embroider'd zone surrounds her slender waste.
Thus like a queen array'd, so richly dress'd,
Beauteous she shew'd, but naked shew'd the best.
Then, from the floor, he rais'd a royal bed,
With cov'rings of Sydonian purple spread:
The solemn rites perform'd, he calls her bride,
With blandishments invites her to his side;
And as she were with vital sense possess'd,
Her head did on a plumy pillow rest.
The feast of Venus came, a solemn day,
To which the Cypriots due devotion pay;
With gilded horns the milk-white heifers led,
Slaughter'd before the sacred altars, bled.
Pygmalion off'ring, first approach'd the shrine,
And then with pray'rs implor'd the Pow'rs divine:
Almighty Gods, if all we mortals want,
If all we can require, be yours to grant;
Make this fair statue mine, he wou'd have said,
But chang'd his words for shame; and only pray'd,
Give me the likeness of my iv'ry maid.
The golden Goddess, present at the pray'r,
Well knew he meant th' inanimated fair,
And gave the sign of granting his desire;
For thrice in cheerful flames ascends the fire.
The youth, returning to his mistress, hies,
And impudent in hope, with ardent eyes,
And beating breast, by the dear statue lies.
He kisses her white lips, renews the bliss,
And looks, and thinks they redden at the kiss;
He thought them warm before: nor longer stays,
But next his hand on her hard bosom lays:
Hard as it was, beginning to relent,
It seem'd, the breast beneath his fingers bent;
He felt again, his fingers made a print;
"Twas flesh, but flesh so firm, it rose against the dint:
The pleasing task he fails not to renew;
Soft, and more soft at ev'ry touch it grew;
Like pliant wax, when chasing hands reduce
The former mass to form, and frame for use.
He would believe, but yet is still in pain,
And tries his argument of sense again,
Presses the pulse, and feels the leaping vein.
Convinc'd, o'erjoy'd, his studied thanks, and praise,
To her, who made the miracle, he pays:
Then lips to lips he join'd; now freed from fear,
He found the savour of the kiss sincere:
At this the waken'd image op'd her eyes,
And view'd at once the light, and lover with surprise.
The Goddess, present at the match she made,
So bless'd the bed, such fruitfulness convey'd,
That ere ten months had sharpen'd either horn,
To crown their bliss, a lovely boy was born;
Paphos his name, who grown to manhood, wall'd
The city Paphos, from the founder call'd.

Original Latin
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 coniuge caelebs               245
vivebat thalamique diu consorte carebat.
interea niveum mira feliciter arte
sculpsit ebur formamque dedit, qua femina nasci
nulla potest, operisque sui concepit amorem.
virginis est verae facies, quam vivere credas,               250
et, si non obstet reverentia, velle moveri:
ars adeo latet arte sua. miratur et haurit
pectore Pygmalion simulati corporis ignes.
saepe manus operi temptantes admovet, an sit
corpus an illud ebur, nec adhuc ebur esse fatetur.               255
oscula dat reddique putat loquiturque tenetque
et credit tactis digitos insidere membris
et metuit, pressos veniat ne livor in artus,
et modo blanditias adhibet, modo grata puellis
munera fert illi conchas teretesque lapillos               260
et parvas volucres et flores mille colorum
liliaque pictasque pilas et ab arbore lapsas
Heliadum lacrimas; ornat quoque vestibus artus,
dat digitis gemmas, dat longa monilia collo,
aure leves bacae, redimicula pectore pendent:               265
cuncta decent; nec nuda minus formosa videtur.
conlocat hanc stratis concha Sidonide tinctis
adpellatque tori sociam adclinataque colla
mollibus in plumis, tamquam sensura, reponit.
     Festa dies Veneris tota celeberrima Cypro               270
venerat, et pandis inductae cornibus aurum
conciderant ictae nivea cervice iuvencae,
turaque fumabant, cum munere functus ad aras
constitit et timide "si, di, dare cuncta potestis,
sit coniunx, opto," non ausus "eburnea virgo"               275
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               280
incumbensque toro dedit oscula: visa tepere est;
admovet os iterum, manibus quoque pectora temptat:
temptatum mollescit ebur positoque rigore
subsidit digitis ceditque, ut Hymettia sole
cera remollescit tractataque pollice multas               285
flectitur in facies ipsoque fit utilis usu.
dum stupet et dubie gaudet fallique veretur,
rursus amans rursusque manu sua vota retractat.
corpus erat! saliunt temptatae pollice venae.
tum vero Paphius plenissima concipit heros               290
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 vidit amantem.
coniugio, quod fecit, adest dea, iamque coactis               295
cornibus in plenum noviens lunaribus orbem
illa Paphon genuit, de qua tenet insula nomen.

Study Questions and Essay Topics

1. If Pygmalion hates women, why does he sculpt the figure of one?
2. Do you believe Pygmalion modeled his statue after an existing woman? Or did he create it from an ideal image in his mind?
3. In ancient times, why did people make animal sacrifices to gods?
4. 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?
5. 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 Father's and Sons.

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