Study Guide

Pygmalion Pygmalion

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Serious Sexist or Sensitive Artist?

Pygmalion is a famous sculptor, known throughout Cyprus for his ability to create lifelike statues. Too lifelike, sometimes. Some writers say that he's also the King of Cyprus, but this only shows up in a few accounts. (Oh, and don't confuse this Pygmalion with Pygmalion, King of Tyre—that's a whole different dude!).

Our Pygmalion has a pretty strict moral code. When he sees the women of Cyprus prostituting themselves, he swears off ladies forever, and says that he'll never get married. Oh, and then he holes up inside his studio and sculpts his ideal woman out of ivory. As you do.

Essentially, there are two of ways of looking at Pygmalion. On the one hand, the guy is a huge sexist with a serious God complex. Not only does he think that all women are gross and unworthy, he also has the gumption to craft the "perfect woman" out of stone. This establishes the artist as the all-powerful creator, and sends a dangerous message about how men should be able to control and shape women.

On the other hand, maybe Pygmalion is just a sweet, sensitive artist who can't deal with the real world. His highly refined sense of beauty makes it difficult for him to handle the world's ugliness, and when he sees the prostitutes, he's completely repulsed. So he locks himself away in his studio and creates a beautiful fantasy for himself. What's so wrong with that?

Remember, back in Ancient Greece, things were a little different. Although the Greeks worshipped strong, independent goddesses (what's up, Athena!), they generally agreed that women should obey men in their daily lives. Daughters should listen to their fathers, wives should bow to their husbands, and men should make the laws. We'll be analyzing Pygmalion from a modern perspective—since, you know, we're living in the 21st century—but it's worth noting that our analysis takes many years of women's progress into account.

What do you think? Is Pygmalion a serious sexist or a sensitive artist? Or maybe both?

Praise to the Gods!

In Greek myths, most mortals who reject reality end up suffering terrible consequences (think death and starvation). Pygmalion, however, is weirdly rewarded for his anti-social behavior. Instead of winding up alone or dying a traumatic death, he's gifted with the woman of his dreams.

This might have something to do with the fact that the statue Pygmalion crafts looks just like Aphrodite. Some versions of the myth say that Aphrodite was so flattered by Pygmalion's statue that she brought his ivory woman to life. So it seems that Pygmalion discovered a loophole in the Greek myth system—as long as you praise the gods after you reject reality, you can escape dying at the end of your story. Noted.

Pop Culture Spin-Offs

There is a long line of emotionally stunted men falling in love with fake women. In Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling's character believes that his girlfriend—a life-size sex doll—is real. And in the 80s movie Mannequin, a goofy window dresser falls for a mannequin (played by Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall), who only he can see come to life. Fictional male scientists love crafting physically beautiful female robots, as in Weird Science, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Fritz Lang's science-fiction feature Metropolis.

But don't get the wrong idea. It usually doesn't work out. Sorry, guys.

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