Study Guide

Pygmalion Summary

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How It (Supposedly) Went Down

The Short Story

Pygmalion, a sculptor, is our main squeeze in this story. He's totally disgusted by a group of prostitutes, and he swears off all women. Natch. Next step? He goes to his studio and decides to sculpt his ideal woman out of ivory. Pygmalion makes the statue so beautiful that he falls in love with it. Then, at a festival for Aphrodite, he prays that the goddess will give him a wife just like his statue. She decides to do him one better and actually bring his statue to life. The statue becomes a real woman, and she and Pygmalion get married and have two children. The end.

The Less Short Story

  • On the island of Cyprus, there is a group of women called the Propoetides. These ladies are rather uppity, and they refuse to acknowledge that Aphrodite is a goddess. 
  • This, predictably, doesn't fly with Aphrodite. As punishment, she robs the women of their sense of shame, and… they begin to prostitute themselves. Great.
  • The sculptor Pygmalion sees these women doing their thing and is totally grossed out by their behavior. (Oh, a few authors say that Pygmalion was also the King of Cyprus, but most limit him to being a sculptor.)
  • Anyway, he's so disgusted by the Propoetides that he vows to ignore all women forever. That seems kind of rash, but hey—to each his own. 
  • Without a girlfriend, Pygmalion has a lot of time on his hands. To stave off boredom, he decides to make an ivory statue of his ideal woman.
  • The brilliant sculptor that he is, Pygmalion produces a statue that is extremely lifelike and super-hot.
  • So hot, actually, that he begins to fall in love with it.
  • Pygmalion knows that the statue is made of ivory (he was the one who made it, after all), but he can't help smothering it with kisses. 
  • Gross.
  • He continues to fantasize that she's a real woman, and at one point, he gropes the statute so hard that he's afraid he's damaged her limbs. 
  • Don't worry, she's fine. (Ivory is really strong).
  • Perhaps in an attempt to be even creepier, the sculptor starts to give gifts to his creation. His presents include clothes, pearls, shells, earrings, rings, pretty stones, singing birds, flowers, and talking parrots. Jackpot for the statue!
  • Then, to top it off, Pygmalion lays his naked statue on a luxurious bed covered in purple blankets. He even provides a squishy pillow for her head.
  • Once she's on the bed, Pygmalion calls the statue his "bride." The relationship has clearly progressed to the next level, at least in his mind.
  • Wanting to honor Aphrodite (and perhaps get some fresh air), Pygmalion leaves his studio to attend a festival in her honor. 
  • Once he's there, he prays to Aphrodite to provide him with a woman who "has the likeness" of his statue. He would have just prayed for his statue to come to life, but shame prevents him from saying these words out loud.
  • Aphrodite is pretty clever, though. She knows that, in his heart of hearts, Pygmalion just wants his statue to be alive. 
  • According to some versions of the myth, Aphrodite visits Pygmalion's studio to inspect the statue before bringing it to life. She discovers that the statue looks just like her, and she's so flattered that she decides to make Pygmalion's wish come true.
  • At the festival, the fire leaps three times, which is a good sign. Obvi.
  • Seeing these flames, Pygmalion gets a burst of hope and runs home to his statue.
  • He dashes to his luxury bed and kisses the statue. And get this: instead of being cold and hard, her lips are soft and red! 
  • Could it be? He touches her skin… it seems alive and firm. 
  • Finally, he checks a vein and discovers a pulse. She's alive! Overjoyed, Pygmalion gives thanks to Aphrodite.
  • When he kisses the statue again, she wakes up. Now the statue is a real woman. She even gets a name: Galatea (18th-century authors made that up).
  • Galatea and Pygmalion get married and have two children: a son, Paphos, and daughter, Metharme. According to legend, Paphos went on to found the city of Paphos in southwestern Cyprus and Metharme later became the mother of Adonis, one of the most handsome mortals in Greek mythology. Not a bad family tree.

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