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.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses X, The Story of Pygmalion and the Statue
The story of Pygmalion and the Statue, as told by Ovid, is this, as told by Hulles:
Pygmalion was a Greek guy who basically thought women sucked, big surprise, so he just hung around his house doing the classical equivalent of playing video games: sculpting. One day after he got to the twenty-ninth level of sculpting, he created a statue of a woman in ivory. He was proud of the job he did on her and went to bed happy. But as the days went by, he started liking his creation more and more, to the point where he couldn't keep his eyes off it and kept touching it. He began to fall in love with the statue; finally he went for it and kissed her and grabbed her boob.
Well, that made Pygmalion feel sort of stupid so he stood back from the statue in embarrassment. But as he stood there a little more, he realized that she had responded about as much as the last real woman he had dated, so he said the Greek equivalent of "What the fuck!", and climbed her frame. Afterward he became sort of worried that he might have gouged the ivory in his gusto, so he checked her out. She was just fine and here we all say, "Phew! Close one!".
As more time went by, Pygmalion began talking to it and dressing it up and buying it shit (see above), and eventually the statue ends up in bed with him. Now we've all been there, so I needn't elaborate. But he said to himself the Greek equivalent of, "Dude! She's a statue!" so he skipped down to the feast of Venus which was already in progress, murmured a quick and humble prayer to the goddess, then peeked between his fingers to see what had happened. Score! Apparently Venus thought Ivory Girl was pretty hot, too, so she made the fires go on and off, sort of like last call, to tell Pygmalion he got lucky.
Pygmalion scurried home and kissed the statue and grabbed her boob again. Woohoo! She's coming to life! He doesn't believe it at first so he keeps grabbing her boob, just like I would do, until finally she opens her eyes and lives. Woohoo! They leap into to bed and ten months later have a baby boy who grows up to be the classical equivalent of the Mayor of Cleveland.
So that is Ovid's tale of Pygmalion and the Statue, or at least it's the Hulles version. In passing, I should mention that the statue doesn't have a name in any classical telling of the tale; she picked up "Galatea" as a name in the 1700's probably.
As you may know, this story has been retold many times, notably by George Bernard Shaw in his play "Pygmalion," from which the movie "My Fair Lady" was made. I find it a powerful story, myself, and it has always been dear to my heart. I wanted to read Ovid in Latin but I never got around to it (and my Latin was never good enough, to be honest).
As familiar as I am with the story, however, I never realized until quite recently that there was an implied meaning to Ovid's "Pygmalion" that I had never grasped: that, in a very real sense, it was the statue that caused the sculptor to come to life. And that is why this post is the second in the Sarong saga.