The Pygmalion effect

Pygmalion was a master sculptor in the ancient city of Greece. All day he sculpted beautiful statues from huge pieces of rock. In fact, his creations were so wonderful that whoever saw them were mesmerised by their sheer artistic beauty and exact finish. Pygmalion himself was a fine and handsome young man. He was liked by all men and women. Many women loved him for his great skill and looks.

But Pygmalion never paid attention to any of these women. He saw so much to blame in women that he came at last to abhor the sex, and resolved to live unmarried. He was a sculptor, and with his with wonderful skill he sculpted a beautiful ivory statue which was so lifelike that it was difficult to believe that it was lifeless at the first glance. The beauty was such that no living woman could compete with it. It was indeed the perfect semblance of a maiden that seemed to be alive, and only prevented from moving by modesty. His art was so perfect that it concealed itself and its product looked like the workmanship of nature. Pygmalion spent hours admiring his creation.

By and by Pygmalion’s admiration for his own sculpture turned to love. Oftentimes he laid his hand upon it as if to assure himself whether it were living or not, and could not, even then, believe that it was only ivory. He caressed it, and gave it such presents as young girls love – bright shells and polished stones, little birds and flowers of various hues, beads and amber. He adorned his ivory maiden with jewels. He put rainment on its limbs, and jewels on its fingers, and a necklace about its neck. To the ears he hung earrings and strings of pearls upon the breast. Her dress became her, and she looked not less charming than when unattired. He laid her on a couch spread with cloths of Tyrian dye, and called her his wife, and put her head upon a pillow of the softest feathers, as if she could enjoy their softness. He gave the statue a name: “Galatea”, meaning “sleeping love’.

But what will be the consequence of falling in love with a lifeless ivory maiden?

The festival of Aphrodite was at hand – a festival celebrated with great pomp at Cyprus. Victims were offered, the altars smoked, and the odor of incense filled the air. When the festivities of Aphrodite started, Pygmalion took part in the ceremonies. He went to the temple of Aphrodite to ask forgiveness for all the years he had shunned her.

When Pygmalion had performed his part in the solemnities, he hesitantly prayed for a wife like his ivory virgin statue. He stood before the altar of Aphrodite and timidly said, “Ye gods, who can do all things, give me, I pray you, for my wife” – he dared not utter “my ivory virgin,” but said instead – “one like my ivory virgin.”

But Goddess Aphrodite understood what the poor man was trying to say. She was curious. How can a man love a lifeless thing so much? Was it so beautiful that Pygmalion fell in love with his own creation? So she visited the studio of the sculptor while he was away.

What she saw greatly amazed her. For the sculpture had a perfect likeness to her. In fact, it would not have been wrong to say that the sculpture was an image of Aphrodite herself.

Goddess Aphrodite was charmed by Pygmalion’s creation. She brought the statue to life.

When Pygmalion returned to his home, he went before Galatea and knelt down before the woman of his dreams. He looked at her lovingly, with a lover’s ardour. It seemed to him that Galatea was looking at her lovingly too.

For a moment, it seemed to Pygmalion that it was just a figment of his imagination. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. But no. There was no mistake this time. Galatea was smiling at him.

He laid his hand upon the limbs; the ivory felt soft to his touch and yielded to his fingers like the wax of Hymettus. It seemed to be warm. He stood up; his mind oscillated between doubt and joy. Fearing he may be mistaken, again and again with a lover’s ardor he touches the object of his hopes. It was indeed alive! The veins when pressed yielded to the finger and again resumed their roundness. Slowly it dawned on Pygmalion that the animation of his sculpture was the result of his prayer to Goddess Aphrodite who knew his desire. At last, the votary of Aphrodite found words to thank the goddess. Pygmalion humbled himself at the Goddess’ feet.

Soon Pygmalion and Galatea were wed, and Pygmalion never forgot to thank Aphrodite for the gift she had given him. Aphrodite blessed the nuptials she had formed, and this union between Pygmalion and Galatea produced a son named Paphos, from whom the city Paphos, sacred to Aphrodite, received its name. He and Galatea brought gifts to her temple throughout their life and Aphrodite blessed them with happiness and love in return.

The unusual love that blossomed between Pygmalion and Galatea enthralls all. Falling in love with one’s creation and then getting the desired object as wife- perhaps this was destined for Pygmalion. Even to this day, countless people and young lovers are mesmerized by this exceptional love that existed between two persons at a time when civilization was in its infancy.

This story is often used to have a greater purpose rather than “ooing and aahing” effect. Because of Pygmalion’s undying love and dream of Galatea one day becoming a real being, the impossible actually happened.

A lot of people use this example to help students look into the future, let’s say in 10 years from now, and from that, they hope to inspire them to keep reaching for their dreams and even how impossible it may seem, it can and will happen… somehow.

Every time i close my eyes, it’s completely different from where I’m heading for in life. I know I’m far from actually being in that moment but sometimes I just get scared that I would end up living someone else’s dream rather than my own just to make them happy.


2 Replies to “The Pygmalion effect”

  1. I’m a happily married primary school teacher who has a lovely wife and loves his job working with the children. I don’t have a very big house :/ because the pay is low, but I’m content. ^_^. How bout you?

  2. i’m basically taking a course i don’t like and above that, i’m being pressured to proceed to medicine when i really want to take up fashion designing. i wake up most mornings wondering what i’m living for but most importantly for who. So i guess my life is pretty radical :p

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.