The story of Pygmalion is recounted in Ovid's Metaphorphoses, a series of narrative poems based on the themes of change and transformation using Greco-Roman myth and legend. Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) was born in on March 20, 43 BC. The work in discussion on this page had been ready for publication around 8 A.D.

The tale of Pygmalion as written by Ovid goes as follows: he was a gifted young sculptor in Cyprus who had a strong misgivings about women due to the numerous vices he thought they were capable of perpetrating. He was determined never to marry, believing that his commitment to his art was enough to sustain his passions. However, one day he began to sculpt a statue of ivory that he decided should be a woman. He was determined to form the image of the perfect woman as conceived by no one until now by him.

The statue grew more impressive each day with the adroit application of his skill. When he finally perfected his beautiful state, Pygmalion realized that he had fallen in love with it. He began to treat the statue as if it were alive--he would kiss it, embrace it, offer gifts to it, dress it, and even lay it down on a couch. All the while, he imagined she responded with the affections of a real woman.

The day of Venus came, which the denizens of Cyprus considered their holiest festival, since Cyprus was the island that first received the goddess after she rose from the sea foam. On this day, worshippers would sacrifice heifers as offerings to the goddess. After Pygmalion made his offering, he prayed to the gods that they might vouchsafe to make the "living likeness" of his ivory statue his bride.

Venus knew what he desired, and she acknowledged his prayer by causing the flame at the altar to flare up three times. Having witnessed this good omen, Pygmalion returned to his house to be with the one he loved. He began to kiss and to caress her ardently. The statue seemed to become soft and warm to his touch, but at first he thought he was deluding himself. However, when he felt a pulse from the body he held in his arms, he knew that Venus had granted his prayer. She responded as a real woman to his embraces. Pygmalion thanked the goddess, and the goddess in turn blessed the occasion of their union. Together they eventually had a daughter whose name was Paphos. In Ovid's poem, the statue-turned-maiden remains unnamed, but Edith Hamilton accounts differently that Pygmalion named his creation Galatea after she came to life.


Go to Questions for Analysis on Pygmalion.

Go to Bibliography.

Return to Literature Index.