Garner's Greek Mythology

EP 41: Pygmalion — From Ivory to Flesh

April 12, 2022 Patrick Garner Season 3 Episode 41
Garner's Greek Mythology
EP 41: Pygmalion — From Ivory to Flesh
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Episode 41 where we meet the ancient King of Cyprus, Pygmalion. The sculpture he creates of a beautiful woman changes his life — and provides inspiration for artists for another 3,000 years.

King Pygmalion falls madly in love with the statue. Praying to Aphrodite to find him a woman as beautiful, the king is shocked to find that instead, the goddess breathes life into the statue itself. As Pygmalion gently kisses the carving, she steps off the base and into his arms. The king and his bride are united in marriage …

As we see in the episode, the theme of man trying to transform woman into his own ideal captured the imagination of later writers, artists and numerous sculptors.

Narrated by mythologist and best-selling author, Patrick Garner, Garner's Greek Mythology is unlike any other Greek history series.  Here these divine beings are viewed as if they were anything but mythical...

If you love this podcast, you'll also enjoy Garner's audible novel about the gods, Homo Divinitas, now available on Amazon.com and Audible.com.

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EPISODE 41PYGMALION - FROM IVORY TO FLESH

WE BEGIN THIS EPISODE ON THE ISLAND OF CYPRUS, WHICH IS LOCATED IN THE FAR EASTERN CORNER OF THE MEDITERRANEAN NEAR TURKEY.

WHEN ZEUS & THE OLYMPIANS ROAMED THE EARTH, THE ISLAND HAD OTHER NAMES, BUT IT WAS ALWAYS KNOWN AS THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE LOVE GODDESS, APHRODITE.

EACH YEAR A FAMOUS FESTIVAL WAS HELD IN HER HONOR … AS OUR EPISODE BEGINS, THE ISLAND IS RULED BY KING PYGMALION 

HE WAS UNUSUALLY TALENTED & A DEVOTEE OF APHRODITE. HE WAS ALSO RENOWNED FOR HIS RULE OF LAW & WISDOM, & FOR HIS EXCEPTIONAL SKILL AS A SCULPTOR.

AND HE HAD A QUIRK I SHOULD MENTION — HE WAS INTIMIDATED BY WOMEN. 

IN HIS YOUTH HE Had encountered women in his kingdom known as the propoetides.

These women had dared to CLAIM that Aphrodite was NOT divine. APHRODITE, in IN HER fury, turned THEM into the WORLD’S first prostitutes.

THE KING SAW THEM ONCE & WAS DISCOMFORTED. AS A RESULT, HE mistrusted all FEMALES, & for years lived alone. 

but all of that changed when he sculpted a statue of a beautiful woman.

THIS IS EPISODE 41 OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY. WE HAVE LISTENERS FROM 159 COUNTRIES ... SO WELCOME TO EVERYONE, WHEREVER YOU ARE.

I'M YOUR HOST, MYTHOLOGIST PATRICK GARNER. 

SOME OF THESE STORIES ABOUT THE GODS HAVE BEEN TOLD FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS. BUT NOW THERE ARE NEW STORIES THAT ARE AS COMPELLING.

IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY DONE SO, CHECK OUT MY BOOKS ABOUT THE GODS IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD. THEY'RE PART OF THE WINNOWING TRILOGY.

YOU CAN & SHOULD READ ABOUT THEM & ABOUT THIS PODCAST AT PATRICKGARNERBOOKS.COM. DO IT WHEN YOU'VE FINISHED LISTENING!

AND AS ALWAYS, THIS PODCAST FOCUSES ON ONE THING ... GREEK GODS, OF COURSE. THEY, LIKE YOU, ARE HERE, NOW ...

AS YOU'LL SEE, KING PYGMALION FELL IN LOVE WITH HIS CREATION. BUT HE ALSO BEGAN THE TRADITION OF MALE ARTISTS TRYING TO TRANSFORM WOMEN INTO AN IMAGINARY IDEAL.

WHAT HE STARTED RIPPLED THROUGH THE ART WORLD & CONTINUES TO THIS DAY. SCULPTURES, PLAYS, BOOKS & MOVIES — 

ALL ARTISTS DREW INSPIRATION FROM THE MAGIC THAT HAPPENED WHEN HE … WELL, I'LL EXPLAIN — 

for months HE shaped his female STATUE from ivory. the sculpture slowly took form.

everyone who saw it marveled. all said that the young woman he created was more beautiful than any woman alive.

pygmalion himself was tAKEN ABACK AT HIS CREATION. HE HAD LITTLE INTEREST IN WOMEN, YET SUDDENLY HE HAD CREATED A MASTERPIECE.

EVEN STRANGER, PYGMALION FELL IN LOVE WITH HIS OWN STATUE. he began to OBSESS OVER IT. ITS BEAUTY FILLED HIS MIND.

ACCORDING TO THE ANCIENT WRITER HESIOD, THE KING LAVISHED IT WITH GIFTS THAT WOULD HAVE PLEASED ANY YOUNG WOMAN.

HE HUNG GOLD PENDANTS OFF HER NECK & DRESSED HER IN SILK ROBES. HE EVEN WENT TO THE EXTENT OF MAKING HER A BED.

EVERY NIGHT HE WOULD LAY HER DOWN & PUT HER HEAD ON A FINE PILLOW, KISSING HER CHEEKS & MUTTERING PROMISES THAT HE KNEW COULD NEVER COME TRUE.

AFTER ALL, SHE WAS NOTHING MORE THAN A STATUE, HOWEVER REALISTIC SHE MIGHT APPEAR.

WHEN THE ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF APHRODITE WAS HELD ON THE ISLAND, THE KING MADE MANY RICH OFFERINGS AT THE GODDESS'S ALTAR.

SECRETLY, HE PRAYED THAT APHRODITE MIGHT FIND HIM A BRIDE WHO WOULD BE, QUOTING THE ANCIENT WRITER OVID, "THE LIVING LIKENESS OF MY IVORY GIRL."

ALTHOUGH INVISIBLE TO MORTAL EYES, THE GODDESS WAS PRESENT AT HER CELEBRATION. THERE SHE HEARD THE KING'S PRAYERS.

SHE KNEW INSTANTLY THAT HE DIDN'T SEEK JUST ANY BRIDE. NO, HIS PRAYERS WERE THAT THE GODDESS BREATHE LIFE INTO HIS CREATION.

TOUCHED BY HIS SINCERITY, THE GODDESS DECIDED TO GRANT HIS WISH. WHEN HE RETURNED HOME & KISSED THE STATUE'S LIPS, HE FOUND THEM TO BE WARM.

SHOCKED, HE STROKED THE IVORY ARMS & WHISPERED SOFT WORDS OF LOVE INTO THE STATUE'S EARS.

AS HE LAVISHED MORE & MORE ATTENTION ON THE SCULPTURE, IT SEEMED TO SOFTEN TO HIS TOUCH. COULD IT BE TRUE?

HE IMAGINED HE SAW HER BLINK & THOUGHT FOR A MOMENT THAT SHE HAD SIGHED HAPPILY. 

AS HE SLIPPED HIS ARMS AROUND HER WAIST TO HOLD HER CLOSE, SHE RECIPROCATED, PUTTING HER HANDS ON HIS NECK.

TAKEN ABACK & SHOCKED AT HIS APPARENT GOOD FORTUNE, PYGMALION SAID, "ARE YOU ALIVE?"

HIS IVORY GIRL SMILED, SAYING, "ALIVE & YOURS FOREVER, MY KING." 

AS SHE STEPPED DOWN FROM THE BASE THAT HAD HELD HER IN PLACE, SHE TOOK HIS HAND & SAID SWEETLY, "BUT, YOU MUST MARRY ME, DEAR MAN."

APHRODITE HAD GRANTED HIS WISH. AND SO PYGMALION IN TURN GRANTED HIS IVORY GIRL'S REQUEST. THE TWO WERE UNITED IN MARRIAGE.

HIS BRIDE'S NAME WAS GALATEA, WHICH MEANT "ONE WHO IS MILK-WHITE," NO DOUBT IN RECOGNITION OF THE IVORY'S COLOR.

SHE BORE THE KING TWO CHILDREN, A DAUGHTER & A SON. THEY LIVED A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE TOGETHER.

IN HIS DEVOTION TO APHRODITE, THE SON GREW UP TO BUILD HER THE GREATEST TEMPLE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD, ACKNOWLEDGING THAT HE WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN BORN HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR THE GODDESS.

SITUATED ON THE WESTERN POINT OF THE ISLAND, LOOKING OVER THE SEA, ITS VAST RUINS ARE BEING EXCAVATED EVEN NOW.

THE ACCOUNT OF KING PYGMALION HAS ALMOST ENDLESS PARALLELS IN ART & COUNTLESS IMITATORS. 

THE STORY OF THE STATUE COMING TO LIFE SPREAD THROUGH THE ANCIENT WORLD, AND ARTISTS & WRITERS IN EVERY CENTURY HAVE USED THE TALE FOR INSPIRATION.

YOU MAY REMEMBER THE STORY OF DAEDALUS, THE ARCHITECT AND INVENTOR WHO CREATED THE LABYRINTH ON CRETE TO HOUSE THE MINOTAUR … 

AND THE WINGS HELD TOGETHER BY WAX HE CREATED FOR HIS SON ICARUS? YOU MAY NOT KNOW THAT DAEDALUS  ALSO MADE STATUES THAT COULD TALK. 

THE STORY IS THAT HE USED QUICKSILVER, OR WHAT WE CALL MERCURY, TO INSTALL A VOICE IN THEIR THROATS.

THUS HIS MECHANICAL BEINGS WERE TRANSFORMED INTO CONVERSATIONALISTS, AMAZING THOSE AROUND HIM WHEN THEY HELD DISCUSSIONS WITH NOBILITY.

IN ANOTHER INSTANCE—& AS YOU’VE ALREADY HEARD ON THESE PODCASTS—the olympic god Hephaistos created robots AS LABORERS for his workshops.

the greeks called them autÕmata. some of them were women who helped him at his forge.

OTHERS were bronze helpers of tremendous strength. the largest of these was named talos.

he was created at zeus’ request to protect king minos on the island of Crete. Talos was HUMANOID IN APPEARANCE, BUT WAS, in effect, a massive guard dog, always on the watch.

HE CIRCLED Crete three times a day AT HIGH SPEED ALONG THE SEA’S EDGE, HIS LASER-LIKE EYES  WERE ALWAYS ON THE LOOKOUT FOR invaders. 

if talos saw enemy ships approach, he'd hurl giant rocks at them. THIS WORKED WELL UNTIL THE FAMOUS JASON & THE ARGONAUTS CAME TO CRETE.

ON BOARD THAT SHIP WAS JASON’S LOVER, MEDEA, THE WITCH WHO USED HER MAGIC TO DESTROY THE BRONZE MAN. 

IN THIS ENDEAVOR, SHE HAD BACK-UP FROM TWIN DIVINITIES NAMED THE DIOSKOUROI

BY THE TIME THE BATTLE ENDED, THE ROBOT LAY IN PIECES ON THE BEACH. 

IT'S SAID THAT FOR YEARS AFTERWARD, THE PILE OF BRONZE THAT HAD ONCE BEEN THE MIGHTY TALOS LAY THERE IN THE WAVES & SAND.  

THE STORIES OF LIVING BEINGS CREATED FROM BRONZE, IVORY OR CLAY GO ON & ON.

YOU'VE HEARD OF PANDORA. DO YOU REMEMBER THE STORY OF PANDORA'S BOX? 

SHE WAS A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN WHO CAME INTO THE WORLD BEARING A BOX OR JAR FILLED WITH NIGHTMARES.

PATHOS, PLAGUE AND EVERY OTHER TORMENT TO SULLY LIFE WAS INSIDE. BASICALLY, LIFE FOR MANKIND WAS GOOD UNTIL SHE REMOVED THE TOP.

PANDORA WAS CRAFTED AT ZEUS’S REQUEST BY Hephaistos, THE SAME GOD WHO HAD CREATED THE BRONZE TALOS.

PANDORA’S ORIGIN STORY GOES BACK TO PROMETHEUS, THE TITAN WHO VIOLATED ZEUS' S ORDER NOT TO GIVE MANKIND FIRE.. 

WHEN PROMETHEUS DID SO, ZEUS PUNISHED HIM, & ORDERED Hephaistos TO USE CLAY TO CREATE THE FiRST MORTAL WOMAN. 

THE GREEK WRITER HESIOD EXPLAINS THAT THE CREATION OF WOMAN ENDED THE SO-CALLED GOLDEN ERA ON EARTH. 

PANDORA WAS CREATED TO PUNISH ALL OF MANKIND. AND THUS BEGAN ALL THE ILLS & TRAVAILS OF THE WORLD.

THOUSANDS OF YEARS LATER THE BIBLE USED THE SAME BASIC STORY, BUT SUBSTITUTED THE PERSON OF EVE FOR PANDORA.

BOTH WOMEN TRIGGERED WAVES OF BAD FORTUNE FOR THE MEN WHO ENCOUNTERED THEM.

AS THE 20TH CENTURY ENGLISH POET ROBERT GRAVES NOTES, THE STORY IS NOT JUST A MYTH, BUT AN ANTI-FEMINIST FABLE.

PYGMALION'S GALATEA BROUGHT JOY … PANDORA & EVE TURNED THE STORY UPSIDE-DOWN BY INTRODUCING SUFFERING UPON MANKIND … 


STILL, THE TALES OF PYGMALION-LIKE BEINGS MADE FROM CLAY & METAL GO ON. FOR ANOTHER ANCIENT & DREADFUL STORY WE SHIFT TO SPARTA.

THERE, AROUND 200 B.C., A KING NAMED NABIS INVENTED A TORTURE DEVICE THAT LOOKED AMAZINGLY LIKE HIS WIFE.

HER NAME WAS APEGA, & HE NAMED THE DEVICE "THE IRON APEGA." IT WAS USED TO COLLECT MONEY FROM DELINQUENT CITIZENS.

THOSE WHO FAILED TO PAY THEIR TAXES WERE SENT TO — SUPPOSEDLY — DEAL WITH HIS WIFE.

THEY MET IN A BACK ROOM WITH WHAT APPEARED TO BE THE REAL APEGA. SHE SAT ON A CHAIR WITH HER ARMS OPEN. 

WHEN THE MISCREANTS WENT TO HUG HER, THEIR TOUCH TRIGGERED A SWITCH & HER IRON ARMS CLOSED AROUND THEM.

THE DEVICE'S LIMBS & HANDS, STRONG ENOUGH TO CRUSH A VICTIM, WERE COVERED IN NEEDLE-LIKE NAILS.

FROM A HIDDEN ROOM, NABIS CONTROLLED THE DEVICE, INTENSIFYING THE TORTURE UNTIL HIS VICTIMS EACH AGREED TO PAY A TRIBUTE.

THE KING RULED 15 YEARS & AS YOU CAN IMAGINE, WHEN HIS REIGN ENDED THE DEVICE WAS THROWN OUT WITH THE KING.

THROUGHOUT HISTORY, APHRODITE’S GIFT TO PYGMALION HAS CONTINUED TO ENTHRALL ARTISTS AND WRITERS.

AROUND 1610 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE TOYED WITH THE THEME IN A PLAY CALLED "THE WINTER'S TALE." IN IT THE KING OF SICILY IS GIVEN A STATUE OF HIS DEAD WIFE.

THE KING HAS MOURNED HER FOR MONTHS. HIS FRIENDS WORRY ABOUT HIM. THE SCULPTURE IS EXTREMELY LIFE-LIKE. EVERYONE IS AMAZED AT ITS BEAUTY.

THE KING IS DISTRAUGHT AT THE GIFT AS IT REMINDS HIM TOO MUCH OF HIS LOST WIFE. YET SUDDENLY, AS HE MOURNS, THE STATUE SHOWS SIGNS OF VITALITY.

IN A DRAMATIC, ALMOST COMEDIC FLOURISH, IT STEPS OFF ITS STAND & INTO HIS ARMS ...            OTHER EXAMPLES?

MORE THAN 300 YEARS LATER, ANOTHER ENGLISH PLAYWRIGHT — GEORGE BERNARD SHAW — WROTE A PLAY THAT HE UNBLUSHINGLY CALLED "PYGMALION."

IN IT WE MEET A PROFESSOR OF PHONETICS NAMED HENRY HIGGINS WHO, LIKE KING PYGMALION, IS UNCOMFORTABLE AROUND WOMEN.

A FLOWER GIRL NAMED ELIZA BECOMES THE SURROGATE FOR PYGMALION'S IVORY STATUE. SHE SPEAKS LIKE A GUTTER-SNIPE.

HIGGINS BETS HIS FRIEND COLONEL PICKERING THAT HE CAN TRANSFORM HER IN A MATTER OF MONTHS.

"INTO WHAT?" PICKERING ASKS. "INTO A PRINCESS," HIGGINS REPLIES. "INTO A GIRL WHO WILL FOOL EVEN NOBILITY!" HIGGINS WINS THE BET.

THE PLAY WAS TURNED INTO A POPULAR HOLLYWOOD MOVIE IN THE LATE 1930S, & THEN AGAIN IN 1964 INTO THE WILDLY SUCCESSFUL MUSICAL “MY FAIR LADY.”

… THERE ARE STILL OTHER MODERN VERSIONS OF THIS ANCIENT THEME, SOME WHICH MAY SURPRISE YOU.

THE 2004 CLINT EASTWOOD FILM, "MILLION DOLLAR BABY," TURNS HILARY SWANK INTO A PRIZE FIGHTER.

IN THE 1997 FILM, "ANNIE HALL," WOODY ALLEN ATTEMPTS TO CHANGE ANNIE INTO HIS OWN IMAGE — BUT SHE REFUSES TO COMPLY.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE IS "THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA." IN IT THE PHANTOM PRIVATELY TUTORS AN OBSCURE SINGER, DEMANDING THAT SHE BE GIVEN LEAD ROLES & TURNING HER INTO A STAR.

ANOTHER FILM, "PRETTY WOMAN," ONCE AGAIN FEATURES A MAN WHO BELIEVES HE CAN TRANSFORM A WOMAN.

IN A FINAL EXAMPLE, THERE'S A STRANGE & ENDEARING FILM CALLED "LARS & THE REAL GIRL," IN WHICH AN AUTISTIC MAN HAS A RELATIONSHIP WITH A LIFE-SIZE DOLL.

I HAVEN'T MENTIONED "SLEEPING BEAUTY" OR "CINDERELLA." THESE CHILDREN'S STORIES ARE ALSO ABOUT SUDDEN TRANSFORMATION AT THE HAND OF A MALE.

AS WE'VE SEEN, COUNTLESS STORIES OWE THEIR ORIGIN TO PYGMALION. 

TO A CREATOR, THERE IS NOTHING MORE SATISFYING … OR MAGICAL … THAN SEEING ONE'S CREATION COME TO LIFE.

JOIN ME ... FOR THE NEXT EPISODE OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY. 

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THANKS FOR LISTENING ... THIS IS  YOUR HOST, PATRICK GARNER.