Ovid’s Pygmalion: Crossing the Boundary between Art and Life. One of the most fascinating and influential myths in Ovid’s Metamorphoses is the story told in book 10 about the sculptor Pygmalion who was so disappointed in the failings of the local women that he made his own female statue “and gave to it exquisite beauty, which no woman of the world has ever equalled” (Ovid 10:246-7)…
The moment of transformation, or to use Ovid’s word, metamorphosis, leads Pygmalion to have at least one child with his beloved creature, who responds with adoration to the amorous attentions of her creator. This moment brings about the happy ending that Pygmalion so desires, but it also raises a number of questions about the boundary between art and life, and the nature of the love relationship between men and women. A perceptive study by Alison Sharrock explores the way that Ovid’s story of Pygmalion and his statue provides an ironic commentary on the relationship between men and women in classical times. In her view “Woman perceived is woman as art-object” (Sharrock 36). The artist creates an image of woman, which is then an object of admiration, and even love. From this feminist point of view, there is something demeaning in the way that the woman is treated, since she is not seen as an equal to the male creator figure, but quite literally is admired as a figment of his superior imagination, or an extension of his own self. This shows males as god-like figures, and females as fallible human beings, reflecting the very real social hierarchy that existed in Classical times. Sharrock coins the word “womanufacture” to describe the process of making women into art objects for the enjoyment of men. The perspective of the tale is entirely that of Pygmalion and the character of the statue which comes to life, or even her name, are not revealed, leaving the reader to wonder what she thinks of this turn of events, and whether she ever learns to question the motives or indeed the sanity of her obsessive creator/lover. Another academic study highlights the elements of doubling and incest that this erotic relationship between Pygmalion and the statue contains: “The statue, then, is in Pygmalion’s own likeness, in the sense that it represents his response to the flawed nature of women as they are in nature. It is also his ‘daughter’, in the sense that an artist is the ‘father’ of his creations” (Hardie 10). This article takes a more psychological approach and explores the whole domain of creativity and art, showing how the work of art, whether it be a poem, painting, statue or any other kind of art, always contains a great deal of the creator’s own self. The white ivory is like a blank canvas on which the artist paints his own vision of what it is to be a woman. There is considerable arrogance in Pygmalion’s rejection of real women, in preference for his own created object. Falling in love with one’s own creation is therefore a highly selfish and obsessive trait, which hints at a certain unresolved conflict between men and women in the real world. The story approaches the taboo area of incest since there is very clearly an element of fatherly pride in Pygmalion’s attitude to the statue. A close reading of Ovid’s text highlights further moral undertones in the telling of the story. Pygmalion remains single for many years, because he is disappointed in the moral behavior of ordinary women. This means that he must be an older man at the time of the statue’s creation. His creature is “a perfect virgin” (Ovid 248) and he uses words such as “ ...
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