Android’s Dream: Pygmalion's Statue

Posted by CB Droege

Throughout the long history of fiction, androids and gynoids - artificial men and women - have been a common element. When included as tertiary characters they are often symbols for "the other."

When treated as protagonists, they fill the tale with themes of the roles and definitions of humanity. Thus, this series is taking a close look at these artificial people. Today we’re looking at Pygmalion's Statue.

Pygmalion and his statue are the central figures in an ancient Greek founding myth.

The myth explained how the rulers of Paphos came by their divine right to rule the city-state. The statue isn’t given a name in the classical era tales. It is only much later that the name Galetea is given to the statue, due to a small mistranslation in the text (the greek word “galatea” simply meant "she-who-is-white-as-milk," and was originally a description of the statue, not a name.

However, most more recent tellings of the tale use that name for her.

Pygmalion was a devout worshiper of Venus living in Cyprus. He worshiped fervently, but it seemed that among Cypriots, he was the only true reverent. He watched as the city went into decline, especially around Venus’s temple. In her anger, Venus took revenge on Cyprus by turning all of the women into prostitutes.

This upset Pygmalion, who now became totally turned off of women, having no interest in wedding a prostitute. He was disappointed, and he was angry, but he still did not curse Venus. 

Venus saw this, and took pity on Pygmalion, and being a goddess of love, she solved the problem the only way she knew. She gave Pygmalion love. She didn’t want him to love any of the prostitutes however, so she did what she seems to have thought was the next best thing, and had him fall madly in love with a statue of her.

The earliest versions of the story don’t discuss how Pymalion came by the statue, and so it was left to later authors to invent this detail. Some claimed that he took the statue from the temple, and brought it to his home after he fell in love, but more popular was the idea that he carved the statue himself out of reverence to Venus, some time before she made him love it.

Either way, she saw that he now had love in his life, and so she felt her job done, and left it at that. Pygmalion however was not satisfied. He prayed every day for Venus to turn the statue into a real woman, and allow him to love her properly.

Eventually, Venus relents, and sends a part of herself into the statue, causing it to awaken, and return Pygmalion’s affection. The statue was a skilled love-maker, and thus Pygmalion lived the rest of his days a happy man.

The founding myth comes into it with Pygmalion’s son, who was born to the statue not long after she was animated. Many of the founding myths worked this way: giving some explanation for how a mortal man was born half-god. The son, Paphos went on to found a city in his own name.

That’s it really, the main point of the tale is to get Paphos on the scene; to explain why his descendants have the blood of a goddess in them - and thus have a right to rule the city-state.

The statue however became an important trope in Western storytelling. "Galatea figure" is a literary term which we use to describe any artificial person whom someone else wishes into life. The later "Pinocchio figure" is a twist on the trope, in which the thing has sentience first, and then wishes itself into life.

Interestingly, while almost all Pinocchio figures are androids (and usually innocent, if not young), almost all Galatea figures are gynoids (and usually very talented or inexplicably experienced and wise, especially in love-making). 

Check back tomorrow, when our featured artificial persons will be the replicants. If you have an idea for an android or gynoid we could feature, let us know in the comments.