The Story of Pygmalion and the Statue
The poem “The Story of Pygmalion and the Statue” was originally written in Greek by Ovid, and is found in Book Ten of his work, Metamorphoses. It was translated into English in 1713, and this translation employs techniques to appeal to the readers of the day, and reveals their views on a variety of topics, including obsession and narcissism. Pygmalion, a sculptor, shunned all women for their frivolity, instead turning to his art. He created a sculpture out of ivory of a woman so perfect that he grew to love her, and wished for his ‘ivory virgin’ to be real. The goddess granted his secret desire, and blessed the couple with a son.
The readership of the poem would have consisted predominately of eighteenth century upper class males, so the poem is, in many parts, structured to interest this group of individuals. The eighteenth century gentleman would have identified with the line “Well pleas’d to want a consort of his bed”, as a mistress was the only thing that was not provided instantly for them. Pygmalion, a man who is able to function without this, would have been held in high esteem by the reader, and perhaps would have inspired them to follow his example in being independent.
The line, “Yet fearing idleness, the nurse of ill”, shows the society of the time’s attitude towards inactivity, in that it is, or leads to, a sickness. This metaphor relates to the saying, ‘idle hands are the devil’s playthings’, which would have been the view of the community at the time of the translation. Another quote that shows the opinion of the people of the eighteenth century is “the pow’rful bribes of love”, indicating that love could be bought. In 1713, this would not have been an oxymoron, as many married someone to gain their wealth, making this statement ring true to the eighteenth century reader.
The poet also refers to the birth of Pygmalion and the statue’s child, as a way that...