Galatea (mythology)

Galatea (/ˌɡæləˈtiːə/; Greek: Γαλάτεια; "she who is milk-white")[1] is a name popularly applied to the statue carved of ivory by Pygmalion of Cyprus, which then came to life in Greek mythology. In modern English the name usually alludes to that story.

Galatea is also the name of Polyphemus's object of desire in Theocritus's Idylls VI and XI and is linked with Polyphemus again in the myth of Acis and Galatea in Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Falconet - Pygmalion & Galatee (1763)-black bg
Falconet's 1763 sculpture (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)


Though the name "Galatea" has become so firmly associated with Pygmalion's statue as to seem antique, its use in connection with Pygmalion originated with a post-classical writer. No extant ancient text mentions the statue's name,[2] although Pausanias mentions a statue of Calm, Galene (γαλήνης).[3] As late as 1763, a sculpture of the subject shown by Falconet at the Paris Salon (illustration) carried the title Pygmalion aux pieds de sa statue qui s'anime ("Pygmalion at the feet of his statue that comes to life"). That sculpture, currently at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, now bears the expected modern title Pygmalion and Galatea. According to Meyer Reinhold, the name "Galatea" was first given wide circulation in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's scène lyrique of 1762, Pygmalion. The name had become a commonplace of pastoral fictions, because of the well known myth of Acis and Galatea; one of Honoré d'Urfé's characters in L'Astrée was a Galatea, though not this sculptural creation.


The story of Pygmalion appeared earliest in a Hellenistic work, Philostephanus' history of Cyprus, "De Cypro".[4] It is retold in Ovid's Metamorphoses,[5] where the king Pygmalion is made into a sculptor who fell in love with an ivory statue he had crafted with his own hands. In answer to his prayers, the goddess Aphrodite brought it to life and united the couple in marriage. This novella remained the classical telling until the end of the seventeenth century. The trope of the animated statue gained a vogue during the eighteenth century.[6]

The daemon of Pygmalion's goddess, animating her cult image, bore him a daughter Paphus—the eponym of the city of Paphos—and Metharme. Of "this ecstatic relationship," Meyer Reinhold has remarked, "there may be lurking a survival of the ancient cult of the Great Goddess and her consort."[7]

Cinyras, perhaps the son of Paphus,[8] or perhaps the successful suitor of Metharme, founded the city of Paphos on Cyprus, under the patronage of Aphrodite, and built the great temple to the goddess there.

Bibliotheke, the Hellenistic compendium of myth long attributed to Apollodorus, mentions a daughter of Pygmalion named Metharme.[9] She was the wife of Cinyras, and the mother of Adonis, beloved of Aphrodite, although Myrrha, daughter of Cinyras, is more commonly named as the mother of Adonis.

It was commonly rumored in Roman times that Praxiteles's cult image of Aphrodite of Knidos, in Aphrodite's temple, was so beautiful that at least one admirer arranged to be shut in with it overnight.[10]


The myth indicates that a cult image of Aphrodite was instrumental in some way in the founding myth of Paphos. It also seems axiomatic, apart from miraculous intervention, that the living representative of a cult image could be none but the chief priestess. Robert Graves gives a socio-political interpretation of the story, as a mythologized overthrow of a matrilineal cult. In his view Pygmalion, the consort of the goddess's priestess at Paphos, kept the cult image of Aphrodite as a means of retaining power during his term, after which, Graves speculates, he refused to give up the goddess's image "and that he prolonged this by marriage with another of Aphrodite's priestesses—technically his daughter, since she was heiress to the throne—who is called Metharme ("change"), to mark the innovation."[11]

Pygmalion is the Greek version of the Phoenician royal name Pumayyaton: see Pygmalion of Tyre.

See also

Galatea is a dairy farming community in Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

Notes and references

  1. ^ Galene in the Smith Classics Dictionary Archived 2007-10-13 at the Wayback Machine. The suffix -teia or -theia means "goddess", as in other Nereid names: Amatheia, Psamathe, Leukotheia, Pasitheia, etc. Hesiod has both a Galene ("Calm-Sea") and a Galateia named as Nereids. Galateia as "sea-calm Goddess" seem a likely inference; the reasoning for Galateia as Milky-White comes from the adjectival form of galaktos, galakteia.
  2. ^ Helen H. Law, "The name Galatea in the Pygmalion myth", The Classical Journal, 27 (1932), pp 337-42; Meyer Reinhold, "The Naming of Pygmalion's Animated Statue" The Classical Journal 66.4 (1971), pp. 316-319: Reinhold notes that the first edition of Lemprière's Bibliotheca classica, 1788, does not have an entry for "Galatea", which was inserted in later editions.
  3. ^ Pausanias Description of Greece 2.1.9
  4. ^ Reinhold 1971:316.
  5. ^ Metamorphoses x.243ff.
  6. ^ J.L. Carr, "Pygmalion and the philosophes: the animated statue in eighteenth-century France" Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 23 (1960), pp 239-55.
  7. ^ Reinhold, eo. loc..
  8. ^ According to the Roman Hyginus, Fabula 142, Cinyras was a son of Paphus, thus legitimate in the patrineal manner, but Bibliotheke makes Cinyras an interloper, arriving with some of his people from Syria on the nearest coast of Asia, thus a suitor from outside, in the matrilineal manner; the conflict is instructive.
  9. ^ Bibliotheke, iii.14.3.
  10. ^ Recorded in the second-century dialogue Erotes that is traditionally misattributed to Lucian of Samosata.
  11. ^ Graves, Robert (1960). The Greek Myths. p. 64.1. ISBN 0-14-017199-1.

External links

Acis and Galatea

Acis and Galatea is a story from Greek mythology that originally appeared in Ovid's Metamorphoses. The story tells of the love between the mortal Acis and the Nereid (sea-nymph) Galatea; when the jealous Cyclops Polyphemus kills Acis, Galatea transforms her lover into an immortal river spirit. The episode was made the subject of poems, operas, paintings, and statues in the Renaissance and after.

Acis and Galatea (Handel)

Acis and Galatea (HWV 49) is a musical work by George Frideric Handel with an English text by John Gay. The work has been variously described as a serenata, a masque, a pastoral or pastoral opera, a "little opera" (in a letter by the composer while it was being written), an entertainment and by the New Grove Dictionary of Music as an oratorio. The work was originally devised as a one-act masque which premiered in 1718.

Handel later adapted the piece into a three-act serenata for the Italian opera troupe in London in 1732, which incorporated a number of songs (still in Italian) from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, his 1708 setting of the same story to different music. He later adapted the original English work into a two-act work in 1739.

Acis and Galatea was the pinnacle of pastoral opera in England. Indeed, several writers, such as musicologist Stanley Sadie, consider it the greatest pastoral opera ever composed. As is typical of the genre, Acis and Galatea was written as a courtly entertainment about the simplicity of rural life and contains a significant amount of wit and self-parody. The secondary characters, Polyphemus and Damon, provide a significant amount of humor without diminishing the pathos of the tragedy of the primary characters, Acis and Galatea. The music of the first act is both elegant and sensual, while the final act takes on a more melancholy and plaintive tone. The opera was significantly influenced by the pastoral operas presented at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane during the early 18th century. Reinhard Keiser and Henry Purcell also served as influences, but overall the conception and execution of the work is wholly individual to Handel.

Acis and Galatea was by far Handel's most popular dramatic work and is his only stage work never to have left the opera repertory. The opera has been adapted numerous times since its premiere, with a notable arrangement being made by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1788. Handel never gave the work in the form in which it is generally heard today, since it contains music which, while by Handel, was never added by him.

Galatea 2.2

Galatea 2.2 is a 1995 pseudo-autobiographical novel by American writer Richard Powers and a contemporary reworking of the Pygmalion myth. The book's narrator shares the same name as Powers, with the book referencing events and books in the author's life while mentioning other events that may or may not be based upon Powers' life.


In Jewish folklore, a golem ( GOH-ləm; Hebrew: גולם‎) is an animated anthropomorphic being that is magically created entirely from inanimate matter (usually clay or mud). The word was used to mean an amorphous, unformed material in Psalms and medieval writing.The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague. There are many tales differing on how the golem was brought to life and afterward controlled. According to Moment Magazine, "the golem is a highly mutable metaphor with seemingly limitless symbolism. It can be victim or villain, Jew or non-Jew, man or woman—or sometimes both. Over the centuries it has been used to connote war, community, isolation, hope and despair."

List of works by James Pradier

James Pradier, (born Jean-Jacques Pradier, pronounced [pʁadje]; 23 May 1790 – 4 June 1852), was a Swiss-born French sculptor best known for his work in the neoclassical style.

Pygmalion and the Image series

Pygmalion and the Image is the second series of four oil paintings in the Pygmalion and Galatea series by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones which was completed between 1875 and 1878. The two collections may be seen below, in the Gallery, the first being now owned by Lord Lloyd Webber, and the second housed at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. This article deals with an appraisal of the second series.

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