Greek mythology has two versions of Pygmalion. In one tale, Pygmalion was a Greek king, grandfather to the handsome Adonis. In another, the poet Ovid wrote a tale about a sculptor who created a beautiful statue that he named Galatea, who subsequently came to life. The playwright George Bernard Shaw updated the Pygmalion myth in the 20th century with his play, which was transformed into the hit musical "My Fair Lady."
According to Greek scholar Apollodorus of Athens, Pygmalion was a king, father of Princess Metharme who was the mother of Adonis, god of desire and beauty.
Ovid's "Metamorphoses, Book X"
The Roman poet Ovid wrote a tale of a sculptor named Pygmalion, who carved his dream woman from ivory. He fell in love with his creation, giving it clothing and jewelry and naming her Galatea. One day he visited the temple of Aphrodite (Goddess of Love) to pray for a wife just like his beloved statue. The goddess visited Pygmalion's home and saw the statue bore her own resemblance, so she granted life to Galatea. When Pygmalion returned home, his statue was a live woman. They married and lived happily ever after and had a daughter Paphos, for whom a city on the island of Cyprus is named.
"Pygmalion," a Play by George Bernard Shaw
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw adapted Ovid's depiction of a sculptor creating his dream woman in ivory to the modern scenario of a phonetics professor transforming a young female street urchin into a fashionable woman about town. The focus of Shaw's play, "Pygmalion," which was written in 1912, is more concentrated on society, social manners, linguistics and etiquette, although the transformed urchin becomes an extremely beautiful, elegant young woman who can take her place among the upper class.
"My Fair Lady," a Musical
The next adaptation of the Pygmalion myth was the popular Broadway musical "My Fair Lady," by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, based on Shaw's play. In the stage version, which played from 1956 to 1962, Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) discovers a cheeky and beautiful cockney (London) girl, Eliza Doolittle (Julie Andrews), and takes her to his home, where he transforms her into a lady. He teaches her to speak properly, gives her fashionable clothing and takes her to popular social events. In the 1964 movie, "My Fair Lady," based on the Broadway musical, Professor Higgins (still played by Rex Harrison) and Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) do fall in love, however, they do not achieve the happy ending of Ovid's Galatea, as Professor Higgins eventually settles Eliza in the flower shop business of her dreams.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Pygmalion
- Encyclopedia Mythica: Pygmalion
- Scholastic, Mini-Books: "Carved to Perfection"
- The Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize: George Bernard Shaw, Biographical
- Bartleby: Pygmalion, Bernard Shaw
- Bartleby: Shaw, Bernard, 1856 - 1950
- Kids Britannica: My Fair Lady
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Apollodorus of Athens
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