The Pygmalion myth in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and William Schwenk Gilbert’s “Pygmalion and Galatea”

Keywords: metaphor, mythologization and demythologization, animation and petrification, Pygmalion and Galatea, Ovid, William Schwenk Gilbert


This article examines the ambivalent nature of the Pygmalion myth in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and William Schwenk Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea (1870). The versions of the myth in Ovid and Gilbert are regarded as attempts at demythologization, which paradoxically introduce their own mythology. The author argues that the myth serves as both a reality and an illusion for the protagonists, blurring the lines sbetween critical knowledge and mythological worldview. Drawing on conceptual metaphor theory, the author suggests that the Pygmalion myth can be regarded as an allegory within the cognitive paradigm of embodied realism, and the unconscious metaphor behind the myth presents the metamorphosis as rationally explainable yet resistant to critical thinking. The article delves into Pygmalion’s mythical consciousness, highlighting his self-deception and the dialectic between animation and petrification. In Ovid, Pygmalion’s mastery achieves a perfect delusion. He believes in the possibility of animating his statue because it is so life-like. The original story – as we know it from Ovid’s Metamorphoses – treads the line between a miracle and self-delusion. After Ovid, its nature has remained ambivalent over the centuries. Gilbert demythologizes the myth by allowing it to become authentic reality. Pygmalion’s dream is realized to reveal its paradoxical consequences, which change the phantasmagoria of animation into a waking nightmare. The dialectic of the myth is realized through legitimating the magical act of creation and challenging its ramifications. Animation is possible in its initial stage, but the education and socialization of Galatea seemingly fail. The only way out of this predicament appears to be the reverse act of petrification. Pygmalion’s illusion has to come full circle in order to restore the balance. The article concludes that the understanding of the Pygmalion myth requires balancing between mythologizing and demythologizing, knowing and not-knowing.


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Author Biography

Pavlo Shopin, Mykhailo Drahomanov State University of Ukraine

Doctor of Philosophy, Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Linguistics, Comparative Language Studies and Translation


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How to Cite
Shopin, P. (2023). The Pygmalion myth in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and William Schwenk Gilbert’s “Pygmalion and Galatea”. The Journal of V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University. Series “Philology”, (93), 57-63.