Pygmalion: The Power of the Artist in Metamorphoses
Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a work about transience, and perhaps no two things in the natural world are more fleeting than life and beauty. Artists aim to preserve these two qualities in their work by simultaneously imitating the natural world to give the appearance of life to static creations and also looking to transcend and outlast nature’s beauty. Within the Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the story of such an artist, Pygmalion, whose statue blurs the boundaries between art and nature. The tale of Pygmalion demonstrates that the artist, paradoxically both an imitator and an innovator, assumes the unique role of mediator between nature and art.
Initially, Pygmalion’s attitude implies he has created the perfect woman, thereby rejecting nature’s imperfection. After witnessing the Propoetides, the first women to become prostitutes, and whose shamelessness hardens them into stone, he chooses to “have no woman in his bed” (Metamorphoses X:247). His vow subtly accuses nature of blundering when it bestows vices “only too often” on real females, forcing Pygmalion to find a better alternative (10:246). After witnessing prostitutes turning into stone, Pygmalion performs the reverse: he sculpts an ivory statue to be his perfectly chaste...
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