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Definition: Pygmalion from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In Greek mythology, a king of Cyprus who fell in love with an ivory statue he had carved. When Aphrodite breathed life into it, he married the woman and named her Galatea. Their children were Paphos and Metharme.


Summary Article: Pygmalion
from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

In Greek legend, a sculptor and king of Cyprus. According to Ovid's Metamorphoses (1st century ad) he fell in love with his own ivory statue of his own ideal woman. At his earnest prayer the goddess APHRODITE gave life to the statue and he married it. The story is found in John Marston's Metamorphosis of Pygmalion's Image (1598). William Morris retold it in The Earthly Paradise (August) (1868-70), and W.S. Gilbert adapted it in his comedy of Pygmalion and Galatea (1871), in which the sculptor is a married man. His wife, Cynisca, is jealous of the animated statue (Galatea), which, after considerable trouble, voluntarily returns to its original state. The name was used figuratively by George Bernard Shaw for a play produced in 1912, from which the popular musical My Fair Lady (1956; film 1964) was derived. Pygmalion's story is recast as a campaign conducted by a phonetician, Professor Henry Higgins, to transform a roughly spoken COCKNEY flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into a sophisticated society lady. The original play was filmed in 1938, with Leslie Howard as Higgins and Wendy Hiller as Eliza. The inclusion of the expletive ‘bloody’ in the script, the first time it had been heard on the English stage, caused a sensation, and for some years afterwards the title of the play was used as a euphemism for ‘bloody’.

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2012

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