The Lover of Beauty

Pygmalion was a sculptor, a worker in marble, bronze, and ivory. He was so young and handsome that the girls as they went past his workshop used to look in and admire him, hoping that he would notice them. But Pygmalion was devoted only to his art. People seemed noisy and trivial to him, and ugly too, for he had an image of beauty in his mind which caused him to work over his statues from morning to night, smoothing, re-working, always in search of a loveliness beyond his powers of expression. In truth the statues of Pygmalion were far more beautiful than human beings, and each statue was more nearly perfect than the last. Still in every one Pygmalion felt that there was something lacking. While others would stand entranced before them, he never cared to look on anything he had finished, but was immediately absorbed in the next attempt.

At last, however, he was working on an ivory statue of a girl in which he seemed to have expressed his ideal in every way. Even before it was done, he would lay down the chisel and stare at his work for an hour or so together, tracing in his mind the beauty that was as yet only half unfolded. By the time the statue was nearly finished, Pygmalion could think of nothing else. In his very dreams the statue haunted him. Then she seemed to wake up for him and come alive. The idea gave him exquisite pleasure, and he used to dwell on it. The dreams passed into daydreams until for many days Pygmalion made little progress on his almost-finished statue. He would sit gazing at the maiden, whom he had christened Galatea, and imagining that perhaps he saw her move and the joy it would be if she actually were living. He became pale and exhausted; his dreams wore him out.

At last, the statue was actually finished. The slightest touch of the chisel now would be a change for the worse. Half the night Pygmalion gazed at the beautiful image; then with a hopeless sigh he went to bed, pursued as ever by his dreams. The next day he arose early, for he had something to do. It was the festival of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, to whom Pygmalion, since he was a seeker after beauty, had always felt a special devotion. Never once had he failed to give Aphrodite every possible honor that was due to her. In truth, his whole life was lived in worship of the goddess. There were many splendid gifts being given her, snow white bulls with their horns covered with gold, wine, oil, and incense, embroidered garments, carvings, offerings of gold and ivory. Both rich and poor came in turn to offer their gifts. As he approached the altar, Pygmalion prayed earnestly and saw the fire that burned there leap suddenly in flame. Tense excitement stirred him; he could stay no longer; he must get back to his statue, though he did not quite know what he expected there. Galatea was as he had left her. He looked at her longingly once more, and again as he so often had, he seemed to see her stir. It was only a trick of imagination, he knew, because it had happened many times to him before. Nevertheless, on a sudden impulse, he went over to Galatea and took her in his arms.

The statue really was moving! He felt the hard ivory grow soft and warm like wax in his clasp. He saw the lips grow red and the cheeks blush faintly pink. Unbelieving he took her hand and lifted it. As he pressed it, he felt the fingers gently tighten in his own. Galatea opened her eyes and looked at him. There was understanding in her gaze. The red lips parted slightly, and as Pygmalion kissed them, they pressed against his own. Galatea stepped down from her pedestal into Pygmalion’s arms a living girl. The next day two lovers went to pray at Aphrodite’s shrine, the one thanking her for the gift of life, the other that his dreams and prayers had been answered and his lifelong devotion to the goddess thus rewarded.

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