What is the Symbolism Of Pygmalion and Galatea?

What is the symbolism of Pygmalion and Galatea? As we walked around a quaint souvenir shop in Wytheville, VA, called Wilderness Road World Trading, I found myself gazing at some of the statues for minutes. Dancers looked like they had frozen into their position a moment before I glanced at them. Faces looked so real that it seemed they could raise their eyes back at you any moment. They made me think of Pygmalion and Galatea.

The story of Pygmalion is really simple but deep. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved. The statue was so perfect that he wanted it to come alive. He prayed to Aphrodite and asked her to make the statue come alive. Aphrodite granted his wish.

Michelangelo said,

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

Every artist understands Pygmalion’s feelings. When you pour your soul into something you make, you want it to come alive and have a life of its own. You want it to be separate from you. You look at the work of your hands, you love it, and you want it to be free.

Love, by its nature, wants to free its object. Separation is a necessary overflow of love. Love diversifies. And yet, deep down it knows that the more separate you are from the one you love, the more you are one with the one you love. This is a chief paradox of love. You want the object of your love to be free, separate, and yet, it does not lead to division. It leads to unity.

Divisions are always the result of forced, contrived unity. The devil forces unity to divide. God diversifies to unite. The devil erases all differences and causes splits. God creates distinctions and causes unity. Pygmalion wanted Galatea to have a life of her own so he could love her. It’s the only thing love can do. Love must free its object. Hate must swallow its object — consume it into itself.

Love is by its nature trinitarian. The Three Divine Persons are totally separate from each other and yet, totally one. Every Person of the Trinity wants the Other to be as Other as possible, and yet, the more “other” they are, the more one they become. They are totally free from each other and yet, inextricably bound.

If you love something you make, you want it to exist separately from you. Pygmalion freed Galatea from the stone slab so she could love him back. True love feels the trinitarian dance between separation and unity. It is after harmony. It won’t settle for less.