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Overflowing Bodies and A Pandora of Ivory

Catalina Popescu


This paper is concerned with the artistic and sexual embodiment of Galatea in Ovid's Metamorphoses (10.243–97) and involves an ancient medical perspective over the myth of Pygmalion. In his work, Bauer (1962) argued that in the Ovidian corpus, infusion with humours or loss of humidity is strongly related to the fluctuations of feminine feelings and emotions (e.g. Galatea's body humidified by love and Echo's petrifaction caused by excessive love). Using these arguments, as well as McKinley's work (2001) and Land's studies (2012) on humours in Aristotle's De anima, this chapter argues that Galatea's conception represents a new type of fluid infusion opposed to previous models. While Ovid admires the first "god" who fashioned the original beings from earth, he also shows that the post-deluge conception of humans involved a faulty version of the first Genesis, from the same fossilized ingredients (soil, earthly "veins" and water, 1.409-10). Pygmalion, too, indirectly criticizes the products of this creation when he despises womankind (10.243-7) and in particular the Propoetides who could no longer blush, because they "hardened" their blood through excessive sexuality (10.240-2).

Women were usually seen as leaky and cold and as a result, promiscuous and insatiable (Land (2012) 370 on Aristotle). Nevertheless, Pygmalion avoids these pitfalls in constructing his maiden from ivory. While "all-gifted" and similar in origin to Hesiod's Pandora, Pygmalion's creation is flawless due to the absence of the damp and humid principles characterizing other females (including the animated doll of Works and Days). Unlike the existing female kind, Galatea's body does not corrupt any of the humours of her lover. Her nature does not allow loss of fluids, but permanently incorporates her creator's superior humours, in the very embrace of true love. In her case, real blood (X. 280-293) substitutes from the beginning any inferior watery serum used in the conception of Pandora. Thus, the defects of the wet, leaky, and promiscuous life forms are corrected through this dry creature that does not waste the seed of her creator. 

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