First Love

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Book X. 243-253 (Pygmalion).

Pygmalion saw women misbehave all the time
and was so appalled by their vices–nature gave
the female soul so many–he lived without a wife,
a bachelor, his bed long without a partner.

All the while, with amazing skill he sculpted
some white ivory, and he gave it a shape
no woman could be born with. And then
he fell in love with his own creation.

A real woman’s face! You’d think she were alive
and, if not for reserve, desired arousal.
That’s how much art his art contains.
Pygmalion marvels. His heart revels
in the heat of a make-believe body.

Quas quia Pygmalion aevum per crimen agentes
viderat, offensus vitiis, quae plurima menti
femineae natura dedit, sine coniuge caelebs
vivebat thalamique diu consorte carebat.
Interea niveum mira feliciter arte
sculpsit ebur formamque dedit, qua femina nasci
nulla potest: operisque sui concepit amorem.
Virginis est verae facies, quam vivere credas,
et, si non obstet reverentia, velle moveri:
ars adeo latet arte sua. Miratur et haurit
pectore Pygmalion simulati corporis ignes.

rough drawing of an artist sculpting a woman from snow
Francisco de Goya, “Pygmalion and Galatea” c. 1815

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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