Pygmalion the Apprentice

(Scene: the master’s studio.)

(Pygmalion and two other apprentices are working on sculptures at varying levels of completeness when the master enters the room.)

Pygmalion?

Yes, master?

Let’s take a walk. I need to talk to you about your statues.

Is there a problem with my technique, sir?

Not with your technique, exactly. But I do have a few pointers. Come on, let’s go get some fresh air.

(They walk outside. As soon as the door closes behind him, one of the remaining apprentices mimes putting his head into a noose. The other apprentice breaks out in laughter.)

You’ve been working as my apprentice for… how long, Pygmalion?

Just over five years, sir.

And you’ve learned a lot in that time.

Oh, yes sir! When I first came to you I could hardly smooth a surface, but now I’m amazed what effects I can get out of a piece of marble. Fine details of the hair, subtle musculature in facial expressions, and even the look of a veiled face! In just a few years I’m sure —

In a few more years maybe you’ll even learn a little humility.

It’s not impossible, sir.

Let’s hope it’s not impossible. Anyway, I didn’t ask you to come out here to critique your moral qualities — although we both know I could do that for a long, long, LONG time.

Morality is an ancient superstition that must be overcome, sir.

Of course it is, Pygmalion… and anyway, I won’t deny that, on a technical level, you’re the most gifted of my apprentices.

(Pygmalion visibly SWELLS with pleasure.)

That being said… tell me, what have I had you working on for the studio lately?

Oh, detail work on some of your bigger projects — I did the wings and antennae of the butterflies in your Cupid and Psyche sculpture only last week! Then the horns of the Minotaur —

Pygmalion…

Yes, master?

What have I had you working on lately… on an everyday basis and for the most part? Independent work, Pygmalion. Not your contributions on the big studio projects.

Oh… well, in that case, it’s mostly been small statues of Aphrodite customers commission for their own household use.

That’s the answer I was looking for. Now, about these Aphrodite sculptures…

(Pygmalion grins a little too widely.)

Is there a problem with the sculptures, master?

When it comes to technical performance… no. When it comes to your treatment of the subject matter… let’s just say I’ve had more than a few customers send their commissions back for modifications after delivery.

Well, you know how unreasonable customers can be sometimes. They’re picky people, especially —

Pygmalion…

Yes, master?

I happen to strongly agree with these customers. Your take on the subject was not at all appropriate.

How so, sir?

Well, let’s see… there’s the one they sent back because you’d depicted the goddess with a maniacal grin, brandishing an enormous pair of very sharp scissors.

The marble simply demanded that treatment, master.

Then there was the one where you had Aphrodite holding a broadsword in one hand and a bleeding pair of testicles in the other.

I felt it captured something essential to the goddess’s essence, sir.

Then the one… let me see if I remember this right. You showed the goddess standing next to a tree with a chainsaw, carving the words KILL ALL MEN into the bark. Is that right?

May have gone a bridge too far on that one, I’ll admit…

Anyway… it’s come to my attention there’s a certain pattern in your depictions of the goddess Aphrodite, and if you keep it up people might start to get the idea my studio isn’t exactly favorable to the goddess, if you take my meaning.

Well, let’s be honest, sir: what man alive doesn’t have a bone to pick with Aphrodite?

See, Pygmalion: that’s exactly the kind of thing —

No, don’t you get it, sir? A bone to pick with Aphrodite. A. BONE!

(The master puts his fingers to his temples and massages them, eyes closed.)

Pygmalion… do you at least see why customers might look at your sculptures and think my studio doesn’t have a great relationship with the goddess?

(Pygmalion stares at the ground for a long time, emitting a high-pitched whistle. He does this for long enough that the master wonders if he’s heard the question, and almost repeats it just to make sure. But then Pygmalion speaks.)

Yes, master, I can understand that.

Good, Pygmalion. Good. Now, listen, son… I was a young man once, too, and there have been times in my life when I would have wanted to depict Aphrodite as an insane castrating bitch. Every man goes through those times.

But it’s just so —

But Pygmalion, you’re not doing yourself any favors by treating the goddess that way. She can be cruel, but she can also be incredibly kind. I don’t know anything about your private life. I can only imagine what you must have gone through to feel the need to make those sculptures the way you did. But can you see how you’re only hurting yourself — and my business — by focusing only on that aspect of the goddess?

But you don’t know what I’ve been through! She’s hurt me so much and she’s been so cruel. When she doesn’t leave me all alone, she suffocates me. Don’t I have a right to be angry? Don’t I have a right to hurt her as much as she hurt me?

Speaking man to man, Pygmalion: let it go. Let yourself love the goddess the way you did before you got hurt. Learn from the past, but don’t let it embitter you. Carry that bitterness in your heart and you’ll only find more reasons to be bitter.

That doesn’t sound easy, sir.

It’s not easy. But it’s a hell of a lot easier than carrying that resentment with you all your life. And anyway, I have something that’ll make it easier for you.

What’s that, sir?

Start making your Aphrodite sculptures the way you know you’re supposed to, or you’re fired! Got it?

Yes, sir.

Good. You have a lot of potential, Pygmalion. Make sure you live up to it.

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