Galatea, Raphael and Cyberspace

Galatea 2.2 Richard PowersThe dust jacket of my copy of Richard Powers’ fictional journey into cyberspace, Galatea 2.2, has the painting of a young woman by renaissance master Rafael; called La fornarina, the painting is a likeness of Raphael’s mistress.

Judging a book by its cover can lead to unusual or strange conclusions. At the right of La fornarina is a partially digitized mirror image of the same painting. I immediately think of a computer-processed reflection of a classic work of art. Maybe Galatea 2.2 is a Photoshop-like program for copying art. But, no, Galatea 2.2 refers to a different type of program; an Artificial Intelligence based on neural networks. This Galatea lives in cyberspace and communicates with the real world via printer, computer voice box and computer screen.

Apparently the rightmost image is a representation of the AI Galatea 2.2 only partially programmed, but already taking a classical shape and form. This, of course, would be incorrect because Galatea 2.2’s neural network is being trained to pass a literature PhD exam by the humanist in residence at an Advanced Study Center in a large Midwest college (U. of Illinois in Urbana). Galatea 2.2, if she resembles anyone, will not resemble a classic beauty, but her educator, RGP, where RPG is none other than a fictionalized version of the author himself. This is all pretty convoluted and confusing, but fully in the mode of cyberspace literature.

Galatea appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses as a sea-nymph in love with Acis the spirit of the Italian river Acis. A jealous suitor, the Cyclops Polyphemus kills Acis and in her grief Galatea turns the river Acis red with blood.  Raphael painted this story of Galatea. The Galatea most familiar to modern readers is not this classic but that of the Pygmalion story.

In Greek mythology, Galatea, Greek for ‘she who is milk-white‘, is an ivory statue carved by Pygmalion of Cyprus. Because of Pygmalion’s love and a gift from the goddess of love, Aphrodite, the statue comes to life and Galatea and Pygmalion marry. Like the Galatea and Acis story, Pygmalion’s story is retold in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Pygmalion was made popular by Shaw’s play of that name, which later became a broadway musical and hit motion picture.

It seems to me that the Pygmalion version of Galatea is the proper metaphor for the Powers’ novel Galatea 2.2, but I still like this cover.

Day 9: After Ovid (Ed. Hofmann and Lasdun) (1994). Pygmalion and Galatea, p. 237; Acis, Galatea, and Polyphemus, p. 274.

About carto

Retired software engineer who grew up in Montana, went to Montana State College in Bozeman, and moved to California to work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Carto's Logbook is about photography, travel and adventure; Mt. Maurice Times is tall tales mostly biographical; Carto's Library is about books I've read and liked.
This entry was posted in Classics, Poetry, Speculative Fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Galatea, Raphael and Cyberspace

  1. Pingback: Galatea raphael | Marcellofounda

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