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Go Figure! (-Galatea)

This week in “Go Figure!” I have selected a figurehead with a little bit of history and mythology! As far as her background, we have two versions of her history but for the most part we have a good idea about where she came from. In terms of mythology, there is also two versions of the story that she is associated with and I will share both.

Captain Yngve Eiserman told “The Cape Argus,” Cape Town Africa that she came from a clipper ship Galatea. She was originally an American ship but then was bought by Germans. In 1882, she was battered in a storm and was taken to Cape Town for repairs. From here, the damages were too expensive to fix and the ship was condemned. The figurehead we have today was saved by a Mr. Stevens and was then purchased by Charles Bleach. Bleach displayed the sea nymph figurehead at a hotel until it was moved to the South Africa Museum for safe keeping.

Figurehead of Galatea, sea nymph.

The figurehead was featured in “American Clipper Ship,” and this story presents a different version of Galatea’s history. It says she was built in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1854 for W. F. Weld and Co. of Boston. The article mentions nothing about the fate of the vessel or the story recounted by Eiserman. While we have these two stories, it is now a matter of filling in the holes of the two.

Since Galatea came from Greek mythology, I wanted to also share the myths surrounding the nymph. There are two versions of her myth and they are very different.

The first myth is based around Pygmalion and the statue featured in the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. The story says that King Pygmalion created a white ivory statue and fell in love with his creation. The goddess of love, Aphrodite, brought her to life and the two married and lived happily ever after.

Sculpture of Galatea and Pygmalion, can be seen in Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore

The second myth does not have a happy ending. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Acis, spirit of the Acis River in Sicily fell in love with the sea nymph Galatea. She fell in love with him in return but her jealous suitor, Polyphemus, was not happy with this romance. Polyphemus, a cyclops and son of Poseidon, killed Acis with a boulder in a jealous rage. As a result, Galatea turned his blood into the Acis river. Within this myth there are two still two different variations. The first says that Galatea simply rejected Polyphemus right off the bat, but the other says that she entertained the idea just because he was the son to Poseidon. I believe that our figurehead was modeled based on the second myth with Polyphemus since in this one she is a sea nymph (sea nymph and clipper ship seem to make more sense than statue and clipper ship, no?)

I really enjoy working with figureheads with interesting back stories and histories to share with you all!

For more information check out these websites!

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