In Greek mythology Galatea was one of the Nereids, one of the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris. A shepherd named Acis and a Cyclops named Polyphemus both fell in love with her, but she returned the love of Acis only. Polyphemus came upon them in the woods, and in a fit of rage killed Acis (in the traditional cyclopean manner -- he threw stones after him as he was swimming out to sea). From his blood, Galatea made the river Acis.

In yet another Greek myth, Galatea was a statue made by Pygmalion. He attempted to sculpt his ideal woman, and did such a good job, that he fell in love with the statue. The Goddess Aphrodite took pity on him and brought the statue to life. This is of course, the basis of the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, later to be made in to the musical My Fair Lady.

Galatea is also the name of the irregularly-shaped fourth moon of Neptune, discovered by Voyager 2 in 1989.

Equatorial radius .............. 79 km
Diameter ....................... 180 km
Mean distance from Neptune ..... 61,950 km
Orbital period ................. 0.428745 days
Mean orbital velocity .......... 10.52 km/s
Orbital inclination ............ 0.05 degrees
Orbital eccentricity ........... 0.0001
Visual geometric albedo ........ 0.06
Visual magnitude from earth .... 22.3
Mass, mean density, and rotational period are unknown.

The moons of Neptune are Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Galatea, Larissa, Proteus, Triton, and Nereid.

Galatea is a piece of Interactive Fiction (IF) written by Emily Short. It caused quite a stir when it came out in 2000, since it featured what was at the time, and arguably still is, the most believable non-player character (NPC) ever found in IF.

The "plot" of the piece, in so far as it exists, is very simple. You, an art critic, are at some future AI art show (where the exhibits are artificial intelligences), and you meet Galatea, one of the exhibits, and talk to her. That's it. This is no adventure game, this is a conversation simulator. And it does a bloody good job. You talk to Galatea using the standard ask/tell system - that is, you type >ask Galatea about {subject}, or >tell Galatea about {subject}, and she responds appropriately. Now, this is how NPCs have been implemented since the dawn of IF - but until Galatea, they were always very rudimentary. They tended to use a simple database look-up mechanism - you ask about {topic}, they look up {topic} in their database, and spew out the associated text. That's all very well, and in some special cases it can lead to OKish NPCs, but this can never feel like a real conversation. So why not, exactly? Well, one crucial thing Emily Short realised was missing was any form of context dependence. There was never a sense of having a properly threaded conversation, where one step led naturally on to the next, and this made it all too easy to treat them as what they were - simple databases.

Galatea isn't like that. If you start to talk about, say, her history, and then in the middle of the conversation while it clearly hasn't yet dried up you switch to talking about God, or her hair, or something similarly irrelevant - then she will notice, and she will comment. This may sound like a simple trick, but it is hugely effective, and it quickly gets you into a frame of mind where you actually try to converse naturally with her, guiding the thread of conversation gently where you want it to go rather than skipping about to whatever takes your fancy.

And this combines with a whole host of other innovations. She has a well developed emotional model. She starts off cold and reticent, but subsequently warms and cools to you according to what you say and how you treat her. And after a while, you will feel genuinely sorry if you say the wrong thing and upset her. Also, she reacts to a far wider range of actions than just conversation. In particular, in a very nice touch indeed, she reacts to lulls in the conversation. Just like in reality, often you'll run out of things to say, and start looking around the room, or examining random objects instead. Well, often when this happens she'll fill in the gap with something - perhaps relevant to the dying conversation, or perhaps to what you were looking at, or else just whatever is on her mind (a phrase which will quickly become more natural to use as you get to know her better).

All these things, along with the often brilliant writing of what you and she say, and the intriguing nature of the stories she has to tell, make Galatea the closest I've seen to being able to pass (an admittedly constrained, non-natural-language version of) the Turing test. She is a most fantastic creation, and I advise you to go meet her.


Legends mention two persons of this name, the etymology of which is derived from the Greek words meaning 'the whiteness of milk' (γαλα).

  1. The first was a daughter of Nereus and a sea-goddess who featured in the popular myths of Sicily. The milk-white maiden Galatea lived in the quiet sea and was loved by Polyphemus, the Sicilian Cyclops with the body of a monster. She did not return his passion, however, and was instead in love with the beautiful Acis, son of the god Pan (or Faunus, in the Latin tradition) and a Nymph. One day when Galatea was lying beside the sea with her lover, Polyphemus saw them. Although Acis tried to flee, the Cyclops threw an enormous boulder at him which crushed him to death. Galatea restored to Acis the nature of his mother the Nymph, and turned him into a stream with sparkling waters.

    The birth of three heros is sometimes attributed to the love between Polyphemus and Galatea: Galas (see GALATES), CELTUS, and ILLYRIUS, the eponyms respectively of the Galatians, the Celts and the Illyrians. One version of Galatea's legend may possibly have told of mutual love betweed Polyphemus and the Nereid, but no direct evidence has been preserved.

  2. The other Galatea was a Cretan girl, the daughter of a certain Eurytius. She was married to Lamprus, a man of a good though poor family, who lived in the city of Phaestus. When Lamprus discovered that his wife was pregnant he told her he wanted only a son; if she gave birth to a girl she would have to expose it. While Lamprus was up on the mountain guarding his flock Galatea gave birth to a girl, but she could not bring herself to expose it. On the advice of soothsayers she dressed the child as a boy and called him Leucippus. In this way she concealed the truth from Lamprus.

    However, as time went by, Leucippus became very beautiful, and it became impossible to continue the masquerade. Galatea was stricken with fear, and went to Leto's shrine, where she asked the goddess to change her daughter's sex. Leto let herself be swayed and the young girl became a boy (see IPHIS).


Just to give you a clue how a "conversation" with Galatea from the same-named interactive-fiction by Emily Short might look like:

You come around a corner, away from the noise of the opening.

There is only one exhibit. She stands in the spotlight, with her back to you: a sweep of pale hair on paler skin, a column of emerald silk that ends in a pool at her feet. She might be the model in a perfume ad; the trophy wife at a formal gathering; one of the guests at this very opening, standing on an empty pedestal in some ironic act of artistic deconstruction --

You hesitate, about to turn away. Her hand balls into a fist.

"They told me you were coming."

The Gallery's End Unlit, except for the single spotlight; unfurnished, except for the defining swath of black velvet. And a placard on a little stand.

On the pedestal is Galatea.

"Hello," you say -- and stop. What would you say next? 'I'm a famous critic, be on your best behavior'? There's no etiquette established; and then it strikes you as strange that you should bother to be concerned.

Fortunately, the little awkwardness is lost on her. "Good of you not to walk away again," she replies.

You become aware of her breathing -- the slight expansion of her ribs, the soft exhalation -- natural, and yet somehow studied. "Ah -- by the way," she says, in a way that utterly fails to be casual, "have you seen the artist out there? -- My artist, that is."

"No, I don't think so. What does your artist look like?"

"Black hair," she says, and stops... "Never mind. He's not here. He wouldn't have come."

I asked her about her artist.

Her head moves -- as though she were going to turn and look at you properly -- but then she thinks better of it. "I don't know where he is," she observes. "Or who, or what, for that matter. He sold me immediately after my waking. While he was carving me, there was no strangeness, but afterward..."

"He had a studio in Cyprus," she continues, dropping one line of thought and picking up another. "That's where I was born -- he brought the marble for me there and carved me."

I asked her about the marble she was made of

"I come from Thasos," she says.

Even as she says it, for a moment, a million tiny crystals sparkle in her skin. (An unusual and evocative effect; you haven't seen stone effects in skin since VanItallie's gargoyle series, about ten years ago. But then, the Grotesque school is pretty well dead at this point.)

"The marble in the quarries there is some of the best: enduring, hard. Slow to carve, and slow to wear away."

I aked her wether she's feeling cold.

"My sense of touch is fairly complete, as I understand the details -- heat and cold, pressure and pain, texture... everything I've heard anyone describe, at least."

Me: "What is it that makes a good marble?"

"Absence of flaws, for a start," she says. "Streaks of mica in the stone, any inclusions at all, can make your piece crack suddenly when you're working on it. Then there's fineness of grain, and color. You don't want too much color variation, and large-grained stone doesn't take detail well."

"Go on," you say.

"Then there's also general workability. Thasos marble is very difficult to work -- many sculptors wouldn't touch it, especially not with the old-fashioned tools used on me. But..." She shrugs, as though the advantages are self-evident.

I asked her 'bout the tools the artist used.

"I only know the punch and the polish, the chisel, the claw... My eyes -- he drilled the corners of them in, and it took an eternity."

"How could it have been painful to be carved? He wasn't cutting into you -- just around you."

Her head moves -- as though she were going to turn and look at you properly -- but then she thinks better of it. "The stone beyond the boundary of oneself is numb, but there always comes a time when the chisel or the point reaches down to where feeling begins, and strikes. Likewise the drill -- and being polished left all my skin burning and itching for days."

I asked about her beautiful skin.

"It took a lot of polishing. Hours on a spot no broader than my shoulder blade. But otherwise it would have been all ridged."

"Tell me what you do know about him," you prompt.

"He hated people -- though I think he was also quite lonely. It was a question of not having patience for anyone." Very quietly. "If anyone tried to come up to the studio he'd get out his shotgun and fire into the air until they got the idea. The woman didn't even bring milk if she knew he was there. They had a system of leaving things for each other so that they didn't have to meet. And when he sold me, it was the same. He wrote letters, made arrangements; did not even stay with me, when they came to look me over."

"He didn't have any friends that you know of?"

"Not very many people lived up to his standards, I think. He had very little tolerance for ignorance or superstition or -- well, he had very little tolerance. Perhaps part of his artistic temperament."

"What do you know about love?" (As long as you're catechizing her, you might as well be thorough.)

"That it makes people behave like idiots," she replies harshly. "That it takes more than it gives."

"I have to say," she remarks after a moment, "sometimes I don't quite understand how other people's minds work. The connections between things..."

Which is a very unusual remark for her kind to make, you reflect, looking at her closely.

>examine pedestal It's hard to see it, under the sweep of the gown.

>examine gown If you knew designers, you might recognize it: it looks expensive. A shimmering column from the bodice down to the knee, where it flares to cover the whole base of the pedestal.

She shrugs in it. "It looks odd, doesn't it?" she says. "I insisted on clothes, and they bought me this."

"Who decided what you would wear?"

"Oh, they did. My owners. I would have chosen something a bit more comfortable, and with the fabric in a useful location. There's so much below the knee, you'd think they could have spared some for my shoulders..."

"What are your owners like?"

"Aren't they out there in the other room?" she asks, surprised. "That's where they said they were going to be."

"Yes, of course," you say quickly. Her head moves -- as though she were going to turn and look at you properly -- but then she thinks better of it. "I was wondering about your impressions of them. Obvously you must have a different perspective than I could."

She shrugs. "I know too little about people to come to any kind of conclusion. And they don't talk to me much. No one does, these days."

It occurs to you that it would be great fun if you could get her to come down from that pedestal. It sounds as though her owners have been quite cavalier with her; you'd love to shake up their expectations.

"So essentially he wanted people around in general but he was too picky to like any particular people?"

"It's a little more complicated than that. There were other factors." She pauses thoughtfully. "Pride. Total absorption in what he was working on. This kind of focus that made it hard for him even to acknowledge that there was someone else in the room sometimes. If he was thinking about something, he was thinking, and he didn't want to be interrupted."

"Forgive me," you say, "but you don't even sound at the moment as though you liked him very much."

"Like and love are different things," she replies. "You must know that. And then -- he had a kind of intensity that compelled, that was absolute. I've not met anyone else like that. Yes, it's true that I haven't met very many people yet in my life, but my suspicion is, from all I see and hear, that he was unusual in that regard. There was something eating him from the inside, all the time, and the energy of it was contagious."

"Most people don't have that kind of genius, but most people also aren't so impossible to live with."

She makes a face. "I think I'm accustomed to being a little unhappy. I prefer it to lowering my expectations."

"Like him."


You are both silent. There seems no more to say.

*** The End ***

In the dead of these nights you will find me right here,
Whipping hair in the wind, garments gauzy and sheer,
Placed upon me by one whom I knew and knew not
But from shadows amid my most fleeting of thoughts.

I saw his weak smile when I first came alive
(a weak smile was the only kind he could contrive);
And he said he had long been this strange thing... alone...
-- but I could not conceive this; this I had not known. --

"Venus has blessed you, and me in my turn
For my frustrated passion; she set it to burn,
Into flesh she has bidden your marble to melt,
Now to feel what no stone ever hewn ever felt."

That day I looked down, on this balcony perched,
As the passersby marveled at one unbesmirched
By ambition or artifice, scheming or lust,
Foolish heartbreak, or folly, or natural mistrust;

I waved always, and down to them kind words I cast,
Waiting long hours to hear one return them at last;
But the answers weren't kind, and my gaze and my smile
They deemed haughty and noisome, and outright reviled.

Our honeymoon went but from half moon to full;
Although perfect, my slender arms couldn't out-pull
All the praise that awaited him at the town square
For that beautiful wretch he'd engendered "up there"...

Now I take second place to the fame he has won
For appearing to do what the goddess has done;
As the courtesans court him, I keep watch alone,
Begging Venus to give me my heart back of stone.

Gal`a*te"a (?), n. [After Galatea, a British man-of-war, the material being used for children's sailor suits.]

A kind of striped cotton fabric, usually of superior quality and striped with blue or red on white.


© Webster 1913

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