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This evening I was watching Coppelia, a ballet where a toymaker tries to bring a doll he made to life. Coppelia premiered in 1870 and the story of Pinocchio was written in 1870. This shows up even earlier, in 1823, in Frankenstein, where Victor Frankenstein creates a corpse and brings it to live, and recently in Star Trek (where, in Requiem for Methuselah, Flint creates Rayna and attempts to make her "real" by giving her emotions), and in Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Data is even called Pinocchio, both on screen and in the series bible.

Where did this trope start? Is there evidence of stories of making a creation that seems almost like a lifelike human and trying to bring it to life from even before Frankenstein?

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    The story doesn't quite fit the specifications (mostly due to the lack of intentionally), but I would be remiss if I didn't mention Búri, who was licked into shape by a primordial super-cow (yes, really) Nov 8, 2018 at 7:01

2 Answers 2

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Pygmalion (so, at the latest, the trope is dated 8AD, in Ovid's Metamorphoses).

The story itself predates Ovid and comes from Ancient Greeks.

Statue's name was Galatea (not named by Ovid but given in Apollodorus's Bibliotheca, which predates Ovid).


If you go into religions, you of course also have Hebrew god giving life to Adam, and assorted Greek gods doing the a similar (but "god-created" instead of "human-created" trope (Hephaestus and Zeus both)

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  • Ohhh! Good one. I was sure a trope like this would go WAY far back! And I had forgotten that when I was looking. So you don't have a reference of anything written on stone tablets that pre-dates this, do you?
    – Tango
    Feb 11, 2012 at 6:01
  • I doubt that Adam counts. He was in no way a doll or statue made alive by a human. Pinocchio and Galatea are both created in a human society, the point is that they become "alive" in a sense resembling (already existing) humans.
    – vsz
    Feb 11, 2012 at 13:10
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    @TangoOversway The golem traditions date even further back, but golems created by humans usually have no will. DVK: the Hebrew god wasn't the first to create humans, but that's a different idea from humans creating another sentient being.
    – user56
    Feb 11, 2012 at 15:47
  • @Gilles - I edited the answer to clarify the distinction. Feb 11, 2012 at 17:22
  • Religion has the idea of God creating man, but it isn't far from that to stories of men trying to create life, imitating God. I would be rather surprised if stories like that aren't basically as old as stories can be old.
    – kutschkem
    Feb 10 at 12:35
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Strictly dealing with fiction in the context of humans bringing their creations to life, don't forget the Golem.

Christoph Arlond in 1674 and an unnamed Polish author perhaps in 1630-1640 tell the story of Rabbi Eliyahu of Chelm and the creation of his Golem. A couple centuries later, when Shelley's Frankenstein began popularizing the theme, German authors began retelling a variation of this story involving Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Rabbi of Prague.

(The golem stories tell of a rabbi who seeks to copy what the Hebrew God did with Adam, and fashions a creature of clay that he imbues with life. In the stories, the rabbis bring the clay sculptures to life by inscribing a scroll with the word "truth" upon it and putting the scroll on or in the golem.)

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