Friday, 13 June 2014

The Roman Tale of Narcissus and Echo: The Mythology Series

Narcissus comes to us today courtesy of Dionne Lister. He was a hunter known for his beauty, and as the son of the river god, Cephissus, and a nymph, it's no wonder he was so beautiful!

You might not be surprised to know that Narcissus is the origin of our word ‘narcissism’, which means a fixation with oneself. This originates from the tale that Narcissus was lured to a pool where, upon seeing his own reflection, he became so obsessed with it that he was unable to leave. He came to realise his love was hopeless, and committed suicide.

Narcissus was actually lured to the pool by Nemesis, the goddess of revenge. She did so as an act of, you guessed it, revenge. This was because the mountain nymph, Echo, had seen him and fallen deeply in love with him. She would follow him, and when Narcissus asked ‘Who’s there?’, she would repeat his words (get it? She was Echo!).

When Echo finally revealed herself to Narcissus, he rejected her, telling her to leave him alone, and heartbroken she wandered the woods until she had faded away into an ‘echo’.

So the tale brings us not only the word ‘narcissist’, but ‘echo’ and ‘nemesis’. 

Echo and Narcissus (1903), a Pre-Raphaelite interpretation by John William Waterhouse
This story was recorded by Ovid, but other variations also exist. The version by Conon involves neither Nemesis not Echo, with Narcissus instead spurning a male suitor, who then prays to the gods to teach Narcissus a lesson and promptly commits suicide on Narcissus’s doorstep. Narcissus then dies when he sees his reflection after stopping at a pool to drink, as he can never have the object of his desire.
An even later version involves Narcissus falling in love with his twin sister rather than his own reflection. 

What piece of mythology would you to know more about? Let me know in the comments! 

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A M Guynes-Annikka Woods said...

I'm familiar with the myth where Echo was punished by Hera to only repeat back what everyone said, and how Narcissus rejected her. The ending to Narcissus' story that I was familiar with is in the end he got turned into the flower we know as the narcissus today. I wasn't aware of any of the other versions though.

Will Hahn said...

I heard the same version as AM- point being not only that Echo was in love with Narc (who wasn't) but when he gazed on his reflection and said "I love you", she could finally speak her own thoughts! Sad, strange, almost creepy tale.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

It's fascinating how many versions of the tale there are! I thought the ones I found were plenty, and this one didn't even feature among them. I'm almost more interested in how the variations evolved...

Ciara Ballintyne said...

It is definitely all of those things. A lot of mythology and ancient tales makes me wonder about the weird turnings of the human mind...

Ben Roberts said...

Hebrew and early Christian mythology is very interesting. .do some thing on that. Phillip Pullman used it brilliantly in his Dark Materials Trilogy, which is some of the best fantasy I've ever read.

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