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Narcissus and Echo

Greek Mythology Myths

Narcissus Daffodil flower, named after Narcissus the hunter. 

We first see the myth of Narcissus and Echo in Ovid's Metamorphoses (written in 8AD, an epic poem written in Latin and tells the journey of the creation of earth through mythology right up to the death of Julius Caesar).  

The myth tells the tragic tale of a hunter and a mountain nymph. A love story—but also not quite a love story—the pair's love, inevitably, causes their own demise.

Narcissus was a hunter born in Thespiae, Boeotia, Greece. He was written to be a beautiful young man (for a mortal), and broke the hearts of many women with his aloof and distant approach to those who loved him. Narcissus was in fact a believer that no woman or man was worthy of his wholehearted love—as he himself was the most beautiful being there was. He never chased his women, believing that his beauty was so blinding that one could never pass him without falling in love.

From here, Ovid takes a moment to introduce us to Echo, a beautiful nymph, who resided up in the mountains on Mount Cithaeron (a mountain range between Boeotia and Attica, Greece). The nymphs were known to be very beautiful and alluring spirits, so much so they regularly seen visits from Zeus himself. One day Hera grew suspicious of Zeus' too-long-at-the-office disappearance and figured she'd find him somewhere dancing with the mountain nymphs again. 

Various myths proved Hera was not often wrong about her hot to trot husband's location, and this time proved no different. Tonight, he was among the mountain tops. 

Echo was written to have been a bit of a motor-mouth, and it is debated whether Zeus asked her to distract an oncoming raging Hera by talking to her, so he could escape, or if Echo took it upon her noble self. Nonetheless, Hera of course is aware of Echo's tactics and unimpressed. Hera punishes her by taking away her voice, leaving her only able to repeat the sentences of others, or whatever she hears. 

It is noted that Echo spent a lot of time with Artemis, the Goddess of hunting, and this could be why Echo in particular was picked as the prime partner for Narcissus as opposed to the other beautiful Nymphs he could have had little interest in; they both related to hunting.
We then return to the myth at hand, with a bit more backstory into our protagonist pair. 

Echo was said to have been roaming the woods, when she bumps into the beautiful Narcissus. He had lost his men hunting, and was alone. Stunned by his beauty, she hides, and gazes from a distance.

"Is anybody here?" he exclaims, upon hearing a rustling shrub. 

"Here!" Echo echos. 

Suddenly, she leaps out from hiding, and grabs him, lunging at him, throwing her arms around him. Naturally, Narcissus freaks out at this strange nymph.

"Let me go! I would die before I'd want you!" 

"Want you!" 

Despite these cruel words, Echo grew love for the hunter (*eye-roll*), and isolated herself among the forest. She pines out for him, allowing herself to famish in both lovesickness and shame, knowing he will never want her. Eventually, our nymph Echo withers away to nothing, only dust among the mountain tops, leaving her voice behind her to echo through the mountainous valleys as a reminder of unrequited love's cruel fate (*heavy eye-roll*).   

Meanwhile, Narcissus had run away from the nymph, and bumps into another group of nymphs who fall heavy for the proud hunter. He, of course, believing there is no match for himself, declines all he meets along his journeys and beyond. It is said these 'lovers' call on Nemesis, praying for punishment upon Narcissus. 

For punishment for his arrogance and mean spirited nature, Nemesis answers the prayers against him and punishes him by falling in love with his own reflection. 

Narcissus comes across a lakeside, and reaches down for a drink from the water. Suddenly, he sees himself in the rippling water and is mesmerised by the beauty of the being staring back. He falls in love with this image of true, real beauty and reaches down to touch them. However, whenever he touches the water, the reflection disappears, causing Narcissus to believe his new lover is "running away" from him.

Why would they run away from me? What is wrong with me?

Whether or not Narcissus knows it is himself or another being in the reflection is commonly argued. Regardless, his unrequited love with his own reflection causes Narcissus to lay by the waterside for days without eating or drinking in involuntary protest in lovesickness and shame. Sound familiar?

Narcissus died, with his dust turning into a common lakeside flower, the Narcissus daffodil. 

Narcissus' punishment mirrors or reflects (ba-dum-tss) Echo's suffering. It mirrors the unrequited love of Echo's feelings towards him (as he can never have whom is in the water) and also emits the same shame and suffering upon him on which he brought upon Echo by believing a lover is trying to escape you (What's wrong with me? Why would they run away from me?). The punishment also enhances his already feelings about himself to the extreme—who else would fall in love with themselves so easily? Giving the same inevitable outcome to both parties—death.

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