The classic version of this myth is by Ovid, found in Book III of his Metamorphoses (Lines 339/508)
Echo was an Oread or Orestiad, meaning a type of nymph that lived in mountains, valleys, and ravines. The Oreads were associated with Artemis, the goddess of hunting.
Though vigilant, whenever she was about to catch him, Echo distracted her with lengthy conversations.
When at last Hera realized the truth, she cursed Echo. To punish her, Hera took away her most valuable possession: her voice.
Hera permitted Echo only to reply in foolish repetition of another’s shouted words. Thus, all Echo could do was mimic the words of the speaker.
Sometime after being cursed, Echo spied a young man, Narcissus, while he was out hunting deer with his companions.
Narcissus was a hunter who was known for his beauty. He was the son of the river-god Cephissos, and Liriope.
Echo immediately fell in love with Narcissus.
Narcissus sensed someone was behind him and shouted “Who’s there?”. Echo repeated “Who’s there?”. She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. Echo was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her.
Narcissus was not finished. A handsome man named Ameinius was one of the vain youth’s most ardent admirers and relentlessly vied for his attention. So what did Narcissus do? The conceited youth responded to the entreaties by sending his suitor a sword, telling him to prove his adoration.
Not knowing how else to prove his adoration, Ameinius proceeded to plunge the sword into his heart, committing suicide to demonstrate his love.
As he lay dying, he beseeched the gods to punish the heartless Narcissus.
The goddess of the hunt, Artemis, (according to other versions it could have been Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, instead) learnt of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. Hence, she caused Narcissus to fall in love…but the kind of love that “could never be fulfilled”.
Narcissus came upon a clear spring at Donacon in Thespia, Narcissus stooped down to drink, and saw his own image in the water; he thought it was some beautiful water-spirit living in the fountain.
The spell of Artemis had totally mesmerized him, and for hours he sprawled by the spring, until at last he recognized himself.
Unable at last to stand the agony Narcissus plunged a dagger in his heart and died, calling out a final goodbye to his reflected image.
When Narcissus died, wasting away before his own reflection, consumed by a love that could not be, Echo mourned over his body. As he was looking one last time into the pool uttered, “Oh marvellous boy, I loved you in vain, farewell”, Echo too chorused, “Farewell.”
The myth tells that where his blood soaked the earth sprung up the white narcissus flower with its red corollary, forever growing at the water’s edge, its head inclined towards the water.
Many issues traditionally associated with the mirror are present in this myth by Ovid.
Firstly, Beauty. Ovid characterizes it in two ways. On the one hand, he defines it as divine. Since Narcissus is the son of a river, Cephissos, and a nymph of great beauty, Liriope. The poem also compares Narcissus hair with Apollo´s.
Moreover, the poet evokes the effects of its beauty. The text constantly plays with “water” and “erotic fire”, as it appears in the eyes of the young, reaching torches and funeral fires. He also mentions the alternating brightness and burning, and shade and coolness.
The combination of Beauty and Death, entailed by Love, finds its ultimate expression in the last image of Narcissus, who still faces each other, as in the mirror of Persephone, in the water of the Styx.
But the main subtle topic, before that one of Beauty, is Illusion, announced in the episode of Echo. Narcissus, deceived in the beginning (verse 385) by duplicating the voice is then victim of the of his appearance . Since Eco is condemned to imitation, she does not cease to be “another”, much more different as their otherness as marked on the opposition of the sexes.
Echo is not just the female counterpart of Narcissus, as it is not a series of opposed elements, the most important of which is that she loves him and he did not. Echo is, in the aural scope, the equivalent of the reflection that captivates Narcissus´eyes.
And in that slip of the reciprocal element of Love, the reflective, homoeroticism – is a decisive step: it is one of the rejected male lovers who, as Aminias invokes divine vengeance against Narcissus (verses 404/405).
The illusion that produces the fallacious spring (verse 427) is expressed in two ways.
Replaced by the unreal reality, a body of flesh turns into a reflection of water: without consistency (verse 417), a living being a fugitive image (verse 431). Narcissus (verse 432) does not know the impalpable nature of reflection. The error of Narcissus is shown firstly when he has a dialogue with his own image (verses 458/459), moving from illusory reciprocity to pure reflexivity: “You, that’s me I ” (verse 463). Narcissus, who is attracted by his double, will not be soon more than a shadow in Hades, who will yet be looking for its reflection.
Thus, Narcissus is merely image. Since his body rejects any contact with the other, since he is not intended to embrace an impalpable image of his own reflection. The iconic character is inevitably highlighted When Narcissus is enraptured in front of his double, he compares himself with “a statue carved in marble of Paros” (verse 419).
*Note: I wrote this section based on a book in Spanish. Source: Frontisi-Ducroux, Françoise; Vernant, Jean- Pierre. “En El Ojo del Espejo” ( “Dans l´Oeil du Miroir”). Buenos Aires. Fondo de Cultura. 1999.-
“While he is drinking he beholds himself reflected in the mirrored pool—and loves; loves an imagined body which contains no substance, for he deems the mirrored shade a thing of life to love”.
“All that is lovely in himself he loves, and in his witless way he wants himself:—he who approves is equally approved; he seeks, is sought, he burns and he is burnt. And how he kisses the deceitful fount; and how he thrusts his arms to catch the neck that’s pictured in the middle of the stream! Yet never may he wreathe his arms around that image of himself”.
“What is it I implore? The thing that I desire is mine—abundance makes me poor. Oh, I am tortured by a strange desire unknown to me before, for I would fain put off this mortal form; which only means I wish the object of my love away”.
“As often as the love-lore boy complained, “Alas!” “Alas!” her echoing voice returned; and as he struck his hands against his arms, she ever answered with her echoing sounds. And as he gazed upon the mirrored pool he said at last, “Ah, youth beloved in vain!” “In vain, in vain!” the spot returned his words; and when he breathed a sad “farewell!” “Farewell!” sighed Echo too”.
“And now although among the nether shades his sad sprite roams, he ever loves to gaze on his reflection in the Stygian wave. His Naiad sisters mourned, and having clipped their shining tresses laid them on his corpse: and all the Dryads mourned: and Echo made lament anew. And these would have upraised his funeral pyre, and waved the flaming torch, and made his bier; but as they turned their eyes where he had been, alas he was not there! And in his body’s place a sweet flower grew, golden and white, the white around the gold”.
Narcissus´myth helped coining the word “Narcissism“.
After- and probably as a consequence of having rejected the nymph Echo- he fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water.
Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus kept on gazing into the pool until he finally changed into a flower, the narcissus.
Narcissim is related to the concept of excessive selfishness and egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes.
Narcissism is a concept in psychoanalytic theory, which was popularly introduced in Sigmund Freud’s essay “On Narcissism” (1914).
The American Psychiatric Association has had the classification narcissistic personality disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1968, drawing on the historical concept of megalomania, meaning “a condition or mental illness that causes people to think that they have great or unlimited power or importance”. (Source: Merriam Webster Dictionary).
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others feelings. People affected often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power, success, or their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them. The behavior typically begins by early adulthood, and occurs across a variety of situations. The dynamo of Narcissistic personality disorder is the so-called “Narcissistic supply“, which is a concept introduced into psychoanalytic theory by Otto Fenichel in 1938, to describe a type of admiration, interpersonal support or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment and essential to their self-esteem.
The term is typically used in a negative sense, describing a pathological or excessive need for attention or admiration in dependents and the orally fixated, that does not take into account the feelings, opinions or preferences of other people.
In order for a person to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) they must meet five or more of the following symptoms:
♠Has a grandiose sense of self-importance. This entails a sustained, unrealistic sense of being superior—better than other people. It also refers to a sense of uniqueness; the belief that few others have anything in common with oneself and that one can only be understood by a few or very special people.
♠Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
♠Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, etc. This refers to the narcissist’s need to fend off inner emptiness, feel special and in control, and avoid feelings of defectiveness and insignificance.
♠Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
♠Requires excessive admiration. Narcissists need admiration all the time. They surround themselves with others who will give them positive reinforcement.
♠Has a very strong sense of entitlement, i.e, unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
♠Is exploitative of others. Narcissists lack empathy, feel entitled and above the rules, and see other people as appendages whose sole purpose is to fill them with narcissistic supply.
♠Lacks empathy, this is a hallmark of the disorder in the same way that fear of abandonment is in borderline personality disorder.
♠Is often envious of others. Narcissists must be superior to others in every single way. So when someone else has something they don’t have that they want: admiration, status, skills, objects, the narcissist sees it as a major threat. Like so much else in the narcissistic mind, it is unconscious, discounted and denied, which makes it more treacherous for the object of his envy.