Myth of the Week – Narcissus and Echo
December 9, 2015
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NarcissusApologies for the lengthy silence and denying you of your weekly dose of mythology. I was busy writing essays and studying for exams while also battling with the terrible beast that is procrastination. I’m finished now but since it is exam week in UCD I would like to welcome all my new readers…the students who are desperately using my website as an excuse NOT to study.

I have decided to come back swinging with the myth of Narcissus and Echo (yeah, rock on!!!). This is quite an interesting myth because while the two characters existed in mythology as separate stories, it was not until Ovid wrote about them in the Metamorphoses that they were combined into one (or at least as far as we know Ovid was the first to group them together…there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to Classics). Actually, I believe the exam on the Ovid’s Metamorphoses module in UCD was on today so hopefully that went well for everyone involved and they will all, of course, be eager to read this piece. Happy memories…or not.

According to Ovid, Narcissus was born to the water-nymph Liriope and the river-god Ciphisus. After a while, Liriope took her child to the seer Tiresias who happens to be a well-known figure in myth. He is a prominent feature in Sophocles Oedipus Rex another myth I shall get to in time. Tiresias lived both as a man and a woman, having been transformed into a woman when he attacked two mating snakes with a stick. In his eighth year as a woman he saw the same snakes again, repeated the attack (I imagine with a different stick) and was turned back into a man. Juno and Jove (the Roman equivalents of Hera and Zeus), were having an argument about which sex gets more pleasure out of love. Jove claimed women did while Juno said men did. They asked Tiresias since he had been both a man and a woman and he sided with Jove. This didn’t sit well with Juno who ended up punishing Tiresias by blinding him for the rest of his days.

So, back to the Narcissus myth. Tiresias was consulted and his answer was “If he shall himself not know”. It wasn’t until his sixteenth birthday that the prophecy started to gain meaning. He was admired by all for his beauty but never loved anyone in return. Then a nymph called Echo took a liking to him. Echo could speak, but only had the ability to repeat the words to her. Juno did this to her because on many occasions when Jove lay with the nymphs (remember Zeus/Jove’s infidelities from the post on Zeus?) and were close to being caught by Juno when Echo would distract her by talking to her while the other nymphs could escape.

She sees Narcissus and falls in love. I know this sounds a little bit Disney prince and princess with how easy it is to find your soulmate but roll with it. The catch is she has to wait until Narcissus speaks first. So Narcissus says “Anyone here?” and Echo replies with “Here”. Obviously the name of the Metamorphoses suggests something is undergoing a transformation and here it’s the language. Echo, after a while, gets a bit over-zealous and runs out from the woods to try and throw her arms around Narcissus and kiss him. Narcissus ran away and Echo, as a result of being rejected, cried to herself so hard and for so long that she eventually used up all the moisture in her body and her body deteriorates until her bones turn to stone and her voice is all that is left of her.

Narcissus proceeds to mock her and just about everyone else he can think of. He is punished as a result and stumbles upon a pool where he sees his reflection. No prizes for guessing that he falls in love with himself. His name is Narcissus after all! (He’s like that person you know who takes about four hundred selfies every day and then insists on displaying them to the world by posting them all over social media) Narcissus tries to kiss the reflection and embrace it, which causes the water to ripple, and ruins the image. But Narcissus was so vain and so…well…narcissistic, that he refused to leave the spot and continued to stare at the reflection.

Narcissus also wasn’t the brightest bulb in the…bulb place…er, ya. He took a while to realise that the young boy he had fallen in love with was actually himself. It really makes you wonder how he had managed to go so many years without seeing his reflection.

Unsurprisingly, spending all your time staring at your reflection and never moving once to eat or even drink (and he had a whole pool of water right next to him) will lead to death. His body turned into a flower and even when he descended to the Underworld, he started gazing at his reflection in a pool of the River Styx. Pretty cool huh?

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this post and for the next myth I think I will focus on the Cyclops Polyphemus who features in the Odyssey as a big, scary, man-eating creature and who Ovid would later turn into a rather comical caricature. If you want to follow me on Twitter you can do so by clicking here and on Facebook by clicking here.


Until next time,



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