Greek Mythology is a fascinating body of myths, legends, and tales that heavily influenced Greek culture. The tales of gods, goddesses, monsters, heroes, and deities, still play a significant role in even today’s storytelling.
The roots of Greek Mythology can be traced all the way back to 900 B.C. Even in Western civilization, the extensive influence of Greek Mythology cannot be denied. In the tall tales of gods and mortals, some figures stand out more than others. But all are important
Some recognizable names and phrases in English literature derive from Greek Mythology. The name Narcissus, is one, in particular, that has significance. The root of narcissus is “narcissism” — a word that means being vain, selfish, or having an excessive admiration or love for one’s physical appearance. While Narcissus is a Greek tale, the Romans seem to have taken it over and elaborated on it throughout history.
In Greek Mythology, the figure Narcissus was an extremely handsome young man who fell in love with his own reflection. He was so self-absorbed that nothing mattered to him more than his looks. He was just one of many tragic figures in the realm of Greek Mythology. There is the telling of the story by the Roman writer Ovid and one told by Covid. While the stories have variations, the key component of Narcissus’ vanity remains a constant.
How Narcissus’ Reflection Influenced Him
The handsome Narcissus was born in Thespiae to Cephissus and a nymph named Liriope. The seer Teiresias told Liriope that Narcissus would “live a long life as long as he never recognizes himself.” By the time Narcissus was 16, he had many admirers.
At the time Narcissus’ mother didn’t know what that meant. As hard as many of the young maidens tried, they could never get Narcissus to show any interest. The fact of the matter is, Narcissus never thought there was a man or woman alive whose looks rivaled his.
The Greek Version of Narcissus
This story of Narcissus diverges from Ovid’s original version in that a male suitor, Aminias, replaces Echo. In this version, Narcissus cruelly rejects Arminius but also gives him a sword to kill himself. Before he dies by the sword, Arminias asks the gods to curse Narcissus and make an example of him. The god Artemis responds to give Narcissus a lesson for the pain he had inflicted upon Aminias.
While walking along the banks of the Stypian River, Narcissus stops for water and sees his reflection. He immediately becomes entranced and falls in love. Unable to withdraw himself from his reflection, he dies from thirst and hunger. According to the myth, Narcissus is living in the Underworld admiring the black water of the River Styx.
The Roman Version Of Narcissus
Narcissus had many suitors. One was a maiden named Echo who was deeply in love with him. Echo had a strong bond at one time with the Goddess Hera. She fell out of favor with Hera when Hera accused her of providing cover for her husband Zeus’s infidelities. As the story goes, Echo would entertain Hera while Zeus’s suitors would sneak of Mt. Olympus unseen. When she discovered Echo’s betrayal, she put a curse on her.
Hence the name, Echo, she was doomed to only repeat the words of others for the rest of her life. Even after she was cursed, she still continued to pursue Narcissus. When Narcissus found out about the curse that was placed on Echo, he cruelly rejected her.
Echo’s deep love for Narcissus could never be reciprocated. But she would use animals and nature to repeat her echoes to Narcissus. Sad and heartbroken, Echo retreated to a cave where she would remain for the rest of her days. Because she felt angered and betrayed over Narcissus’ rejection, she asked Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance to place a curse on Narcissus. As part of the curse, Narcissus would fall in love with his own reflection.
One day after hunting Narcissus stopped by the Stygian River to drink water and cool off. He saw his reflection in the water and immediately became obsessed. In fact, the obsession was so deep that he would no longer eat or drink.
Narcissus wanted so badly to covet his reflection that he even went as far as kissing it. The only thing that appeared was ripples across the water. He even tried to touch it but found that he could only stare at his obsession. In a cruel twist, the only thing in life that he coveted, he could not have.
Narcissus’ obsession with his own beauty bordered on the psychological. One day Narcissus got too close to the water, fell in, and drowned. The nymphs attempted to retrieve his body but never found it. To preserve the memory of narcissus, the nymphs planted a white flower that bears his name. According to the myth, the flower would always bring about memories of Narcissus.
In the Roman versions of the story, the myth is intertwined in art and culture. There are literally dozens of wall paintings, literary works, and poems that capture the myth of Narcissus. The myth has also found its way into modern life. The Narcissus flower takes its name after the mythical character. It usually grows in Europe and has 24 species.
What Are The Lessons Learned From Narcissus?
Narcissus was a proud young man who held disdain for the people who romanticized him. Many went to the extremes of even committing suicide to prove their devotion to him. The story is a classic tale of self-obsession. Although no one knows the exact reason why the story was written, it has been suggested that seeing your own reflection can have unlucky consequences, according to ancient Greeks.
Additionally, in ancient Greece, piety, vanity, and self-obsession were highly frowned upon by the gods. In fact, a number of characters throughout mythology were subjected to cruel fates because of pride and vanity. There is also the tendency to link certain things in nature with morality.
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