Inspiring Enchantment & Illumination with Tarot & Intuitive Guidance

Echo and Narcissus

Narcissus so himself himself forsook,
And died to kiss his shadow in the brook.

— William Shakespeare

Narcissus (another name for the daffodil), is the word from which we get “narcissism“, which is in reference to the tragic story of the haughty Narcissus in Greek myth.

In the tale told by Ovid, one day when the handsome Narcissus was out hunting stags, the beautiful nymph Echo (who, in another story, had been doomed by Juno to only repeat what others said to her first) stealthily followed the youth through the woods. Alas, she longed to speak to him but was unable to speak first.

When Narcissus finally heard her footsteps, he shouted “Who’s there?” Echo of course could only answer, “Who’s there?” And so it went. Finally Echo showed herself and rushed to embrace the beautiful young man. But he roughly pushed her away, and told her to leave him alone. Narcissus left Echo heartbroken and she spent the rest of her life in lonely glens, pining away for the love she never knew, until only her voice remained

His vanity, though, was his undoing. Eventually he became thirsty and, arriving at a pool of water, he bent down to drink. But there, in the reflection, he saw himself, and fell in love. In fact, he wouldn’t touch the water for fear of damaging his reflection, so he died of thirst, still staring at his own reflection. The Narcissus flower grew from where he died.

Thus, the daffodil is often shunned in ceremonies where there might be any appearance of vanity or exaggerated pompousness.

However, it is a favorite magical flower for many other reasons, which I’ll share tomorrow.

Share this:

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • April 16, 2008, 5:15 pm Thalia

    You know that there is, in fact, a triandrus daffodil called Thalia. It’s an heirloom, all white, and commonly has three flowers per stem, which I’m going to guess is how it got its name, after the three Graces.

    Of course, I have some in my garden.

  • April 17, 2008, 7:48 am Beth Owl's Daughter

    Oh, how wonderful to learn this! I am marking it on my calendar for when I go bulb shopping next fall. Thanks so much, Thalia!

  • April 17, 2008, 11:29 am Greg Fletcher-Marzullo

    When reading this, I seem to remember that there’s some kind of reclamation of Narcissus going on in Queery circles. There’s a book (which I haven’t read…yet!) called “Reflecting Narcissus: A Queer Aesthetic” that looks at the idea of Narcissus falling for himself and the homoeroticisum that goes along with that.

    Also, I wonder if we can apply Queer groundbreaker Harry Hay’s idea of subject-subject consciousness to this story. This is a state of relating to people as true peers, unlike subject-object consciousness where someone is in the “power” position.

    Once Narcissus actually reaches a state of subject-subject consciousness, perhaps his ego-centric identity disappears and transcends into something of beauty.

    (Not that this excuses his seemingly rude behavior toward Echo. I’d like to read more versions of this story, I think.)

  • April 17, 2008, 1:17 pm Beth Owl's Daughter

    Greg – you are correct. The poet Ovid’s telling of the story is what I cited because is the more well-known one. The older telling is more obscure and was only recently found in than one source, according to Wikipedia (I have removed the imbedded links and other references for clarity):

    There is an older version than the one related by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, which is a moral tale in which the proud and unfeeling Narcissus is punished by the gods for having spurned all his male suitors. It is thought to have been intended as a cautionary tale addressed to adolescent boys.

    Until recently, the only source for this version was a segment in Pausanias, about 150 years after Ovid. A very similar account was discovered among the Oxyrhynchus papyri in 2004, an account that predates Ovid’s version by at least fifty years.

    In this story, Ameinias, a young man, loved Narcissus but was scorned. As a way of rebuffing Ameinias, Narcissus gave him a sword, which Ameinias used to kill himself on Narcissus’ doorstep; he prayed to Nemesis that Narcissus would one day know the pain of unrequited love.

    This curse was fulfilled when Narcissus became entranced by his own reflection in a pool and tried to seduce the beautiful boy, not realizing it was himself.

    He only realised that it was his reflection after trying to kiss it. Completing the symmetry of the tale, out of sorrow Narcissus took his sword and killed himself; his body then turned into a flower.

    There is another version, as well (can’t remember where I ran across it at the moment) that indicates that Narcissus’ pursuer was not just any nymph. Instead, Echo was, in fact, his blood sister, thus, making it a cautionary tale, not just about vanity, but incestuous taboos.

    Many thanks for your thoughts, Greg. I am interested in any further insights you gain from your explorations of this story and do hope you’ll share them here!
    – Beth