The myth of Narcissus

BY BELISARIO RIGHI



Echo and Narcissus - Painting by John William Waterhouse - 1903


Narcissus, from the Greek Nárkissos is a character belonging to Greek mythology, famous for his beauty, born of the nymph Liriope and the river god Cefiso, or according to some sources from Selene and Endymion. There is a Greek and a Latin version of the myth. In the Hellenic version, the proud and callous Narcissus is punished by the gods for rejecting all his male suitors, even the god Eros. Many were the men, of all ages, who fell in love with Narcissus, but all desisted from loving offers because he constantly rejected them, until Aminia, a young boy, despite the refusals, incessantly tried to lust for him. Angry Narcissus gave him a sword, telling him that he would have to kill himself with that weapon, so that he was finally left alone. Aminia, disconsolate, made the tragic gesture, but before piercing himself he prayed to the Gods to avenge him. The Gods accepted the plea and revenge was accomplished when Narcissus, contemplating his face in a mirror of water, was enchanted by his own reflection, and fell madly in love with himself. Realizing that he could not have such love, he pierced himself with the same sword with which he had killed Aminia. From the earth, sprinkled with his blood, a flower was born that took his name, Narcissus. In the Latin version, told by Ovid, when Narcissus arrived at the age of sixteen he was a boy of incredible beauty and all men and women fell in love with him, but they were invariably rejected.

One day, while he was hunting deer, the nymph Echo stealthily followed him into the woods, eager to talk to him but was unable to, because she was forced to always repeat the last words of what was said to her. Juno had punished her in this way because Echo had distracted her with long stories, leaving free space for Jupiter who, without Juno noticing, mated with other nymphs. And so, when Narcissus heard footsteps and shouted: "Who is there?", Echo, struck by the curse, replied: "Who is there?" and in this way she continued to express herself, until she showed herself and tried to hug the young man, but Narcissus abruptly pushed her away, ordering her to leave him alone. Echo fled, heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely valleys, consuming herself for her unrequited love, until her voice remained.

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