Greek Mythology: Narcissus

Here we go again, with another analysis of someone in Greek Mythology. This time I am going to be talking about Narcissus, son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liliope. I have recently become more interested in psychology, which led me to explore the connection between Narcissus and the narcissism. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a narcissist is someone with ‘too much interest in and admiration for [their] own physical appearance and abilities. They are usually someone lacking in empathy and are ready to exploit others for their gain. By exploring the myth, I hope to gain and provide a clear understanding of who Narcissus was and how he relates to modern-day narcissism now.

The Myth of Narcissus

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter from Thespiae and was most known for his beauty. Narcissus was proud, and his disdain for those who loved him caused some problems. It was written that some had taken their own lives, to prove their devotion to his striking beauty. There are indeed multiple versions of his myth, But I will be talking about the classic version as featured in Ovid’s book 3 of his Metamorphoses. This is the story of Echo and Narcissus. It’s quite a sad story, though I wouldn’t rank it in the top 10 most heartbreaking Greek mythologies.

Narcissus was taking a walk in the woods, when Echo, an Oread (a mountain nymph) saw him and fell deeply in love with him. She then proceeded to follow him, and Narcissus noticed he was being followed and shouted ‘Who’s there?’. Echo, being an ‘echo’ repeated ‘Who’s there’. I find this quite amusing because had it been probably anyone else, they would have been able to answer the question without the echo. Echo eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She became heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo remained of her. This myth sounds eerily similar to some of my friend’s tales of woes at university about unrequited love. Apart from the last part about becoming an echo for all eternity. To continue though, Nemesis (as an aspect of Aphrodite), the goddess of revenge, noticed this behaviour and decided to punish Narcissus. This myth seems to be full of recognisable modern-day English words; nemesis, echo etc. Nemesis decided to punish Narcissus by, one time during summer after he was getting thirsty, luring him to a pool where he leaned over the water and saw his reflection. He proceeded to fall deeply in love… with his reflection. However, each time he bent down to kiss his reflection, it seemed to disappear. Narcissu grew ever more thirsty, but would not leave the pool for fear of losing sight of his reflection. In the end, he died of thirst, and in his place grew the narcissus flower. There are other endings to the mythology, in which Narcissus commits suicide at being unable to attain his true love.

The Interpretation

One of the suggestions you can take from this myth is to be wary of vanity and self-love. There is a danger with social media nowadays to appear overly confident. I am not saying that it is wronge to be confident, but humility goes a long way too. Sometimes we humans tend to get very caught up in our own little worlds, and in convincing ourselves of our worth in this world we go too far the wrong way. It can be argued in this myth that Echo had not enough ego, where Narcissus had far too much. It’s about finding the perfect balance. And if you do find yourself in contact with someone who you think loves themselves a little (I mean a lot) too much, then my advice is to stay away. Narcissists will never have a good impact on your life. Echo would have been better off had she stayed away.
Until next time,
-S

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