In Greek mythology Echo was a wood nymph who loved a youth by the name of Narcissus. He was a beautiful creature loved by many but Narcissus loved no one. He enjoyed attention, praise and envy. In Narcissus’ eyes nobody matched him and as such he considered none were worthy of him.
Echo’s passion for Narcissus was equaled only by her passion for talking as she always had to have the last word. One day she enabled the escape of the goddess Juno’s adulterous husband by engaging Juno in conversation. On finding out Echo’s treachery Juno cursed Echo by removing her voice with the exception that she could only speak that which was spoken to her.
Echo often waited in the woods to see Narcissus hoping for a chance to be noticed. One day as she lingered in the bushes he heard her footsteps and called out “Who’s here?” Echo replied “Here!” Narcissus called again “Come”, Echo replied “Come!”. Narcissus called once more “Why do you shun me?… Let us join one another.” Echo was overjoyed that Narcissus had asked her to join him. She longed to tell him who she was and of all the love she had for him in her heart but she could not speak. She ran towards him and threw herself upon him.
Narcissus became angry “Hands off! I would rather die than you should have me!” and threw Echo to the ground. Echo left the woods a ruin, her heart broken. Ashamed she ran away to live in the mountains yearning for a love that would never be returned. The grief killed her. Her body became one with the mountain stone. All that remained was her voice which replied in kind when others spoke.
Narcissus continued to attract many nymphs all of whom he briefly entertained before scorning and refusing them. The gods grew tired of his behaviour and cursed Narcissus. They wanted him to know what it felt like to love and never be loved. They made it so there was only one whom he would love, someone who was not real and could never love him back.
One day whilst out enjoying the sunshine Narcissus came upon a pool of water. As he gazed into it he caught a glimpse of what he thought was a beautiful water spirit. He did not recognise his own reflection and was immediately enamoured. Narcissus bent down his head to kiss the vision. As he did so the reflection mimicked his actions. Taking this as a sign of reciprocation Narcissus reached into the pool to draw the water spirit to him. The water displaced and the vision was gone. He panicked, where had his love gone? When the water became calm the water spirit returned. “Why, beautiful being, do you shun me? Surely my face is not one to repel you. The nymphs love me, and you yourself look not indifferent upon me. When I stretch forth my arms you do the same; and you smile upon me and answer my beckonings with the like.” Again he reached out and again his love disappeared. Frightened to touch the water Narcissus lay still by the pool gazing in to the eyes of his vision.
He cried in frustration. As he did so Echo also cried. He did not move, he did not eat or drink, he only suffered. As he pined he became gaunt loosing his beauty. The nymphs that loved him pleaded with him to come away from the pool. As they did so Echo also pleaded with him. He was transfixed; he wanted to stay there forever. Narcissus like Echo died with grief. His body disappeared and where his body once lay a flower grew in it’s place. The nymphs mourned his death and as they mourned Echo also mourned.* * * * * * * *
The story of Echo and Narcissus is used as a warning to those who love someone that can not love them back and is often used as a basis for understanding the implications of a condition known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It is also used in reference to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Extracts taken from the “The Age of Fable” written by THOMAS BULFINCH were used in the story above.