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The Myth of Echo and Narcissus

Narcissus was conceived when his mother, the blue nymph Leiriope, was encircled with the windings of the streams of the river-god Cephisus, and Ravished.

After the child was born, his mother took him to the prophetic seer, Teiresias, who said that if the boy never came to know himself he would live to a ripe old age.

For a long time this pronouncement seemed to be nothing but empty words. However it was justified by the outcome of events, his death proved its truth.

Jupiter spent much of his time playing around with the forest nymphs. When his wife Hera would come to the forest searching for him, Echo, a forest nymph herself, would come running up and chit-chat with Hera until Jupiter and the other forest nymphs could get themselves together.

When Hera discovered that Echo was doing this she CURSED Echo so that she would never be able to initiate another conversation. Echo would only be able to respond back to another addressing her.

Narcissus grew to be a very beautiful young man who was loved by everyone, men and women. But his soft young body housed apride so unyielding that none dared to touch him. He spent much of his time CHASING timid deer through the forest.

Echo had seen this beautiful lad and had fallen in love with him. But unable to speak unless spoken too, she had to content herself with following him through the forest, hiding in the rocks.

One day Narcissus wandered from his friends and was lost in the forest. He called out, “Where are you?” Echo seized upon her chance to speak and called back, “Where are you?”

Narcissus answered, “I’m here.” She echoed, “I’m here!” “Come here.” Come here!” “I’m coming.” I’m coming!” and they ran toward each other.

When Narcissus saw that it was Echo he shouted, “Away from these embraces! I would die before I would have y ou touch me!” And he PUSHED her away.

Echo was dejected and fell back into the woods where out of unfulfilled love she died. Her bones remained in the rocks but then even they disappeared. Only her voice remained in the forest and in fact it can still be heard today.

Narcissus, still lost from his friends, wandered in the forest and was attracted to a clear pool with shining silvery waters. Its peace was undisturbed. Around it was a grassy sward, and it was sheltered from the sun by a large tree.

As he reached to quench his thirst he became enchanted by the beautiful reflection he saw. He fell in love with an insubstantial hope, mistaking a mere shadow for a real body. Spell bound by his own self; he lay down on the bank and gazed into his eyes.

Unwittingly he desired himself, at once seeking and sought, himself kindling that flame with which he burned. He vainly kissed the treacherous pool and again and again pluged his arms deep in the waters, trying to clasp the neck he saw. But he could not lay hold upon himself.

No thought of food or sleep could draw him from the spot and he lay there stretched on the shady grass gazing at the shape that was no true shape, and by his eyes he was undone.

Finally he turned to the forest and raising his arms cried out: “Oh you woods, have you ever seen a love as cruel as this? That one should love another as beautiful as this and be deluded by this love. I am in love, and see my loved one, but that form which I see and love, I cannot reach.  Alas, I am the boy I see. I know it. My own reflection does not deceive me. I am on fire with love for my own self. What should I do? Grief saps my strength. I am cut off in the flower of my youth!”

Slowly his strength was drained away but still he gazed at that same face. Now too weak to raise himself to reach into the silver pool, even his TEARS would disturb the water, so that the pool rippled, and the image grew dim.

He cried out: “Stay, do not desert one who loves you! Let me look upon you, if I cannot touch you. Let me, by looking, feed my ill-starred love.”

Now worn and wasted, slowly consumed by his hidden fire, Narcissus begins to die. Nothing remained of that body which Echo once had loved.

As the unhappy boy signed, “Alas,” her voice took up his sigh and repeated, “Alas!” When he beat his hands against his shoulders she too gave back the same sound of mourning. “Woe is me for the boy I loved in vain!” When he said his last farewell, “Farewell” said Echo too.

He laid down his weary head on the green grass and death closed his eyes. He was received into the abode of the dead in the waters of the river Styx.

His sisters, the nymphs of the spring, mourned for him, and cut off their hair in tribute to their brother. The wood nymphs mourned him too, and Echo sang her refrain to their lament.

When the pyre, the tossing torches and the bier were prepared, they went to move his body, but it was nowhere to be found. Instead of his corpse, they discovered in its place, a flower with a circle of white petals around a yellow center.

And even today this flower can be found growing in the moist places and along slow moving streams. It is called narcissus.

This text is taken with modifications from Ovid’s Metamorphosis.

The Myth of Echo and Narcissus
Folio of a etchings with embossing
Sheets are 14" x 30"
Images are 9" x 11"
Edition: 15

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