There’s so more to the Narcissus story than the modern-day application of the word: narcissist. It’s a tragic tale of heart-wrenching unrequited love.
The story begins with Echo, a mountain nymph, who loved the sound of her own voice. Caught distracting Zeus’s wife, Hera, while Zeus was getting busy with another mountain nymph, she was cursed to lose her voice: never to speak again unless spoken to, and only then to repeat the last words spoken. The distraught and lonely Echo wandered the hills and glens until one day, she encountered the youthful and handsome god, Narcissus, hunting stag in the forest. Enraptured by his beauty and grace, yet unable to initiate a conversation, she followed.
“Who’s there?” he asked, finally.
“Who’s there?” she repeated.
Narcissus called, “Anyone here?”
“Here…” Echo answered.
Looking around, he saw no one. “Why run away?”
Upon hearing his own words repeated once again, he cheated the answering voice and interrupted. “Join me here.”
Never gladder to answer, she said, “Join me here.”
Emerging from the forest, she rushed to him and threw her longing arms around his neck.
“Keep your arms from me,” Narcissus rebuffed, pushing her away. “Be off! I’ll die before I yield to you.”
“I yield to you…” Echo replied with the only words she could say.
Shamed and rejected, she dwelled in desolate caves and ravines. Her love endured, however, growing on grief until all that remained was her haunting voice and petrified bones. Thus Narcissus had spurned and mocked her, and many others after. Until one day, another scorned would-be lover raised her hands and prayed to the gods. “So too may he love, and never win his love.”
Nemesis, Goddess of Revenge, heard the prayer and deemed it worthy, cursing Narcissus to fall in love with himself. Upon seeing his reflection, he wasted away at the banks of a still pond, unable to attain the object of his affection. Any words of love he uttered to himself, Echo hollowly repeated back.
The tale ends with Narcissus, overwhelmed with grief, thrusting his hunting knife deep into his own heart. From his spilled blood — Behold, white petals ’round a cup of gold — the first narcissus flower grew.