Saturday, January 28, 2006


So much of my experience with AoaN (this, by the way, will be the acronym for the book, dropping the “t” and keeping the preposition “o” and the article “a’ relegated to the lowercase, an homage to Steven LaRose of FoCB, and one of which Tyler L. would approve, I’m sure, though he would prefer its introduction footnoted rather than sheathed in this bothersome and lengthy parenthetical) has been the discovery of my misunderstandings. For example, I had always been under the impression that the fundamental characteristic of narcissism is self-love. This is inaccurate; it is quite the opposite. Put simply, narcissism is born of self-loathing.

Another misunderstanding I discovered was regarding the myth of Narcissus (there are various interpretations of it, but I will reference Ovid’s version here). I had remembered the story to be: Narcissus is out in the woods, leans down to drink some water and is so enamored of his reflection, that he becomes frozen there, as though he’d caught the glance of Medusa. This is all true, though it’s only part of the story. It is missing his crucial relationship to Echo, short-lived though it was.

Chatty Cathy

Prior to the incident at the waterline, Narcissus was pursued by the nymph Echo, who had been punished by Juno for her garrulousness.

“Juno confused
her silly tongue, because she often held
that glorious goddess with her endless tales,
till many a hapless Nymph, from Jove's embrace,
had made escape adown a mountain. But
for this, the goddess might have caught them.”

Who could blame Juno, really?

So, Echo was

“...deprived the use of speech,
except to babble and repeat the words,
once spoken, over and over.”

To speak only when spoken to.

Enter Narcissus

One day, Echo sees Narcissus out hunting alone and instantly falls madly in love. She is hot for him. Hot.

“The more she followed him
the hotter did she burn, as when the flame
flares upward from the sulphur on the torch.
Oh, how she longed to make her passion known!”

Ovid was never one to hold any sexual punches.

But Echo, given her curse, cannot make her voice known until he speaks first; she can only follow him, careful not to be seen by him. Narcissus becomes alarmed, calling out to whomever is there. She can only repeat words he’s said, and though there is meaning behind her words, the exchange only frustrates the both of them. They go back and forth like this for a while until he finally calls out, “Oh let us come together!” She rushes to him, throwing her arms around his neck. And that ends their ill-fated relationship on the spot.

Narcissus rejects her outright, pushing her away, insulting her. He is prideful. And he has a track record with rejection. Earlier on in the story, Ovid points out that throughout Narcissus’ life:

“...many a youth,
and many a damsel sought to gain his love;
but such his mood and spirit and his pride,
none gained his favour.”

Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl

Spurned, Echo hides away, humiliated, hurt, yet her love only continues to grow, and it ultimately does her in - melting her features, shriveling her skin, turning her bones to stone until nothing remains except her voice and the stones. Among the hills. Alone. Waiting for the other to allow her to speak.

Echo is crucial to the story of Narcissus because she stands as the illustration of his nasty reputation up to that point in time. Without Echo, we would neither see nor feel the consequences of his rejections of the many people that have offered their love for him. By the time his thirst drives him to his ultimate fate, Narcissus is already well down the path of isolation. His story is sad, yet the tragedy is made painful by Echo’s physical demise and eternal solitude.
Ovid! Such a poet.


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