Who was narcissus in greek mythology

Narcissus - World History Encyclopedia



Caravaggio (Public Domain)

Narcissus is a figure from Greek mythology who was so impossibly handsome that he fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. Even the lovely nymph Echo could not manage to tempt him from his self-absorption. Narcissus' name lives on as the flower into which he was transformed and as a synonym for those obsessed with their own appearance.

Narcissus & His Reflection

Narcissus was born in Thespiae in Boeotia, the son of Cephissus (the personification of the Boeotian river of the same name) and the nymph Liriope. His mother was warned one day by the seer Teiresias that her son would live a long life as long as 'he never knows himself.' As he reached his teenage years, the handsome youth never found anyone that could pull his heartstrings, indeed, he left in his wake a long trail of distressed and broken-hearted maidens, and one or two young men fell by the wayside too. Then, one day, he chanced to see his own reflection in a pool of water and, thus, discovered the ultimate in unrequited love and fell in love with himself. Naturally, this one-way relationship went nowhere, and Narcissus, unable to draw himself away from the pool, pined away in despair until he finally died of thirst and starvation. Immortality, at least of a kind, was assured, though, when his corpse (or in some versions the blood from his self-inflicted stab wound) turned into the flowers which, thereafter, bore his name.

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Immortality, at least of a kind, was assured, though, when Narcissus' corpse or blood turned into the flowers which, thereafter, bore his name.

Narcissus & Echo

Another version of the myth appears in the work of the Roman writer Ovid. In this telling, Narcissus is as handsome as ever but cruelly refuses the advances of Echo. The lovely nymph, heartbroken, wastes away and dies with only her voice remaining to echo her plight. As a punishment for his neglect, Narcissus is then killed. Another version has Echo punished by Hera because she kept the goddess distracted with stories while the lovers of her husband Zeus, the mountain nymphs, escaped Mt. Olympus without notice. This explains why Echo could only repeat what others said to her. It is Echo in this form that Narcissus comes across one day while hunting deer in the forest. After a useless exchange of repeated words and statements, Echo tries to embrace the youth, but he rejects her and dashes off back home. Echo then pines away in the forest so that her body eventually perishes and only her voice remains.

Narcissus Flowers

Johnathan J. Stegeman (GNU FDL)

Ameinius & Artemis

Other stories which diverge from the original myth have Narcissus, like with the Echo story, play the role of a mean rejector of suitors. One of the youth's most ardent admirers was Ameinius, but Narcissus merely sent him a sword to do away with himself, which he did. On dying, Ameinius cursed the object of his unbound affections and asked the gods to punish him. Artemis responds to the request - perhaps showing a dislike for rival hunters – and compels Narcissus to tragically fall in love with his reflection.

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Narcissus in Art & Culture

Unlike for Greek artists, the Roman version of Narcissus and Echo was a very popular subject in Roman art and is seen in almost 50 wall paintings at Pompeii alone. Renaissance art also took a shine to Narcissus; the story involving light and reflection proved irresistible to Caravaggio, who captured the myth in his celebrated 16th-century CE oil painting. Finally, his name lives on today in psychoanalysis where narcissism refers to the personality disorder of excessive self-admiration and preoccupation with one's appearance.

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Editorial Review This article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.


  • Graves, R. The Greek Myths. Penguin UK, 2011.
  • Hope Moncrieff, A.R. Classical Mythology. Senate, 1996
  • Hornblower, S. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2012.


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About the Author

Mark Cartwright

Mark is a full-time author, researcher, historian, and editor. Special interests include art, architecture, and discovering the ideas that all civilizations share. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the WHE Publishing Director.

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The myth of Narcissus, Echo and Narcissus

The myth of Narcissus is one of the most known Greek Myths, due to its uniqueness and moral tale; Narcissus, was the son of River God Cephisus and nymph Lyriope. He was known for his beauty and he was loved by God Apollo due to his extraordinary physique.

The myth of Narcissus comes in two different versions, the Greek and the Greco-Roman version, as both Conon the Greek and Ovid, the Roman poet, wrote the story of Narcissus, enhancing it with different elements.

The Greek Version of the myth of Narcissus

According to Conon, Aminias, a young man fell in love with Narcissus, who had already spurned his male suitors. Aminias was also spurned by Narcissus who gave the unfortunate young man a sword. Aminias killed himself at Narcissus’ doorstep praying to the Gods to give Narcissus a lesson for all the pain he had provoked.

Narcissus was once walking by a lake or river and decided to drink some water; he saw his reflection in the water and was surprised by the beauty he saw; he became entranced by the reflection of himself. He could not obtain the object of his desire though, and he died at the banks of the river or lake from his sorrow.

According to the myth Narcissus is still admiring himself in the Underworld, looking at the waters of the Styx.

The Roman Version of the Myth – Ovid

The myth presented by Ovid the poet is slightly altered. According to this myth, Narcissus’ parents were worried because of the extraordinary beauty of the child and asked prophet Teiresias what to do, regarding their son’s future.

Teiresias told them that the boy would grow old only if “he didn’t get to know himself”. When Narcissus was sixteen he was walking in the woods and Nymph Echo saw him and felt madly in love with him. She started following him and Narcissus asked “who’s there”, feeling someone after him.

Narcissus and Echo

Echo responded “who’s there” and that went on for some time until Echo decided to show herself. She tried to embrace the boy who stepped away from Echo, telling her to leave him alone. Echo was left heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in glens; until nothing but an echo sound remained of her.

Nemesis, though, the Goddess of Revenge, heard the story and decided to punish Narcissus. From this point the stories are similar; Narcissus sees himself in the pond and he is amazed by the beauty of the reflection. Once he figured out that his love could not be addressed, he killed himself.

The myth of Narcissus in modern life and Art

The myth of Narcissus is known also for one additional reason; the flower Narcissus that is found usually at the banks of rivers and lakes, took its name after the mythical hero. It is a graceful flower featuring 40 different species, mostly grown in Europe. It blooms in early spring and is considered fragile and very beautiful, with white, yellow and pink blossoms.

The Myth of Narcissus has inspired several artists as well; the most known is Caravaggio who painted a young man admiring his reflection in the water.

The painters Turner and Dali were also inspired by the myth, while poets, such as Keats and Housman, used his example in many of their works.

The Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky created several characters with the mentality and loneliness of Narcissus, such as Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin.

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Narcissus. Greek mythology

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Narcissus (Νάρκισσος) was a handsome young man who was ruined by love ... for himself.

This sad story happened a long time ago, when a very beautiful boy was born to a forest nymph and the god of the river, his mother decided to learn about his fate from a soothsayer. The words spoken by the old man were not entirely clear to her: "Narcissus will live to old age if he does not meet himself. "

When Narcissus grew up, he fell in love with hunting and spent whole days in the forest, hunting animals.
All the nymphs who met the handsome young man could not take their eyes off him, but Narcissus did not notice any of them . Most of all, the mountain nymph Echo fell in love with the beautiful young man.

Narcissus and Echo

The girl was pretty, but had one drawback, she talked a lot. One day, Zeus's wife, Hera, overheard her telling details about her husband's love affairs. Hera got angry and decided to deprive Echo of her normal voice, the girl could only repeat the last words or phrases.

When Echo saw Narcissus, she immediately fell in love with him and tried to silently and imperceptibly follow him.
One day, when Narcissus was hunting deer, he heard a noise. It was Echo, she decided to get closer to him, but when she got closer, Narcissus pushed her and walked on. Echo, unhappy from unrequited love and from such behavior of a young man, began to cry.

Echo did not know that Narcissus never loved anyone , he was always absorbed in his own beauty.

Nemesis (goddess of retribution) learned about the great grief of the nymph Echo and about the pride and indifferent behavior of Narcissus, she could not allow injustice. Therefore, the punishment for Narcissus was this: "He will fall in love with himself!".

Narcissus continued to walk into the forest, one day he saw a clear and transparent lake in a clearing, he stopped. Leaning over the water, he saw a face of unprecedented beauty. For several days he did not stop looking at the water, he wanted to touch it and his face suddenly blurred and disappeared.

And then he understood everything: “My God, I fell in love with my reflection!”.

Narcissus spent every day by the lake looking at his reflection. Once, when he tried to touch his beautiful face again, he fell and drowned in the lake. Zeus took pity on him and turned him into a flower, which they called a narcissus.

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Narcissus - Myths of Ancient Greece

Category: Myths of Ancient Greece

No one can resist the will of the beautiful goddess Aphrodite. She can generously bestow happiness, or she can punish severely. Until now, people remember and pass on to each other the sad story that happened to the young Narcissus, the son of the river god Cefiss and the nymph Liriope. From infancy, Narcissus delighted everyone with his amazing beauty. His parents knew that beauty does not always bring happiness to people, and turned to the soothsayer Tiresias to tell them what awaits their child in the future and how long he will live in the world.
Wise Tiresias looked at the beautiful baby and said:
- Your son can live to a ripe old age, but only if he never sees his face.
The parents of little Narcissus were surprised at such a strange answer, they did not understand anything, so they laughed at the prophecy of old Tiresias for a long time and decided not to pay attention to his empty words.
Years passed, Narcissus grew up and turned into a slender, beautiful young man. Young nymphs ran after him in a crowd, trying to attract his attention. But Narcissus did not love anyone, he was already used to the fact that everyone admires only him, while he himself remained cold and indifferent.
One day, when he was driving quivering deer in nets during a hunt, a young nymph Echo saw him. She hid in the thicket of the forest and looked at Narcissus with delight. How beautiful this young man was! How she longed to speak to him! But that was her trouble, that she could not do it. Once upon a time, the great goddess Hera punished her for informing Zeus about the approach of Hera while he was having fun with the nymphs. The great goddess was angry with Echo and cursed her:
“Let your tongue lose its power and your voice become short,” she said to the guilty nymph. Since then, young Echo had forgotten how to speak, and now she could only repeat what she heard, and then only the last words.

In pursuit of deer, Narcissus wandered into the very depths of the forest, he lagged behind his companions and looked around in confusion. Suddenly it seemed to him that some shadow flashed through the forest thicket, and he heard the rustle of someone's cautious steps.
- Hey, is anyone here? the young man shouted.
- Yes! - repeated, responding, ringing Echo.
– Why are you hiding, where are you? shouted Narcissus, surprised again.
- You? – also asked the invisible Echo. Narcissus thought that it was one of his comrades who decided to joke with him.
- Come here, we'll meet here, - the young man called.
“Meet me,” Echo happily agreed. A happy nymph ran out of her hiding place and rushed towards Narcissus, stretching out her hands to him. But Narcissus, as soon as he saw the girl, frowned and called out to her contemptuously:
- Remove your hands, I'd rather die than stay with you!
The young nymph did not know where to go from shame, she covered her face with her hands and rushed into the thicket of the forest. The unfortunate Echo fled far into the mountains and began to live there alone in the caves. Sometimes she went downstairs and wandered through the forest.
A lot of time had already passed since then, but she could not forget the beautiful Narcissus, she loved the cruel young man more and more, and resentment grew in her more and more. Echo dried up from love and grief, her body was completely exhausted, only her voice remained, still clear and sonorous. Now the unfortunate Echo is not shown to anyone, it only sadly responds to any cry.
And Narcissus continued to live proud and indifferent to everything in the world. Many beautiful nymphs suffered from love for him. And then one day they all gathered together and prayed to Aphrodite:
- Do it, great goddess, so that he falls in love unrequitedly.
In response, Aphrodite sent a light breeze to the earth. He flew over the clearing where the young nymphs had gathered, touched their flaming bodies with a gentle wing, tousled their golden curls.
Spring has come. Bright, sunny. Narcissus spent all his days hunting in the woods. Once the young man wandered through the forest for a long time, this time he did not come across game, but he was very tired and he wanted to drink. Soon the young man found a stream and bent over its mirror surface. He was about to scoop up clean cold water, but suddenly froze in amazement. A beautiful face was looking at him from the transparent depths of the stream. It never occurred to him that he saw his own reflection in the water. Narcissus kept staring at it, and the longer he looked, the more he liked it.
- Who are you, lovely stranger? he asked, leaning over the stream, “why did you hide in the stream?”
The beautiful face also moved its lips, but what it said Narcissus did not hear.
“Come out of the water, my love,” he implored his reflection and beckoned him with his hand, “don’t you see how I suffer?
The beautiful stranger also beckoned him, held out her hands and laughed when he laughed. Narcissus bent down to the very water and wanted to kiss his beloved, but only cold water touched his lips. The water in the stream trembled, wrinkled and blurred a beautiful image.
Narcissus sat down on the bank of the stream and looked thoughtfully into its depths. From below, just as thoughtfully, a wonderful face looked at him. And suddenly a terrible thought came into his head. He even flinched in surprise. Was it really his face looking back at him from the mirrored surface of the stream?
- Woe! Didn't I love myself? After all, I see my own reflection in the water. In that case, I have no reason to live. I will go to the kingdom of the dead, and then my torment will end.
Narcissus is completely dried up, the last of his strength is already leaving him. But he still can't move away from the stream, he can't help looking at his reflection.
- O great gods! How cruelly I am punished,” the suffering young man cried out of grief, and his tears fell into the clear water. Circles went on its clean surface, the beautiful image disappeared, and Narcissus exclaimed with fear:
- Do not leave me, come back, let me admire you again!
The water calmed down, and again the unfortunate young man stares at his reflection, suffering from his terrible love.
The nymph Echo also suffers looking at him. She helps him as much as she can, she talks to him as much as she can.
- Woe, exclaims Narcissus.
"Woe," Echo answers.
- Farewell, - the exhausted young man exclaims in a weakening voice.
"Goodbye," Echo whispers sadly. “Goodbye,” her fading voice is lost in the depths of the forest.
So Narcissus died of grief. His soul flew away to the kingdom of shadows, but even there, in the underground kingdom of Hades, he sits on the banks of the sacred Styx and sadly looks into the water.

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