In Greek mythology, the story of Narcissus is a lesson regarding the dangers of unrequited love, arrogance and vanity.
As the story goes, Narcissus was a young hunter from Thespiae of central Greece. He was celebrated throughout all of Greece as the most beautiful of all the men. He was desired by many—male and female alike.
However, being a narcissist, Narcissus was incapable of loving anyone but himself. In his eyes, no one measured up. No one proved worthy of his love or attention.
Echo was a mountain nymph with a gift for gab!
Zeus, the king of all the gods, had a thing for nymphs and would make a point of visiting them often. One day with his wife Hera, the Goddess of marriage, hot on his trail about to bust him and discover proof of his shenanigans, Zeus orders Echo to distract Hera so that he could make his get away. Echo does as commanded and distracts Hera with endless chit-chat!
When Hera learns of Echo's collusion with Zeus, she curses Echo by taking away her ability to speak freely. Thus, leaving Echo with only the ability to repeat the last words spoken to her. Just like an echo!
One day wondering through the forest, as mountain nymphs apparently did, Echo stumbled upon Narcissus and fell instantly and madly in love with him. Unable to express her love, Echo's only recourse was to follow Narcissus through the woods—admiring him from a far.
Hearing the noises of snapping branches, Narcissus asks, "Who's there?" Echo in response repeats. "Who's there?" Narcissus assumes that he is hearing the echo of his own voice and continues on his way.
As Echo continues to stalk Narcissus, her love grows more intense. Not able to stand it any longer, Echo reveals herself to Narcissus by emerging from her hiding place and throwing her arms around him as a gesture of her deep love.
In true narcissistic fashion, Narcissus rebuffs Echo. He pushes her away and declares, "I could never love the likes of you!"
Crushed, Echo retreats into the woods. She lives out the rest of her days dejected and heartbroken, until she withers away, leaving only the echo of her voice.
In the meantime, the Goddess Nemesis who had been keeping up with the gossip concerning this beautiful man Narcissus, got wind of how he had treated Echo. Nemesis decided that Narcissus needed to be punished for his cruelty and arrogance.
Nemesis lures Narcissus to a pool of water. There Narcissus catches a glimpse of his own reflection. It's the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. Narcissus falls hopelessly in love with himself.
Unable to pull himself away and not wanting to disturb the beautiful image in the water, Narcissus eventually perishes in that very spot. In his place grows a yellow and white flower of the same name—the narcissus, commonly called a daffodil today.
The first lesson that can be learned from the tragedy of Narcissus and Echo is clearly a warning against vanity, reminding us all that there are more important matters beyond our reflection in the mirror. In my opinion, the second lesson concerns Echo's choice to spend the rest of her days pining over an arrogant a**hole. It's as if Echo had forgotten that she was happy long before stumbling upon Narcissus, and as if she had no faith in her ability to recover from heartache and to rebuild her life! The third lesson is a reminder of the core nature of a narcissist. Narcissus demonstrated no regard for Echo, or any of his suitors.
In all versions of the tragedy, Narcissus shows no empathy, no kindness, nor compassion toward others.*