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Narcissus

It is too bad that Dear Abby was not around in ancient Greece. Some of the characters in the old Greek myths could have used some good advice.

One of them was Narcissus. He was a youth of great beauty. Dazzling beauty. Wondrous beauty. Unimaginable beauty. So much beauty that people old and young fell in love with him at first sight.

Narcissus knew just how they felt, because he loved himself, too. In fact, he loved himself so much that there was no room for anybody else in his life. Not even Echo, who had such a crush on him that she followed him around, whether he wanted her to or not.

Echo was a wood nymph. She was attractive, too, but she had a big problem of her own. She could not stop talking. She repeated everything she heard and more. She seemed to talk all the time—at least until Hera got angry and stopped her. Hera was the queen of Olympus, the mountain where the gods lived, and the wife of Zeus, the head god.

Once, Hera went down from the mountain to search for Zeus. Echo stopped her and babbled on so long about practically nothing that Zeus was able to sneak off. Hera was furious, and took away Echo's power of speech.

"From now on," said Hera, "you can say nothing of your own. You can only repeat what other people say."

If you saw Echo and said, "Hello," she said, "Hello" back to you. If you asked, "How are you today," that is what she asked.

On a hot summer day, Echo followed Narcissus through the woods. They traveled so far in so much heat that Echo was not surprised when Narcissus stopped beside a quiet forest pool. He needed a good cool drink, she thought.

Perhaps he did. But when Narcissus looked into the pool he saw looking back the most beautiful youth he had ever seen. Narcissus opened his eyes wide and stared at the youth. The youth opened his eyes wide, too, and stared back.

"Hello," said Narcissus.

"Hello," said Echo behind him. Narcissus did not see her. He thought the words came from the youth in the pool. Not understanding that the face was his own reflection, Narcissus reached down to touch it. The face disappeared.

"I love you," said Narcissus. "I love you," said Echo, as the face came back.

Narcissus reached down again. The same thing happened. "Stay for me," Narcissus said. "Stay for me," said Echo. But every time Narcissus reached out, the youth went away.

Narcissus forgot to drink. He forgot to eat. He simply sat and stared, loving, and hoping, and wanting.

"I love you," he said, again and again. "I love you," the voice came back every time.

For days this continued. Narcissus sat and stared and spoke. Echo answered. Neither of them ate or drank. Narcissus began to weaken. Then he shriveled up and died. His body disappeared, but in its place, the beautiful Narcissus flower appeared.

Echo faded away and died, too. Her body also disappeared. The only thing left was her voice. You can still hear it today, bouncing off mountains and walls, rebounding in caves and canyons.

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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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