Echo and Narcissus

Maybe you have heard the expression that states, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Today, I purchased a print that, for me, speaks volumes. It's a print called Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse. The painting beautifully illustrates a Greek myth that both touches and saddens me. I bought it as a reminder and a warning to myself.

According to the legend, Narcissus was the most handsome man of ancient times. But his beauty was only skin deep. He mocked the youths and nymphs around him. One nymph, Echo, fell hopelessly in love with the handsome, charismatic Narcissus. In return for her love, he scorned Echo. She literally pined away, her passion unrequited, until only her voice remained.

The other nymphs, infuriated by Narcissus' treatment of Echo, prayed to the gods of Mount Olympus,

"So may he himself love, and not gain the thing he loves." (Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.405)

Then one day, as he walked along a pool of water, Narcissus looked down and discovered his own reflection. He fell in love with his reflection and sat gazing at it. Narcissus mourned inconsolably for the love he could not have until death finally claimed him. The nymphs, including Echo, went to the pool of water to mourn for Narcissus. They found no remains, only the yellow flowers that would come bear his name.

Ok, so maybe it's a little corny. But, I cannot help but relate to the character of Echo. Who hasn't experienced unrequited love? Don't we always love the one that we can't have?

I feel I've spent my life loving Narcissistic men didn't love me in return. Selfish men who place themselves above all others--this has been the general rule, not the exception, when describing the men, both the lovers and friends, in my life. No matter how I've cared or what I've given, time and time again, I have been easily cast off and dismissed by the object of my affection.

I cannot really blame the men, though I wish I could. Why have I stayed and continued to try in one-sided relationships? Why do I mourn for the love I never really had?

Echo also pined away for a man that never showed her affection. Heck, the silly nymph mourned Narcissus's death after all that he had put her through. I mean, really, what in the world was she doing picking those little yellow flowers? "Mow those weeds down," I'd say!

Yet, despite my derision of her, I know in my gut that I am Echo. I despise this weakness; I am ashamed of my repeated patterns with Narcissistic men.

Perhaps, I am drawn to the story of Echo and Narcissus because it is also a story of revenge. The writer Ovid did not characterize the extreme selfishness of Narcissus as being a quality to admire. Rather, Narcissus was forever cursed because of his treatment of Echo. As a result of his selfish nature and the careless way he treated Echo's heart, Narcissus died alone and unhappy.

Will I see this vindication with my Narcissists? Would revenge really satisfy me or fill the void these men left? I doubt it. Maybe my only consolation is that unlike Echo, I have not simply faded into a whisper. I am still a vibrant force. My voice is clear.

Perhaps, there is a lesson to be learned in the story of Echo and Narcissus. Both protagonists are fatally flawed, lacking balance of character. Echo was too unselfish and she lost her very self as a result. In contrast, Narcissus' extreme love of himself caused him to die a lonely man.

Will I learn to be more balanced? Will I avoid the mistakes of relationships past? Can I forgive and, even more importantly, forget the men of my past? I don't know. Time will tell whether my story ends happily. In the meantime, I'll hang Echo and Narcissus, gaze at it from time to time, and hope that this is one myth that doesn't become a reality.

What do you think? Take this Quick Poll!

No comments: