Narcissus and Echo are two famous Greek tragic characters, depicted in a story told by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses.
In the story, Zeus was painted as a fun loving god, who loved to frolic with the nymphs and enjoyed their company. However, his wife, Hera was very much jealous and had the habit of often visiting the mountainside, with the intention of catching his husband enjoying his time with the nymphs. Zeus, therefore, entrusted Echo, a charming nymph, with the task of delaying Hera in her pursuit, so that she may not find him philandering around the beautiful nymphs. Hence, whenever Hera came close to finding Zeus, Echo stepped across her path, chatted with Hera endlessly in a lively fashion and did whatever she could to stall the goddess until Zeus and the other nymphs had enough time to escape. Eventually, as Hera discovered that Echo had been tricking her, she flew into a rage and cursed that henceforth Echo would only be able to repeat the last words addressed to her and she would not be able to speak her own again.
From that day on, poor Echo lost her power to express herself and could only repeat the last words of what others said. The distressed nymph soon became restless, wandering alone along the woods and feeling pitiful because of the curse. One day, while roaming aimlessly, she suddenly saw Narcissus, a beautiful golden haired young man, traipsing through the forest. Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liripe and was distinguished for his beauty. He was celebrated for his beauty and attracted many beautiful girls, but in his arrogance, he spurned them all.
Echo was simply taken aback by his breathtaking physical beauty and immediately fell for him. She started to follow him, loving him more with each step, as her heart was burning like the flame of a torch. She was eager to approach him and express her love, but she did not dare, as she was aware of the curse. Eventually, as she got closer, Narcissus heard the rustling of the leaves and turned around. When he asked to know, who is here, from behind a tree, Echo repeated his last word, ‘here’. After a confusing and repetitive conversation, when Narcissus wanted to see her, Echo came out from behind the tree and rushed to embrace him. However, Narcissus was not prepared for that and he shoved her away, as he was very much conceited and egoistic. He had, in the past, rejected many a beautiful dames like Echp and broke their hearts too.
Insulted, humiliated and heartbroken, Echo ran away from the scene and hid in a cave, without taking any food for days together or sleep for a while, just pining for Narcissus. Gradually, she grew skinny from starvation until her body withered away entirely into dust, leaving nothing but her voice, with which she kept her old habit of uttering the last word in reply.
However, Narcissus’s cruelty for rejecting the love of Echo,earned the wrath of Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, who cursed Narcissus, which caused him to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool. One day, as he became tired from hunting too long and was eager to quench his thirst, Narcissus suddenly found a beautiful pool of water. As he stooped and looked at the glossy and silky surface, he saw someone staring back at him. Narcissus was spellbound. Gazing up at him from the pool were eyes like twin stars, framed by hair as golden as Apollo’s and cheeks as smooth as ivory.
However, as he tried to reach out to embrace the vision of beauty and touched the water, it vanished, which returned again after a moment, as the surface became still and renewed the fascination. Gazing endlessly day after day at the image, Narcissus forgot to eat and sleep. Gradually he became lean and thin and died at the end.
The water nymphs mourned for him and prepared a funeral pile to burn his body. However, they could not find it anywhere. Instead, they found a flower in place of the body, purple within and surrounded with white leaves, which bears the name and still reserves the memory of Narcissus.