echo-and-narcissus

The moment Echo saw Narcissus
She was in love. She followed him
Like a starving wolf
Following a stag too strong to be tackled.
And like a cat in winter at a fire
She could not edge close enough
To what singed her, and would burn her.
She almost burst
With longing to call out to him and somehow
Let him know what she felt.
But she had to wait
For some other to speak
So she could snatch their last words
With whatever sense they might lend her.
—  Extract from Ted Hughes’ ‘Echo and Narcissus’, published in Tales from Ovid (1997).

There once was this wood nymph named Echo, and she had the most beautiful voice you could ever imagine.  But while this was a great trait, she also had a worse one– while Zeus left Olympus to flirt with nymphs, and Hera came looking for him, Echo misled her so Zeus could get away.

Thing was, she didn’t do a very good job, because she got caught.  Hera– she doesn’t have a great track record of taking things lightly.  She took away Echo’s beautiful voice, so that she was only able to repeat sounds she heard, like wolves howling, trees whispering– and people talking.

Lo and behold she falls in love with some pretty boy named Narcissus checking out his reflection in the water.  She could only repeat what he said, though, so she had no way of saying who she was or that she loved him, so she remained hidden.

But every time she repeated his words, he grew more and more intrigued, thinking it was his own reflection.  To the point that he stopped eating, stopped doing everything…  and then died.  For real. 

Anyway, she was put out to say the least…

so when Pan fell in love with her, she shut him down real quick.  His rage sent his shepherds into a crazed panic, and they ripped her to pieces, scattering her to the winds.

And that’s why you can still here her to this day, repeating dog barks and car sirens.

The Story of Echo and Narcissus

                                            And so Tiresias,

Famous through all Aonian towns and cities,

Gave irreproachable answers to all comers

Who sought his guidance. Once of the first who tested

The truths he told was a naiad of the river,

Liriope, whom the river-god, Cephisus

Embraced and ravished in his watery dwelling.

In time she bore a child, most beautiful

Even as child, gave him the name Narcissus,

And asked Tiresias if the boy would ever

Live to a ripe old age. Tiresias answered:

“Yes, if he never knows himself.” How silly

Those words seemed, for how long! But as it happened,

Time proved them true - the way he died, the strangeness

Of his infatuation.

                                        Now Narcissus

Was sixteen years of age, and could be taken

Either for boy or man; and boys and girls

Both sought his love, but in that slender stripling

Was pride so fierce no boy, no girl, could touch him.

He was out hunting one day, driving deer

Into the nets, when a nymph named Echo say him,

A nymph whose way of talking was peculiar

In that she could not start a conversation

Nor fail to answer other people talking.

Up to this time Echo still had a body,

She was not merely voice. She liked to chatter,

But had no power of speech except the power

To answer in the words she last had heard.

Juno had done this: when she went out looking 

For Jove on top of some nymph among the mountains,

Echo would stall the goddess off by talking

Until the nymphs had fled. Sooner or later

Juno discovered this and said to Echo:

“The tongue that made a fool of me will shortly

Have shorter use, the voice be brief hereafter.”

Those were not idle words; now Echo always

Says the last thing she hears, and nothing further.

She saw Narcissus roaming through the country,

Saw him, and burned, and followed him in secret,

Burning the more she followed, as when sulphur

Smeared on the rim of torches, catches fire

When other fire comes near it. Oh, how often

She wanted to come near with coaxing speeches,

Make soft entreaties to him! But her nature

Sternly forbids; the one thing not forbidden

Is to make answers. She is more than ready

For words she can give back. By chance Narcissus

Lost track of his companions, started calling

“Is anybody here?” and “Here!” said Echo.

He looked around in wonderment, called louder

“Come to me!” “Come to me!” came back the answer.

He looked behind him, and saw no one coming;

“Why do you run from me?” and heard his question

Repeated in the woods. “Let us get together!”

There was nothing Echo would ever say more gladly,

“Let us get together!” And, to help her words,

Out of the woods she came, with arms all ready

To fling around his neck. But he retreated:

“Keep your hands off,” he cried, “and do not touch me!

I would die before I give you a chance at me.”

“I give you a chance at me,” and that was all

She ever said thereafter, spurned and hiding,

Ashamed, in the leafy forests, in lonely caverns.

But still her love clings to her and increases

And grows on suffering; she cannot sleep,

She frets and pines, becomes all gaunt and haggard,

Her body dries and shrivels till voice only

And bones remain, and then she is voice only

For the bones are turned to stone. She hides in woods

And no one sees her now along the mountains,

But all may hear her, for her voice is living.

She was not the only one on whom Narcissus

Had visited frustration; there were others,

Naiads or Oreads, and young men also

Till finally one rejected youth, in prayer,

Raised up his hands to Heaven: “May Narcissus

Love one day, so, himself, and not win over

The creature whom he loves!” Nemesis heard him,

Goddess of Vengeance, and judged the plea was righteous.

There was a pool, silver with shining water,

To which no shepherds came, no goats, no cattle,

Whose glass no bird, no beast, no falling leaf

Had ever troubled. Grass grew all around it,

Green from the nearby water, and with shadow

No sun burned hotly down on. Here Narcissus,

Worn from the heat of hunting, came to rest

Finding the place delightful, and the spring

Refreshing for the thirsty. As he tried

To quench his thirst, inside him, deep within him,

Another thirst was growing, for he saw

An image in the pool, and fell in love

With that unbodied hope, and found a substance

In what was only shadow. He looks in wonder,

Charmed by himself, spell-bound, and no more moving

Than any marble statue. Lying prone

He sees his eyes, twin stars, and locks as comely

As those of Bacchus or the god Apollo,

Smooth cheeks, and ivory neck, and the bright beauty

Of countenance, and a flush of color rising

In the fair whiteness. Everything attracts him

That makes him so attractive. Foolish boy,

He wants himself; the loved becomes the lover,

The seeker sought, the kindler burns. How often

He tries to kiss the image in the water,

Dips in his arms to embrace the boy he sees there,

And finds the boy, himself, elusive always,

Not knowing what he sees, but burning for it,

The same delusion mocking his eyes and teasing.

Why try to catch an always fleeing image,

Poor credulous youngster? What you seek is nowhere,

And if you turn away, you will take with you

The boy you love.The vision is only shadow,

Only reflection, lacking any substance.

It comes with you, it stays with you, it goes

Away with you, if you can go away.

No thought of food, no thought of rest, can make him

Forsake the place. Stretched on the grass, in shadow,

He watches, all unsatisfied, that image

Vain and illusive, and he almost drowns

In his own watching eyes. He rises, just a little,

Enough to lift his arms in supplication

To the trees around him, crying to the forest:

“What love, whose love, has ever been more cruel?

You woods should know: you have given many lovers

Places to meet and hide in; has there ever,

Through the long centuries, been anyone

Who has pined away as I do? He is charming,

I see him, but the charm and sight escape me.

I love him and I cannot seem to find him!

To make it worse, no sea, no road, no mountain,

No city-wall, no gate, no barrier, parts us

But a thin film of water. He is eager

For me to hold him. When my lips go down

To kiss the pool, his rise, he reaches toward me.

You would think that I could touch him - almost nothing

Keeps us apart. Come out, whoever you are!

Why do you tease me so? Where do you go

When I am reaching for you? I am surely

Neither so old or ugly as to scare you,

And nymphs have been in love with me. You promise,

I think, some hope with a look of more than friendship.

You reach out arms when I do, and your smile

Follows my smiling; I have seen your tears

When I was tearful; you nod and beckon when I do;

Your lips, it seems ,answer when I am talking

Though what you say I cannot hear. I know

The truth at last. He is myself! I feel it,

I know my image now. I burn with love

Of my own self; I start the fire I suffer.

What shall I do? Shall I give or take the asking?

What shall I ask for? What I want is with me,

My riches make me poor. If I could only

Escape from my own body! if I could only - 

How curious a prayer form any lover - 

Be parted from my love! And now my sorrow

Is taking all my strength away; I know

I have not long to live, I shall die early,

And death is not so terrible, since it takes

My trouble from me; I am sorry only

The boy I love must die: we die together.”

He turned again to the image in the water,

Seeing it blur through tears, and the vision fading,

And as he saw it vanish, he called after:

“Where are you going? Stay: do not desert me,

I love you so. I cannot touch you; let me

Keep looking at you always, and in looking

Nourish my wretched passion!” In his grief

He tore his garment from the upper margin,

Beat his bare breast with hands as pale as marble,

And the breast took on a glow, a rosy color,

As apples are white and red, sometimes, or grapes

Can be both green and purple. The water clears,

He sees it all once more, and cannot bear it.

As yellow wax dissolves with warmth around it,

As the white frost is gone in morning sunshine,

Narcissus, in the hidden fire of passion,

Wanes slowly, with the ruddy color going,

The strength and hardihood and comeliness

Fading away, and even the very body

Echo had loved. She was sorry for him now,

Though angry still, remembering; you could hear her

Answer “Alas!” in pity, when Narcissus

Cried out “Alas!” you could hear her own hands beating

Her breast when he beat his. “Farewell, dear boy,

Beloved in vain!” were his last words, and Echo

Called the same words to him. His weary head

Sank to the greensward, and death closed the eyes

That had once marveled at their owner’s beauty.

And even in Hell, he found a pool to gaze in,

Watching his image in the Stygian water.

While in the world above, his naiad sisters

Mourned him, and dryads wept for him, and Echo

Mourned as they did, and wept with them, preparing

The funeral pile, the bier, the brandished torches,

But when they sought his body, they found nothing,

Only a flower with a yellow center

Surrounded with white petals.

I imagined that if Nico had gone with Leo to get celestial bronze in Mark of Athena he’d be starstruck by Narcissus’s good looks for like one second then go ‘pfft’ and mentally comment on how Percy was so much hotter. And then he hears Narcissus self-praising himself and his face goes black instantly and he’s all like ‘ok I’m DEFINITELY sending this mother fucker to the fields of punishment you are SO not hotter than my bae’. And then he realizes how embarrassing his train of thought was and just slams his face onto the sand and screams in frustration while Leo accidentally sets Echo’s hair on fire.

My book of Greek myths had told me that the narcissi were named after a beautiful young man, so lovely that he had fallen in love with himself. He saw his reflection in a pool of water, and would not leave it, and, eventually, he died, so that the gods were forced to transform him into a flower. In my mind, when I had read this, I had imagined that a narcissus must be the most beautiful flower in the world. I was disappointed when I learned that it was just a less impressive daffodil.  

Neil Gaiman


flowers (2/?)

They told her not to fall in love.

Girl Goddess with a voice that would bring tears to mortal ears. Cursed to repeat the last word of every sentence. She misses it. She misses having control.

They told her not to fall in love.

You watch, hidden in your trees. He’s grace, sinfully so, as he leans down to dip his hands in the cool stream.

They told her not to fall in love.

He’s obsessed, leaning closer and closer. He should know better. The river is cruel, with hands ready to rip; hands ready to drown.

They told her not to fall in love.

Just once she longs to speak first, to warn him. She’d swallow rejection and savor the bitter taste of acid if it would save him.

They told her not to fall in love.

She lends herself to the wind, to the air. To disappear, to let it all go. She’ll become what she’s been all this time; an Echo.

L.H,Z // They told her not to fall in love, but she did anyway