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Narcissus (mythology)

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Narcissus-Caravaggio (1594-96) edited

Narcissus by Caravaggio depicts Narcissus gazing at his own reflection.

In Greek mythology, Narcissus (pronounced: /nɑrˈsɪsəs/; Greek: Νάρκισσος, Narkissos) was a hunter from the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia who was renowned for his beauty. He was the son of a river god named Cephissus and a nymph named Liriope.[1] He was exceptionally proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis noticed this behavior and attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus drowned. Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself.


The name is of uncertain etymology. According to Robert S. P. Beekes, "[t]he suffix [-ισσος] clearly points to a Pre-Greek word."[2]

Ancient sources

Many versions of this myth have survived from ancient sources. The classic version is by Ovid, found in book 3 of his Metamorphoses (completed 8 CE); this is the story of Narcissus and Echo. One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted "Who's there?". Echo repeated "Who's there?". She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, learned of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. She lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He didn't realize it was only an image and fell in love with it. He eventually realized that his love could not be addressed and committed suicide.[1]

An earlier version ascribed to the poet Parthenius of Nicaea, composed around 50 BCE, was recently rediscovered among the Oxyrhynchus papyri at Oxford.[3] Like Ovid's version, it ends with Narcissus committing suicide. A version by Conon, a contemporary of Ovid, also ends in suicide (Narrations, 24). In it, a young man named Aminias fell in love with Narcissus, who had already spurned his male suitors. Narcissus also spurned him and gave him a sword. Aminias committed suicide at Narcissus's doorstep. He had prayed to the gods to give Narcissus a lesson for all the pain he provoked. Narcissus walked by a pool of water and decided to drink some. He saw his reflection, became entranced by it, and killed himself because he could not have his object of desire.[1] A century later the travel writer Pausanias recorded a novel variant of the story, in which Narcissus falls in love with his twin sister rather than himself (Guide to Greece, 9.31.7).[4]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Greek Myths & Greek Mythology
  2. Robert S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 997.
  3. David Keys, "Ancient manuscript sheds new light on an enduring myth", BBC History Magazine, Vol. 5 No. 5 (May 2004), p. 9 (accessed April 30, 2010);
  4. Mario Jacoby, Individuation and Narcissism (1985; 2006).

Modern sources

  • Graves, Robert (1968). The Greek Myths. London: Cassell. 
  • Gantz, Timothy (1993). Early Greek Myth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 
  • Kerenyi, Karl (1959). The Heroes of the Greeks. New York/London: Thames and Hudson. 
  • Vinge, Louise (1967). The Narcissus Theme in Western Literature up to the Nineteenth Century. 
  • Calimach, Andrew (2001). Lovers' Legends: The Gay Greek Myths. New Rochelle: Haiduk Press.  On-line version
  • Alexander, Mark (2012). Narcissus.  On-line version.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Narcissus (mythology). The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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