Echoes of Narcissus

Echoes of Narcissus

Echoes of Narcissus

Echoes of Narcissus


In Greek mythology the beautiful Narcissus glimpsed his own reflection in the waters of a spring and fell in love. But his was an impossible passion and, filled with despair, he pined away. Over the years the myth has inspired painters, writers, and film directors, as well as philosophers and psychoanalysts. The tragic story of Narcissus, in love with himself, and of Echo, the nymph in love with him, lies at the heart of this collection of essays exploring the origins of the myth and some of its many cultural manifestations and meanings relating to the self and the self's relationship to the other. Through their discussion of the myth and its ramifications, the contributors to this volume broaden our understanding of one of the fundamental myths of Western culture.

Lieve Spaas is Research Professor of Arts and Culture, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University and has worked in social anthropology, French literature, and francophone film.

Trista Selous is Associate Research Fellow at Roehampton Institute, London.


Ancient myths are perpetuated through cultural transmission in a variety of ways. They are written, dramatised, metamorphosed, and developed into new myths, each reflecting the culture in which they re-emerge; they reflect culture and culture, in turn, transforms and recreates them. Myths are nonhistorical stories which express selective and collective truths. They may draw upon situations of conflict, evoke dichotomies that cannot be resolved or address nontangible or incomprehensible aspects of reality. Narcissus, one of the most poignant mythical characters from antiquity, posits, in his tragic story of self-love, two profound philosophical questions: that of the distinction between illusion and reality and that between self and other. In so doing he raises fundamental issues of knowledge and identity.

In Greek mythology, the beautiful Narcissus glimpsed his own reflection in the water of a spring and fell in love with it. This scene constitutes the core of the ancient Narcissus myth, which has been retold in different versions, of which the best known are those of Ovid and Pausanius. It may be helpful to recall briefly the story's main points at the beginning of this volume of essays. Of the two versions, Ovid's is the more elaborate. According to him, Narcissus was born to the blue-waternymph, Liriope, after she had been raped by the river-god Cephisus. When he was born, Liriope consulted the blind seer Tiresias to ask whether her son would live to a ripe old age. The seer replied ominously, 'If he never knows himself'.

Narcissus' beauty was such that boys and girls alike fell in love with him. Among those lovers was the nymph Echo, who . . .

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