Magazine article The Spectator

Ovid on Selfies

Magazine article The Spectator

Ovid on Selfies

Article excerpt

A 'meme' is 'an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture, often by mimicry'. If selfies, blogs, Facebook, Instagram, tweets and all the other means of drawing attention to oneself are anything to go by, rampant narcissism (derived from the mythical figure Narcissus) is the current, dominant meme. The Roman poet Ovid's version of the Narcissus story captures the dark consequences.

Narcissus is a beautiful baby, and his mother Liriope asks the prophet Teiresias if he will enjoy a long life.

'Only if he never knows himself', comes the paradoxical reply - for such ignorance is usually disastrous (c.f. Oedipus).

Narcissus grows up, lusted after by men and women alike, but there is an inflexible pride in his tender frame (a typical Ovidian antithesis), and he rejects all advances. Eventually one spurned male prays 'May he too fall in love, and find his love unreciprocated!'

Since Narcissus is entirely hostile to love, one wonders how this could possibly come about, but 'The god of vengeance assented to this just request. …

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