Hera was involved in another tale of destructive love located near Thebes. Learning that Zeus was consorting with nymphs on Mount Cithaeron, she set out to expose him, but each time she approached the mountain she was waylaid by the garrulous young Echo. At last, irritated by Echo’s talkativeness, Hera cursed the poor nymph. No longer able to initiate a conversation of her own, all she could do was repeat the last words of others.

One day, Echo fell in love with Narcissus, a cruel but beautiful young huntsman, lost on the mountainside. Seeking his homeward path, he asked her for directions. Tongue-tied, Echo could not give them Instead, with growing frustration on both sides, she simply reiterated everything Narcissus said, until the angry youth chased her off and collapsed in self-pity by a pool. But as he gazed into its glassy waters he saw a face gaze back at him, a beautiful, cruel face, the most beautiful he had ever seen. Whenever he tried to touch it, though, the face appeared to shatter, before slowly forming once again. Mesmerized, Narcissus could not tear his eyes from his reflection and in time he died. A flower grew where his body lay, called the narcissus to this day. As for Echo, she wasted away until now only her voice remains.

Narcissus Photo Gallery

On a Roman mosaic in Paphos, Cyprus, Narcissus gazes longingly at his reflection in a pool of water.

Alternatively, Pan so lusted after Echo and envied her sweet musicality that, when she refused his advances, he tore her limb from limb. Although her body was scattered, it could still sing, repeating every sound it heard. When Pan hears Echo’s voice today, he rushes headlong in his desire to find her.

Pausanias dismisses the story of Narcissus out of hand. Instead, describing a pool near Thebes named after the dead hero, he explains that Narcissus had a twin sister. They were so devoted to each other that they wore the same clothes, sported the same haircuts and were in every way indistinguishable. When his sister died, Narcissus became obsessed with his reflection because it reminded him so much of her. After all, as Pausanias exclaims, at one stroke debunking the illogicality of myth: ‘it is ridiculous – a young man old enough to fall in love, who cannot tell a human being from a reflection! ’

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