Ever known someone like this before?
That person always glued to a mirror. They are obsessed with their own reflection and treating everyone else like dirt?
Or worse, you somehow ended up being in a relationship with that person.
There’s a special word in the dictionary for people who are obsessed with themselves like this: narcissists. The word comes from an ancient Greek story about a guy named Narcissus, whose love for his own beauty got him into a lot of trouble…
FOOTSTEPS IN THE WOODS
The son of a powerful river god and fountain nymph, Narcissus was the most beautiful being in all the world. His beauty was so strong that it seemed to hypnotize those around him, and he grew up showered with constant praise and admiration.
It was nothing for him to reject the affection of his admirers with cruel words, or worse. The way he saw it, no one was good enough to match his stunning beauty. Yet his cruelty didn’t sway others from their love for him.
One fateful day when he was a young man he went walking in the woods alone. Alone, because in his mind no one was worthy to even behold his footsteps that day. But someone did anyway. There on the path he was spotted by a mountain nymph named Echo, and she fell madly in love with him the moment she laid eyes on him.
The problem was, Echo couldn’t talk to Narcissus because she had recently angered Hera, the vengeful and extremely jealous wife of Zeus. Hera had cursed Echo and robbed her of her own speech. Now Echo was only able to say the last few words of whatever someone had just spoken to her.
Still, the sight of Narcissus was too much to resist and she followed him through the path in the woods. She went from tree to tree, hiding and peering out at the gorgeous young man. Soon Narcissus felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck –he sensed someone was behind him.
“Who’s there?” said Narcissus gazing into the dense forest around him.
“Who’s there?” replied Echo in a soft voice.
“Come out and show yourself,” said Narcissus.
“Show yourself,” answered Echo from behind a tree.
This went on for quite some time and Narcissus became impatient. He decided to try one more thing to get the mystery person to show themselves.
“Let us join one another!” he said in the most persuasive tone he could.
“Join one another!” said Echo brightly. Her heart swelled, delusional with love for Narcissus, she thought what he had said meant that he felt the same love for her. She came out from behind a nearby tree and walked up to him with open arms.
Shocked, Narcissus jumped back. The words flew out of his mouth, “Hands off you beast, may I die before I let you embrace me!”
“Embrace me,” said Echo sadly. She ran sobbing into the woods, her heart shattered into a million pieces.
What neither of them realized was that Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, had witnessed this entire scene. Knowing about Narcissus’ cruel history, she decided to do something about it.
THE POOL OF WATER
Feeling annoyed, Narcissus continued his stroll through the woods in hopes of forgetting the whole ugly encounter. He became thirsty in the afternoon sun, so he found a crisp pool of water and stopped to take a drink.
But as Narcissus lowered his lips to the water, Nemesis put her powers into action.
The pool of water became like a mirror and Narcissus beheld the clearest reflection of himself he’d ever seen in his life. Immediately, he was hypnotized by his own beauty.
‘How stunning!’ he thought to himself. He perched above the water to get an even better view of himself. ‘Incredible,’ he sighed to himself.
And it was there at the edge of the pool that he fell in love with the face he saw in the water.
Much time passed with Narcissus still perched there. He would smile at the face, and it would smile encouragingly back. His heart beating faster, he would go to touch the face with his hand, but it only made the water ripple and distort the reflection.
Many a sun rose and set over Narcissus, with him becoming desperately obsessed with this reflection that could never return his love.
Behind the trees that ringed the pool of water often stood Echo, her love for Narcissus as strong as ever. She watched as he started to fade away. Finally, Narcissus whispered his last loving words to his reflection:
“Oh marvelous face, I loved you in vain. Farewell,” and he was gone.
“Farewell,” sighed Echo.
And over time she, too, would fade. All that remains of her now is the the sound of her voice when you hear an echo in the woods.
MORAL OF THE STORY
So that is the story behind the word narcissist. The moral of the story is a strong one, as important now as it was in the days of ancient myth: