A son of Cephissus and the nymph Liriope of Thespiae. He was a very handsome youth, but wholly inaccessible to the feeling of love. The nymph Echo, who loved him, but in vain, died away with grief. One of his rejected lovers, however, prayed to Nemesis to punish him for his unfeeling heart. Nemesis accordingly caused Narcissus to see his own face reflected in a well, and to fall in love with his own image. As this shadow was unapproachable Narcissus gradually perished with love, and his corpse was metamorphosed into the flower called after him narcissus. This beautiful story is related at length by Ovid.1
According to some traditions, Narcissus sent a sword to one of his lovers, Ameinias, who killed himself with it at the very door of Narcissus' house, and called upon the gods to avenge his death. Narcissus, tormented by love of himself and by repentance, put an end to his life, and from his blood there sprang up the flower narcissus.2
Other accounts again state that Narcissus melted away into the well in which he had beheld his own image;3 or that he had a beloved twin sister perfectly like him, who died, whereupon he looked at his own image reflected in a well, to satisfy his longing after his sister. Eustathius4 says that Narcissus was drowned in the well.
Narcissus is portrayed as a handsome nude youth with long hair. Sometimes he appears a hunter with sandals, spears, club or sword. The story of Narcissus was a popular subject on Pompeian murals (such as at the Casa del Poeta Tragico, Casa della Regina Margherita, Casa di Olconio Rufo, Casa di Loreio Tiburtino, etc.).
In later times there are the paintings by Poussin and Lemoyne. The nude figures at the "Fountain of the Kneeling Youths" (1898; Gent, Belgium) by George Minne are representations of Narcissus.
- Metamorphoses iii, 339 ff.
- Conon. Narratives, 24.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ix, 31.6.
- on Homer, p. 266.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.