We are all familiar (or at least should be) with the myth of Narcissus. Narcissus was a young and dashingly handsome demigod. The son, according to some experts in Greek mythology, of a river god and a nymph, Narcissus wandered about hunting and looking beautiful. Women far and near lustily admired him but despaired at his inattention. Echo, a particularly charismatic nymph, was rebuffed by the young man and, in her heartbreak, was cursed and reduced to little more than the answering voice that haunts us in vast canyons and caverns. Such was the punishing allure of Narcissus.
But Nemesis, the goddess of anger, had had enough. She cursed the young man—the original Narcissist—with the burden of only ever loving himself. And so it was that this aloof breaker-of-hearts would catch his first glimpse of himself on the sheen of a pool’s surface and fall madly and irretrievably in love. From that point forward, Narcissus would share in the agony of those who adored him. Forever present, forever out of reach, Narcissus was unable to embrace his own entrancing image. In the end, the young man, wracked with despair, withered away and died. Even as he was ushered across the river that encircles the world of the dead, Narcissus could not resist one last forlorn glance at himself over the boat’s side.
Narcissus’ tale is a tragic one. A story of such self-absorption and vanity, it doesn’t simply annoy and irritate, but it kills the body and endangers the soul. Some versions of the tale even have Narcissus so desperate to possess himself that he longingly leans ever-closer to the pool’s image only to fall in and drown.