Tuesday, May 15, 2012


n., pl., -cis·sus·es, or -cis·si (-sĭs'ī', -sĭs'ē).
Any of several widely cultivated bulbous plants of the genus Narcissus, having long narrow leaves and usually white or yellow flowers characterized by a cup-shaped or trumpet-shaped central crown.
[Latin, from Greek narkissos (influenced by narkē, numbness, from its narcotic properties).]

n. Greek Mythology
A young man who pined away in love for his own image in a pool of water and was transformed into the flower that bears his name.
 The Flower
Any of about 40 species of bulbous, fragrant, ornamental plants that make up the genus Narcissus in the amaryllis family, native mainly to Europe. Popular spring garden flowers include the daffodil, or narcissus (N. pseudonarcissus), the jonquil (N. jonquilla), and poet's narcissus (N. poeticus). The stem usually bears one large blossom. The central crown of each yellow, white, or pink flower ranges in shape from the form of a trumpet, as in the daffodil, to a ringlike cup, as in the poet's narcissus. Rushlike or flattened leaves arise from the base of the plant. Though poisonous, the bulbs were once used in medicines.
All Narcissus species have a central bell-, bowl-, or disc-shaped corona surrounded by a ring of six floral leaves called the perianth which is united into a tube at the forward edge of the 3-locular ovary. The seeds are black, round and swollen with a hard coat. The three outer segments are sepals, and the three inner segments are petals. Though the traditional daffodil of folklore, poetry, and field may have a yellow to golden-yellow color all over, both in the wild species and due to breeding, the perianth and corona may be variously colored. Breeders have developed some daffodils with double, triple, or ambiguously multiple rows and layers of segments, and several wild species also have known double variants.
The Name
There are two derivations of the name. One is that of the youth of Greek mythology called Narcissus, who, in at least one of many variations of the tale, became so obsessed with his own reflection as he knelt and gazed into a pool of water that he fell into the water and drowned. In some variations, he died of starvation and thirst from sitting by the edge of the pool, transfixed by his own reflection. In both versions, the Narcissus plant sprang from where he died.
The other derivation is that the plant is named after its narcotic properties (ναρκάω narkao, "I grow numb" in Greek).
There are several plurals in common use: "Narcissuses", "Narcissi", and "Narcissus". This last is common in American English but is very rare in British usage. The American Webster's Third New International Dictionary gives plurals in the order "Narcissus", "Narcissuses", and "Narcissi", but the British Compact Oxford English Dictionary lists just "Narcissi" and "Narcissuses".
The name Daffodil is derived from an earlier "Affodell", a variant of Asphodel. The reason for the introduction of the initial "d" is not known, although a probable source is an etymological merging from the Dutch article "de," as in "De affodil." From at least the 16th century, "Daffadown Dilly", "daffadown dilly", and "daffydowndilly" have appeared as playful synonyms of the name.
The name "jonquil" is sometimes used in North America, particularly in the Southern states, but strictly speaking that name belongs to only the rush-leaved Narcissus jonquilla and cultivars derived from it.
Flowers of the tazetta-group species Narcissus papyraceus are commonly called paperwhites.



Self-Portrait with Narcissus Flower by

 See more artwork by Keelan McMorrow

The Myth
Several versions of this myth have survived from ancient sources.
The best known classic version is by the Roman poet Ovid, found in book 3 of his Metamorphoses (completed 8 AD). 
Echo and Narcissus - John William Waterhouse

Duane Michals
This is the story of Narcissus and Echo. Narcissus is another example among several of a beautiful young man who spurned sex and died as a result. As such, his myth has much in common with those of Adonis and Hippolytus. In the Roman poet Ovid's retelling of the myth, Narcissus is the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. Tiresias, the seer, told his parents that the child "would live to an old age if it did not look at itself." Many nymphs and girls fell in love with him but he rejected them. One of these nymphs was Echo. Echo was a beautiful young nymph whose chattering annoyed Juno (Hera in Greek), wife of Jupiter (Zeus in Greek). As punishment, Echo was never again allowed to speak of her own volition but was condemned to repeat the last word of the person speaking to her. Echo was so distraught over this rejection that she withdrew into a lonely spot and faded until all that was left was a plaintive whisper. But even in death she continued to love Narcissus. The goddess Nemesis heard the rejected girls prayers for vengeance and arranged for Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection. Whenever he tried to kiss the water spirit, his contact with the surface shattered the image, and his love therefore remained unrequited. He experienced the same pain which he had inflicted on Echo and all the other nymphs. He was not repentant, though, but argued with the water spirit that he was worthy of being loved. He could not tear himself away from his reflection, he stayed watching his reflection and wasted away. When he died and his shadow passed the Stygian river, it leaned over the side of the boat to catch one last glance of its own reflection.
The nymphs, still grieving over the object of their affection were going to burn his body, but it was nowhere to be found. In the place where the young man had died, the most beautiful flower had sprung up and that flower became known by the name of Narcissus.The beautiful young man who was unable to love anyone, not even himself was condemned to pine for a reflection of reality.
Dead Narcissus, with wasting Echo in the background by Nicolas Poussin
In an earlier version ascribed to the poet Parthenius of Nicaea, composed around 50 BC, which was recently rediscovered among the Oxyrhynchus papyri at Oxford. It differs from Ovid's version, in that this one ends with Narcissus committing suicide. There is also a version by Conon, a contemporary of Ovid, which also ends in suicide (Narrations, 24). 
Narcissus in the 16th century, Caravaggio
A century later the travel writer Pausanias recorded a novel variant of the story, in which Narcissus falls in love with his twin sister rather than himself (Guide to Greece, 9.31.7).

In Greek mythology, the story is of a beautiful youth who falls in love with his own reflection. Narcissus was the mortal child of the nymph Liriope and the river-god Cephisus. When he was young, his mother consulted the prophet Teiresias about his life, hoping to hear that her son would be long-lived. Teiresias answered that the boy would have a long and happy life, “If he never knows himself.” This prophesy would seem especially perplexing in the ancient Greece where the exhortation to “know thyself” was revered, it was even carved onto the temple of the oracle at Delphi.
Narcissus languishing by his reflection by Lépicié Nicolas Bernardt-1771
Narcissus grew up to be so beautiful that all who saw him, boys and girls alike, fell in love with him. But he spurned them all, preferring to wander by himself on the hillsides and in the forests.
Rio on the Dipsea Trail 2 - Imogen Cunningham 1918
One of the most enthusiastic of Narcissus’ admirers was the nymph Echo, now robbed of her voice.  She took to trailing after him, pitifully hoping that he might speak, so that she could respond.  This was a favorite aspect of the story for ancient authors—finding clever ways for Narcissus to say something rejecting, so that Echo could repeat the last part of it lovingly.  Something like “I don’t want you to touch me!” “Touch me!”  

Yet Narcissus continued to refuse her.  Rejected, love-stricken and ashamed, Echo hid herself in caves, wasting away from unrequited love until there was nothing left of her but bones and her voice.  A sad end for such a once-spirited girl.  Narcissus, of course, didn’t notice a thing.

Eventually, Narcissus catches sight of himself for the first time in the surface of a pond, and falls instantly and hopelessly in love with his own image. 

Narcissus - Ashtyn Long by David Vance
An important and earlier variation of this tale originates in the region in Greek known as Boeotia (to the north and west of Athens). Narcissus’ self-love is actually the result of a curse. Narcissus lived in the city of Thespiae. A young man, Ameinias, was in love with Narcissus, but he rejected Ameinias' love. He grew tired of Ameinias' affections and sent him a present of a sword. Ameinias killed himself in despair with the very sword in front of Narcissus' door and as he dies, with his last breath calls upon the goddess Nemesis to punish Narcissus for his coldness. The dreadful goddess comes up with a perfect torment, condemning Narcissus to fall in love with the only person he can’t have: himself.  Upon seeing his reflection in a pool of water, Narcissus is so entranced that he forgets to eat or sleep, slowly dying of self-neglect. Echo, ever loyal, echoes his cries of pain with her own.  The gods saddened by the loss of such beauty, transform the boy into a beautiful flower, the narcissus.

Both of these stories give an origin to the  narcissus flower , which grew where Narcissus died. The story bears a resemblance to another famous looker, Adonis, who rejected even the goddess of love. Both young men end up transformed into flowers.

Тhe myth of Narcissus has inspired artists for at least two thousand years, even before the Roman poet Ovid featured a version in book III of his Metamorphoses.

In more recent centuries it has been revisited by other poets (e.g. Keats and Alfred Edward Housman) and painters (Caravaggio, Poussin, Turner, Dalí, and Waterhouse).
Narcissus by Caravaggio
Narcissus, Echo and Eros - Pompeii
Perhaps because of its contribution to debates about the nature of representation and the relationship between what is seen and what is real, the myth has been very popular as a subject in art, both during and since the classical period.
Narcissus - Pompeii
About fifty murals depicting Narcissus survive from Pompeii alone. The ancient legend of Narcissus is told to us by Ovid and is illustrated in Pompeian frescoes. 2000 years ago it was a sad tale just as it is in the lives of present day narcissists and those who love them.
In the fresco upper right, Narcissus is the lad staring at his reflection in the water, oblivious to anyone around him. An adoring Echo looks on and a mischievous Eros plays with his arrows.
Metamorphosis of Narcissus - Salvador Dali
 Perhaps the best-known work from the modern period representing the myth is Salvador Dali's Metamorphosis of Narcissus. In this oil painting Salvador Dalí linked the classical tradition of Greek mythology with the latest investigations of science, in this case psychoanalysis, doing so by recourse to the myth of Narcissus, so charged with significance for an artist constantly seeking to construct his image.
In July 1938, Dalí travelled to London to converse with Freud, and in the course of the visit showed the psychologist his painting. Freud later remarked: “Until today I had tended to think that the surrealists, who would appear to have chosen me as their patron saint, were completely mad. But this wild-eyed young Spaniard, with his undoubted technical mastery, prompted me to a different opinion. Indeed, it would be most interesting to explore analytically the growth of a work like this …”

Narcissus' love for his own reflection is the origin of Freud's idea of narcissism as a stage in the development of the ego. Lacan saw primary narcissism as concerned with the creation of awareness of the body as body; he also drew attention to the fragmentation of the body in this myth, with Echo as voice alone, and Narcissus as the gaze. Derrida suggested that Freud was himself Narcissus, the man fascinated by his own image.

The myth had a decided influence on English Victorian homoerotic culture, via André Gide's study of the myth, Traite du Narcisse ('The Treatise of the Narcissus', 1891), and the only novel by Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. sometimes referred to as The Portrait of Dorian Gray, is the only published novel by Oscar Wilde, appearing as the lead story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890, printed as the July 1890 issue of this magazine. Wilde later revised this edition, making several alterations, and adding new chapters; the amended version was published by Ward, Lock and Company in April 1891.
The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian's beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil's, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry's world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfillment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than he. Dorian's wish is fulfilled, plunging him into debauched acts. The portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging. The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered a work of classic gothic fiction with a strong Faustian theme.
Echo and Narcissus - Richard Baxter
Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist also starts with a story about Narcissus, found (we are told) by the alchemist in a book brought by someone in the caravan. The alchemist's (and Coelho's) source was very probably Hesketh Pearson's The Life of Oscar Wilde (1946) in which this story is recorded (Penguin edition, p. 217) as one of Wilde's inspired inventions.

Narcissus - Will H Low

A person diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder refers to an individual that possesses character traits and exhibits behaviors that display an obvious love and infatuation of themselves. A narcissist is concerned only with his or her self and have complete disregard for the existence of other individuals when it pertains to other people’s own value ...

The Greeks and Romans were keen appreciators of beauty, especially male. Certainly there are various myths revolving around a woman’s beauty (Helen and the Trojan War, for instance), there seem to be many more about gorgeous, and often tragic, young men. Narcissus takes his place in a firm pantheon that includes Ganymede, Hyacinthus, Achilles, Hylas, Paris, Endymion, and many more, all with their own interesting stories.

Perhaps we should all reconsider how much time we spend in front of the mirror, as should these young men that follow....

Todd Sanfield by Kevin McDermott

Narcissus - Robert Sherer
Narcissus - David Vance

Narcissus by Terry J Cyr

Gervase Griffiths by Cecil Beaton

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