Echo was a nymph in Greek mythology who delighted in conversation.
One day, Hera suspected that Zeus had fallen in love with a nymph.
She approached a group of nymphs, determined to discover which one was guilty of attracting Zeus. As she drew near, Echo suddenly spoke to the goddess, amusing her with her chatter until the others escaped.
When Hera realized Echo’s trickery, she angrily struck the nymph’s tongue dead except to repeat the words of others.
Sadly, Echo fell in love with a youth named Narcissus, who was the most beautiful young man in Greece.
Wherever he traveled, he received exclamations of admiration and sighs of love. But Narcissus was filled with pride, and he coldly rejected all of them.
Echo, lovesick and ignored, could only follow him silently except to repeat the words he spoke. Finally, Echo wasted away until only her voice remained.
One rejected nymph prayed that Narcissus would suffer for his cold pride by feeling the pain of unrequited love. The god Nemesis heard her prayer. After a long day of hunting, Narcissus leaned over a pool to drink.
Suddenly, Narcissus glimpsed his own image on the surface staring back at him. Entranced, Narcissus leaned over to grasp the image, but his hands only dipped into the water.
“Now I know,” he cried, “what others have suffered from me, for I burn with love for my own self.”
Narcissus stared into the pool until he eventually died, fading into the flower that now bears his name, the Narcissus.
In Caravaggio’s painting, Narcissus glimpses his own reflection in a pool and falls desperately in love. He will remain there, wasting away until he is transformed into a flower.
Caravaggio (1573-1610), an influential Italian painter, created the work, one of numerous depictions of the perennially popular myth.
The word narcissistic describes those who are absorbed in their own beauty or circumstances.