Echo and Narcissus
by Ovid (Adapted)
Long ago, in the ancient world, there
to the blue-eyed Nymph Liriope, a beautiful boy,
whom she called Narcissus. An oracle foretold at
his birth that he should be happy and live to a
good old age if he "never saw himself." As this
prophecy seemed ridiculous his mother soon forgot
all about it.
Narcissus grew to be a stately, handsome
youth. His limbs were firm and straight. Curls
clustered about his white brow, and his eyes
shone like two stars. He loved to wander among
the meadow flowers and in the pathless woodland.
But he disdained his playmates, and would not
listen to their entreaties to join in their games.
His heart was cold, and in it was neither hate nor
love. He lived indifferent to youth or maid, to
friend or foe.
Now, in the forest near by dwelt a Nymph
named Echo. She had been a handmaiden of
the goddess Juno. But though the Nymph was
beautiful of face, she was not loved. She had
a noisy tongue. She told lies and whispered
slanders, and encouraged the other Nymphs in
many misdoings. So when Juno perceived all
this, she ordered the troublesome Nymph away
from her court, and banished her to the wildwood,
bidding her never speak again except in
imitation of other peoples' words. So Echo dwelt
in the woods, and forever mocked the words of
youths and maidens.
One day as Narcissus was wandering alone in
the pathless forest, Echo, peeping from behind
a tree, saw his beauty, and as she gazed her heart
was filled with love. Stealthily she followed his
footsteps, and often she tried to call to him with
endearing words, but she could not speak, for she
no longer had a voice of her own.
At last Narcissus heard the sound of breaking
branches, and he cried out: "Is there any one
And Echo answered softly: "Here!"
Narcissus, amazed, looking about on all sides
and seeing no one, cried: "Come!"
And Echo answered: "Come!"
Narcissus cried again: "Who
art thou? Whom
And Echo answered: "Thou!"
Then rushing from among the trees she tried
to throw her arms about his neck, but Narcissus
fled through the forest, crying: "Away! away!
I will die before I love thee!"
And Echo answered mournfully: "I
And thus rejected, she hid among the trees, and
buried her blushing face in the green leaves. And
she pined, and pined, until her body wasted quite
away, and nothing but her voice was left. And
some say that even to this day her voice lives in
lonely caves and answers men's words from afar.
Now, when Narcissus fled from Echo, he came
to a clear spring, like silver. Its waters were
unsullied, for neither goats feeding upon the
mountains nor any other cattle had drunk from it,
nor had wild beasts or birds disturbed it, nor had
branch or leaf fallen into its calm waters. The
trees bent above and shaded it from the hot sun,
and the soft, green grass grew on its margin.
Here Narcissus, fatigued and thirsty after his
flight, laid himself down beside the spring to
drink. He gazed into the mirror-like water, and
saw himself reflected in its tide. He knew not
that it was his own image, but thought that he
saw a youth living in the spring.
He gazed on two eyes like stars, on graceful
slender fingers, on clustering curls worthy of
Apollo, on a mouth arched like Cupid's bow, on
blushing cheeks and ivory neck. And as he gazed
his cold heart grew warm, and love for this beautiful
reflection rose up and filled his soul.
He rained kisses on the deceitful stream. He
thrust his arms into the water, and strove to
grasp the image by the neck, but it fled away.
Again he kissed the stream, but the image mocked
his love. And all day and all night, lying there
without food or drink, he continued to gaze into
the water. Then raising himself, he stretched
out his arms to the trees about him, and cried:--
"Did ever, O ye woods, one
love as much as I!
Have ye ever seen a lover thus pine for the sake
of unrequited affection?"
Then turning once more, Narcissus addressed
his reflection in the limpid stream -
"Why, dear youth, dost thou
flee away from
me? Neither a vast sea, nor a long way, nor a
great mountain separates us! only a little water
keeps us apart! Why, dear lad, dost thou deceive
me, and whither dost thou go when I try
to grasp thee? Thou encouragest me with
friendly looks. When I extend my arms, thou
extendest thine - when I smile, thou smilest in
return - when I weep, thou weepest - but when
I try to clasp thee beneath the stream, thou
shunnest me and fleest away! Grief is taking
my strength, and my life will soon be over! In
my early days am I cut off, nor is Death grievous
to me, now that he is about to remove my
Thus mourned Narcissus, lying beside the
woodland spring. He disturbed the water with
his tears, and made the woods to resound with
his sighs. And as the yellow wax is melted by the
fire, or the hoar frost is consumed by the heat of
the sun, so did Narcissus pine away, his body
wasting by degrees.
And often as he sighed, "Alas!" the
Echo from the wood answered, "Alas!"
With his last breath he looked into
the water and sighed, "Ah, youth beloved, farewell!" and
Echo sighed, "Farewell!"
And Narcissus, laying his weary head
upon the grass, closed his eyes forever. The Water-Nymphs
wept for him, and the Wood-Dryads lamented
him, and Echo resounded their mourning. But
when they sought his body it had vanished away,
and in its stead had grown up by the brink of the
stream a little flower, with silver leaves and
golden heart - and thus was born to earth the
woodland flower, Narcissus.