Echo And Narcissus

By Donna Jacobs Sife

I am lucky that my parents love each other very much . In fifty years, they have hardly spent a night apart.
Recently, when I was discussing faith with my parents, I asked my mother “What do you believe, mama ?”
My mother turned to my father and asked “What do I believe again?”
My father responded “That there is no God.”
“Oh yes” my mother said. “That’s right.”

This is a story of love.

It begins on the peak of Mount Olympus in Greece, where a young nymph called Echo, attended Hera, wife of Zeus, God of Gods. A worthy job for a young Nymph - but not enough for Echo. She felt small and insignificant and determined to find a way to gain importance in her own foolish eyes.

Zeus had a roving....eye. And Echo promised Zeus that whenever he desired the company of nymphs and maidens, she - Echo - would distract Hera with delicious morsels of other peoples’ lives. Zeus desired many, but never Echo. Never mind. She had found a way to make her claim on him.

The ruse was highly successful. Echo was really quite charming and Hera adored gossip. Eventually however, Hera saw through the trick and was extremely angry.

“How dare you interfere with the love of gods” she thundered at her. “You speak to me of other people’s lives? From this day unto eternity, you shall only speak other people’s words.”

And so Echo was cursed. She flew to the most desolate woodlands of Mt. Olympus and there she stayed. For company all she could do was stalk those who wondered into her wilderness, repeating anything they might say.

In the meantime, a young man named Narcissus was courting his own doom.

Narcissus was ravishingly beautiful; and outrageously arrogant. Many people fell in love with him, men and women - but he despised them all, and rejected them cruelly. He loved his own company, wondering the woodlands of Mt Olympus, indifferent to the pain and grief of his suitors. One such suitor, distracted by despair one day, prayed to the gods - “May Narcissus suffer the same pain as we do. Make him suffer unrequited love.”

The prayer came to the attention of Nemesis, God of Vengeance and Retribution. She followed Narcissus until he stopped by a still pool of water in the woods, and then afflicted him with a terrible thirst. When he bent down to drink from the pool, he saw his reflection for the first time. He did not however understand that it was his own reflection that he was gazing upon.

“Oh, Beloved.” He said to himself, “at last I have met one worthy of my love. Ohh,” he shuddered, “that soft skin, those precious blue eyes. Let me kiss you.”

Sure enough, as he bent down to kiss the glorious face, it rose up to meet him - but - as they kissed, it disappeared, and Narcissus had to wait for the pool to be still again before the face returned.

And what of Echo? She saw Narcissus by the pool, and immediately fell in love with him.

“Oh Beloved” he said
“Beloved” she echoed
“I have waited so long”
“So long”
“Come close and kiss me”
“Kiss me”

She thought he was talking to her, since there was no-one else to be seen.
He ignored her, so absorbed was he in contemplation with himself. And Echo’s unrequited love eventually wore her out. Her body faded away, and only her voice remained, haunting wild and rocky places, eternally echoing every sound she heard.

Narcissus cared only for the unresponsive but devastating individual who lived in the pool - so near, so unattainable. He was stuck, rooted to the spot beside the pool. Until finally, the gods took pity and transformed him into the flower that blooms in early spring, and always hangs downward - reaching towards their reflection, in the surface of the water.

My mother, my darling mother, repeats herself repeating others nowadays -endlessly. She has no memory. She has faded away. My father does all the remembering now.

Donna’s thoughts
There are many ways to enter this story. Those of us who have experienced unrequited love will know the unresolved equation. The Unattainable plus the constant Possiblity multiplied by Desire, equals Obsession. When I suffered this affliction, I often said to friends that I did not understand the mathematics of love.

However, I choose to tell it this way. My parents represent the Old Paradigm of Love - where two become one. I cannot do that anymore. The New Paradigm, of two remaining two, separate and yet strengthened in partnership, is the one I wish to pursue.

And yet, I imagine, I have not yet tackled the mathematics it demands.