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(wall painting, Pompeii , around 70 AD)
Echo and Narcissus
( John William Waterhouse , 1903, Walker Art Gallery , Liverpool)
( Caravaggio , 1598/99, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica , Rome)
( Gyula Benczúr , 1881, Hungarian National Gallery , Budapest)
Narcissus Fountain (1896, Hubert Netzer , Cecilienhof Potsdam)

Narcissus ( Greek  Νάρκισσος , Narkissos, Latin Narcissus ) is in Greek mythology the beautiful son of the river god Kephissus and Leiriope , who rejected the love of others and fell in love with his own reflection.


In Thespiai the river god Kephissos raped the water nymph Leiriope and made her pregnant, whereupon Narcissus was born, to whom the seer Teiresias predicted a long life only if he did not recognize himself ("si se non noverit").

He was courted by young men and women alike, but was filled with defiant pride in his own beauty and heartlessly rejected all his admirers. This insult also happened to the mountain nymph Echo and the suitor Ameinias, to whom Narcissus gave a sword. Ameinias killed himself on the doorstep with the sword he had received, but not without first calling on the gods to avenge his death. Nemesis (or Aphrodite ) heard the request and punished Narcissus with insatiable self-love : When he saw himself in a spring of water, he fell in love with his own reflection without realizing that it was himself he was seeing.

Ovid goes on to say: Narcissus recognized that his love could not be fulfilled without it being of any use to him: he consumed himself and languished in front of his likeness until death. Echo repeated his last words: “Oh, you hopelessly beloved boy, farewell!” Instead of his corpse, the dryads found a daffodil .

Pausanias narrates: One day Narcissus sat down by the lake to enjoy his reflection, whereupon a leaf fell into the water by divine providence and the waves created clouded his reflection. Shocked by the supposed realization that he was ugly, he died. After his death he was turned into a daffodil.

In another version, Narcissus falls into the lake and drowns.

Representation in art

Narcissus was a popular subject in the visual arts even in ancient times . Depictions of Narcissus can be found on cut stones, late reliefs and especially on sarcophagi . The best known are the fifty or so wall paintings depicting Narcissus that were found in Pompeii . They show him in different variations as a hunter sitting by the water and looking at his reflection (not always shown).

At the turn of the 20th century, especially among the French writers André Gide ( treatise on Narcissus ) and Paul Valéry ( Narcissus speaks ), Narcissus became the personification of a purely self-referential poetry , as it is often intended in modern times.

In the work of the Spanish poet Pedro Calderón de la Barca , the young Narisco initially remains in a cave because his mother wants to protect him from the prophecy. The mother poisons the tongue echoes so that it can only repeat the last word syllables paralyzed.

Two poems and a draft poem with the heading Narcissus were written by Rainer Maria Rilke .

Hermann Hesse wrote a novel called Narcissus and Goldmund .

A new theory of origin

On the basis of unpublished inscriptions from Eretria on Euboea and previously neglected evidence, the ancient historian Denis Knoepfler recently suspected that the origin of the myth of Narcissus was not to be found in Boeotia , but in the sanctuary of Narkittos in Amarynthos near Eretria, i.e. further south. In contrast to the Hellenistic-Roman sources, which consider Narcissus to be a young handsome boy, he is represented there as a powerful natural deity. The same mythical figure seems to be addressed, who is otherwise known as Hyakinthos , who was worshiped in the Greek region of Amyklai and in the sphere of influence of Sparta .

See also


  • Balbina Bäbler , Jan Bremmer : Narkissos. In: The New Pauly (DNP). Volume 8, Metzler, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-476-01478-9 , Sp. 712-714.
  • Gereon Becht-Jördens, Peter M. Wehmeier: From an art object to a living person. Ovid on the possibilities and limits of art. In: Hans Förstl et al. (Hrsg.): Metamorphosen (= series of publications of the German-speaking society for art and psychopathology of expression. Volume 25). Edition GIB, Berlin 2006, ISBN 978-3-00-019592-1 , pp. 37-45.
  • Mirko Gemmel: Reflections on the mirror motif in the Narcissus myth. In: Critical Reports . Journal for art and cultural studies. Volume 32, No. 2, 2004, ISSN  0340-7403 , pp. 67-75.
  • Wilhelm Greve : Narkissos . In: Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher (Hrsg.): Detailed lexicon of Greek and Roman mythology . Volume 3.1, Leipzig 1902, Sp. 10-21 ( digitized version ).
  • Rudolf Hadorn: Narcissus. The myth as a metaphor from Ovid to today. Ploetz, Freiburg / Würzburg 1984, ISBN 3-87640-319-7 .
  • Heidi Marek: Narkissos. In: Maria Moog-Grünewald (Ed.): Mythenrezeption. The ancient mythology in literature, music and art from the beginnings to the present (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 5). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2008, ISBN 978-3-476-02032-1 , pp. 458-468.
  • Ursula Orlowsky, Rebekka Orlowsky: Narcissus and narcissism in the mirror of literature, the fine arts and psychoanalysis. From myth to empty self-presentation. Fink, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-7705-2738-0 .
  • Almut-Barbara Renger (Ed.): Myth of Narcissus. Texts from Ovid to Jacques Lacan . Reclam, Leipzig 1999, ISBN 3-379-01661-6 ( table of contents ).
  • Almut-Barbara Renger: Narcissus - “Self-Knowledge” and “Love as Passion”. Thoughts on a myth. In: Almut-Barbara Renger (Ed.): Narcissus. A myth from antiquity to cyberspace. Metzler, Stuttgart 2002, pp. 1-11.
  • Joachim Ringleben: How does Narcissus die? Echo and reflection as a deadly glow. On the love death of Echo and Narcissus (Ovid, Metam. III, 339-510) (= news of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen. Philological-historical class. Year 2004, volume 10). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2004.
  • Winfried Schindler: Ovid: Metamorphoses. Recognition myths of the West. Europe and Narcissus (= Exemplary Series Literature and Philosophy. Volume 20). Sonnenberg, Annweiler 2008, ISBN 3-933264-39-1 (with a detailed interpretation of the Caravaggio picture, illustration above).

Web links

Commons : Narcissus  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Narcissus  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Hyginus , Fabulae 271; Ovid, Metamorphoses 3,343
  2. Ovid, Metamorphoses 3,342
  3. Ovid, Metamorphoses 3, 342–346
  4. Ovid, Metamorphoses 3,348.
  5. Konon 24
  6. Ovid, Metamorphoses 3,406: "Rhamnusia"
  7. Ovid , Metamorphoses 3,402-510.
  8. Pausanias, Description of Greece 9,31,7.
  9. See Wilhelm Greve: Narkissos , Sp. 13.
  10. Denis Knoepfler: La Patrie de Narcisse. Un heros mythique enraciné dans le sol et dans l'histoire d'une cité grecque. Odile Jacob, Paris 2010, ISBN 978-2-7381-2500-2