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Useful weblinks: Echo and Narcissus

Paintings

  • Wall painting, from Pompeii! Here, as elsewhere in representations of the myth, Cupid is present. Ask students if they think the myth is better with or without the involvement of this god.
  • Caravaggio Narcissus (ca. 1594-6) - this painting is very focused on Narcissus himself and his reflection, to the exclusion of the rest of the world/scenery. Perhaps this is how Narcissus felt when he gazed at himself – as if nothing else existed! Notice the clothes he’s wearing – what time period are they from?
  • Nicholas Poussin Écho et Narcisse (ca. 1629–1630) - Cupid appears again here. Questions for students: Why isn’t Narcissus looking into the water? And what do the white flowers around his head symbolise? What part of the myth, if any, do you think Nicholas Poussin was trying to capture?
  • Benjamin West, Narcissus and Echo (1805) - draw students attention to all the swimming children and ask who do they think they’re meant to represent, and why are there so many? Is it a good representation of the myth?
  • John William Waterhouse’s painting, Echo and Narcissus(1903) - notice the daffodils next to Echo – these are linked to the flower which Narcissus turns into.
  • Salvador Dali’s painting The Metamorphoses of Narcissus, (1937) - more about this painting can be found in the Teacher’s Notes section, including part of the poem Dali wrote to accompany it. Discuss with students how it compares to the other paintings - do they like this abstract style?
  • David Revoy Narcissus and Echo (digital painting) – a modern take on the story, set on the London tube! The themes that run throughout the Echo and Narcissus story of obsession, vanity and pride are ones that are relevant to all time periods.

Sculpture

  • John Gibson’s sculpture has raised Narcissus up onto a sort of pedestal! This takes him further away from his reflection, which we can’t see, but is symbolic of how he views himself.
  • This pair of sculptures, designed by John McKenna are available to purchase - imagine placing the Narcissus one next to a pond.

Literature

  • Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, draws inspiration from the myth. The protagonist has a portrait drawn of himself that he loves to gaze upon. Whenever he makes a bad decision in his life the portrait becomes older and uglier, but he himself remains young and beautiful!
  • In Milton’s Paradise Lost, there is a passage [4.456-469] where Eve spies her own reflection in a lake and desires it in vain, just as Narcissus does! Here is the passage:

                                                      …I thither went
    With unexperienc’t thought, and laid me downe
    On the green bank, to look into the cleer
    Smooth Lake, that to me seemd another Skie.
    As I bent down to look, just opposite,
    A Shape within the watry gleam appeard
    Bending to look on me, I started back,
    It started back, but pleas’d I soon returnd,
    Pleas’d it returnd as soon with answering looks
    Of sympathie and love; there I had fixt
    Mine eyes till now, and pin’d with vain desire,
    Had not a voice thus warnd me, What thou seest,
    What there thou seest fair Creature is thy self,
    With thee it came and goes…

    And when she sees Adam, she compares him unfavourably to her own image! [4.477-480]
    Till I espi’d thee, fair indeed and tall,
    Under a Platan, yet methought less faire,
    Less winning soft, less amiable milde,
    Than that smooth watry image; …

Popular Culture

  • J.K. Rowling often draws on Classical myths (and Latin) in her famous books. Here is Harry in front of the mirror of Erised, a mirror that shows you whatever your heart desires. Questions for students: Do you think the Narcissus myth inspired this mirror? Also, Narcissa Malfoy may be named after Narcissus. How similar do you think their characters are?
  • Scottish-Canadian animator Norman McLaren created a short film Narcissus, re-telling the Greek legend through ballet. It’s quite mesmerising!
  • Narcissus appears in the Disney adaptation of Hercules as an Olympian god with purple skin! Ask students why they think the colour purple was chosen? Is it a good choice?

Pride and Vanity

  • Modern representations of Pride and Vanity- notice that they have the colour purple and the use of mirrors in common. Narcissus’ pride being an obstacle to his suitors is reminiscent of when Mr Darcy first appears in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – although he is handsome, his aloof manner means that Elizabeth doesn’t want to approach him!

Beauty

  • In antiquity, excessive beauty was often viewed with caution. As Narcissus’ mother fears at the beginning of this myth, the gods could become jealous and punish mortals who exceeded mortal beauty.
  • Psyche was a human girl so beautiful that Cupid, the god of eros himself, fell for her! Because of her beauty, mortals proclaimed that she was Venus-on-earth and stopped worshipping the goddess in favour of praising Psyche. Angry, Venus tried to kill her but when Cupid saw Psyche he fell in love and spirited her away to safety. Jean-Pierre created this painting of the two lovers.