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Echo And Narcissus

from Good Stories For Great Holidays - MOTHERS' DAY





BY OVID (ADAPTED)

Long ago, in the ancient world, there was born 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 here?"

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 seekest thou?"

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 love thee!"

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 sorrows!"

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 grieving 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.





Next: The Lark And Its Young Ones

Previous: Hyacinthus



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