The Story of Narkissos

Re-told by Ruadhan J McElroy

[note: The following is a revised version of a piece of mine that was originally printed in Issue #13 of He Epistole. The Narkissos mythos are of Boeotian origin, and there are literally dozens of variations of the story, some very wildly different from the rest (such as the one contesting that Narkissos longed for His lost twin), most of which actually don’t even mention the nymphe Ekho, Who is quite prominent in the most popular modern retellings (though for that, we have Ovid to blame). Mine takes from a few of my favourite versions and draws heavily from my cultus to the Erotes.]

Many millennia ago, in the Greek land of Boetoia, there was a handsome youth born to a family of what was then regarded as lesser nobility. They named him “Narkissos”, an adaptation of the ancient Greek word for “numb” because unlike other infants, his birth did not seem to amaze him in any way – he simply took the sudden shock of all the earth’s glory created by both Gods and mortals in such a calm and collected manner as if he were jaded by it all.

When Narkissos grew into a young man of sixteen, he had already acquired many potential suitors, but turned them all away in a callous manner. One day, Ameinias, a young man whose affections Narkissos had been especially toying with could not stand it any longer, and proclaimed, “Beautiful Narkissos, I would rather die than suffer another breath without you in my arms!”

Narkissos yawned and offered Ameinias his own sword, saying nothing what could not be said with no more than a cruel smirk.

Ameinias took Narkissos’ sword and walked away, trying to hide his pain. He wandered for hours until he finally returned to Narkissos’ door. Whispering a prayer to Anteros and to Nemesis, petitioning the Theoi to see that Narkissos himself feel the pain of unrequited love. Ameinias then fell on Narkissos’ sword and lay there writhing in pain until finally Thanatos took pity on the man, and Ameinias breathed his final breath. When Narkissos discovered Ameinias’ cold body at his stoop, he ordered for a slave to carry the corpse away, claiming he was already bored with looking at it.

Outraged by such an unfeeling rejection of sincere love, the Erotes set a curse on Narkissos, damning him to fall in love with the ugliest young man he should ever cast his glance upon – and sometimes these things don’t necessarily work out in the most literal fashion.

As Narkissos made his way out that day, he passed wretches of young men – dwarves of ill proportions, men with burn scars and horrible red birthmarks covering their faces, men whose limbs had been lost from leporsy, men whose faces were covered in the blisters of herpes, men disfigured by curses placed upon their mothers or themselves. None of these men were determined by the earthly daimones as being ugly enough for Anteros’ curse. That is, until Narkissos came upon a reflecting pool. At first alarmed, Narkissos quickly became so enamoured with his own reflection that time just seemed to stand still. You see, even the love Gods realise that beauty is only part physical and while Narkissos happened upon many men who could be considered monstrous in comparison to just the physical parts of beauty, Narkissos’ behaviour toward Ameinias was determined to be so grotesque that even They, lovers themselves of the well-sculpted and well-preened male form, could not even see his physical beauty any longer. When igniting the wrath of the Gods, it only matters how They define such things.

When Narkissos finally reached out to touch the boy in the water, he realised that it was merely his reflection in a pool of water and became so heartbroken that he felt he had no other choice but to meet the youth’s embrace anyway, even if it meant that he should drown himself. Anything, Narkissos thought, was greater than to live loving a man who he could never touch. And as he began to succumb to death’s embrace, he finally wept for Ameinias as he realised what pain the other young man must have felt, and he begged for the Gods’ forgiveness as the waters filled his lungs.

When his lifeless body floated to the top of the water, some nymphs took pity upon him and retrieved his body for proper burial right by the spring so that he could at least rest beside his beloved. Soon after burial, by the grace of the Gods, from Narkissos’ grave sprang a flower which later became named for him so that those who hear of its origins will see it and remember to at least be kind to those who seek our love, even if we do not seek theirs in return. By grace of the nymphai, Narkissos lives on as a daimon, a lover to those unloved.

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