Perhaps some will find it odd, but in my reading (some tales for the first time, some for the first time in a very long time) for yesterday’s post, I noted some similarity to the nature of Ares’ mythos and my beloved Narkissos. Now, I make no secret of the fact of my reverence of Narkissos as a holy daimon, and feel His mythos alone are sufficient evidence that, even though without any evidence of ancient cult, this was likely His status in His native Thespiai.
…but I digress.
The most famous of Ares’ mythos, His adulterous affair with Aphrodite, is quite naturally suited to a cautionary tale against letting one’s ego run wild, while Narkissos’ is so deeply associated with the idea that one not even be familiar with the myth to have an idea what it must be about, so long as one has even a passing familiarity with what the English word “narcissism” means in casual every-day use.
The differences to each myth are important to consider, as they are clearly two stories with different intended audiences and so different nuances of morality lesson, but both carry an underlying theme of the dangers of letting one’s ego take control of one’s affections, and thus better judgement.
In “The Story of Narkissos”, we have a young man so consumed with the idea that no-one is good enough for His own affections that He’s cursed to stare Himself into a flower by deities closely bound to Eros; in some versions, He is portrayed as literally rejecting the Gods of Love, creating a hubristic bend to His own self-absorption.
I’m tempted to regard the story as the odd Roman influence in Hellenic mythology (as the pattern is usually in reverse), as both Venus and Mars are regarded as the patron and matron deities of Rome and a mythological narrative is an easy way to explain this. Unfortunately for my hypothesis, all I really have are my own suspicions, as the most basic elements of the myth pre-date any serious Roman influence by about five-hundred years, as best as we can tell, anyway. Still, interesting idea, and clearly a potential reason for the myth’s lasting popularity, if not at all a reason for the myth’s origin.
Regardless of the underlying origin of the myth, there are elements that clearly serve as a cautionary tale against unbridled ego and lust, and potentially against “class-climbing”.
Aphrodite is a married woman, and while infidelity in men has been accepted for millennia, not so much for women (in spite of all evidence to the contrary that women are just as much predisposed to it, if not actually possessing of a higher biological interest in multiple partners than men have), so their affair is conducted in secret — right from the beginning, this is something that is clearly not designed to be a story giving people the go-ahead to sleep around as a married woman or with married women, since even the theoi are given to a belief that it’s wrong1. At some point, Hephaistos decides to trap the problematic lovers, humiliating them for going behind His back and making Him look a fool.
Now, some of this is negated by the possible divorce of Aphrodite and Hephaistos; this is alluded to in Homer (in later naming Hephaistos’ wife as the Kharis Aglaia, Who bore Him the younger generation of Kharietes), and other poets describe it more explicitly — but then later Ares is the victim of Ahrodite’s infidelity with Adonis, giving Ares an irony of fate. Unfortunately for Adonis, His fate is to be far more tragic than Ares’, as Ares’ boar form gored the youth — but perhaps not-so-unfortunate, as Aphrodite’s love for Adonis renewed Him, finally making it clear to Ares His folly of ego, assuming that He could somehow be “enough” for Aphrodite’s affections.
In both stories, there is a variation of self-absorption that seals each fate: Narkissos staring Himself into a flower, Ares’ repeated humiliation — and each time, at the hands of men who can certainly be characterised as “weaker” (Hephaistos, the cripple, and Adonis, the effete). While certainly there are obvious differences in each story, they each share a common theme of “keep your ego in check”.
1: Of course, that’s not to say that women in Hellenic mythos are never allowed to own their own sexuality; from Athene resisting the advances of Hephaistos and raising His and Gaia’s jizz-spawn as Her own, to Demeter’s single motherhood, to Artemis cursing peeping toms watching her bathe, to Selene enchanting Her favourite twink to eternal youth and sleep so that She could lay with him. The difference for Aphrodite is that She’s married, and so fidelity is expected, as is being open to Her husband’s desires; if, like Demeter and Selene, She was unmarried, She could presumably bed and molest ALL THE MENS to Her liking. Which, yeah, compared to how Zeus’ mythos has him sticking his dick in everything, and as everything, is a total double standard and totally unfair, and Hera’s attempts at retribution hardly seem to get through to Him, but that’s not really the point of the mythos, now is it? No it’s not.