Folktales and Mythology

Echo and Narcissus – A Roman Mythological Folktale From Augustan Age

echo and narcissus roman folktale
Written by Kiran Jhamb


Echo was a beautiful nymph. She was very fond of the woods and hills and loved to play there. But she had one failing: she was very fond of talking and always liked to have the last word.

One day Juno, a goddess, came searching for her husband because she feared he might be flirting with other nymphs. Echo deliberately delayed Juno by talking to her till the nymphs involved had escaped. On discovering this, Juno got angry. She cursed Echo, ‘You have cheated me with your tongue. You shall lose its use when you want to reply. You shall have the last word but no power to speak first.’

In the course of time Echo one day saw Narcissus, a beautiful youth, and fell in love with him. She wanted to talk to him, but couldn’t because of Juno’s curse. She silently followed him everywhere. Narcissus continuously sensed her presence and getting exasperated, shouted one day, ‘Who is here?’

Echo replied, ‘Here!’

Seeing no one, Narcissus again shouted, ‘Come.’

Poor echo managed only to say, ‘Come’ but did not come into the open.

Narcissus again called, ‘Why do you avoid me?’

Despite her best efforts, Echo could only ask the last part of the same question, ‘Avoid me?’

Narcissus again called, ‘Let’s be together.’

Echo happily came out ready to embrace him. Narcissus was startled. Looking at her he rejected her, ‘Go away! I would rather die than love you.’

‘Love you…’ pleaded Echo but Narcissus didn’t listen to her and went away. Echo felt very insulted and dejected. She went into the deepest parts of the woods. She spent the rest of her life in caves and among mountains. Gradually her body withered; her bones were changed into rocks. Nothing of her was left except her voice. Her voice still replies to anyone who calls her in caves and mountains. Thus even today she has the last word.

Narcissus was actually very proud. He not only rejected Echo but the other nymphs too. Hurt by his disdain and callousness, one of the nymphs prayed to the Gods that Narcissus should be given a taste of his own medicine. She prayed that he would fall in love with someone who would not return his affection. The Gods heard this prayer and granted it.

One day Narcissus, tired and thirsty after hunting, came across a stream of pure water. He stooped down to drink and saw his own image reflected in water. He thought it was some beautiful water-spirit staring at him from the water. He tried to touch the attractive youth. The image naturally fled away but after a few moments it returned and looked back at him. Spell bound he gazed at it and instantly fell in love with that youth. He smiled at it. It smiled back. He beckoned with his arms the image too did the same. He got convinced that the water-spirit loved him. He forgot to eat and drink. His tears fell into the water and the image faded away. He cried, ‘Alas! Alas!’ Echo, who kept a watch over him, too, cried, ‘Alas! Alas!’  Since his love could not be addressed, he slowly pined away and died. The nymphs gathered to cremate his body. They made a funeral pyre to burn the body but to their surprise, they found that the body had morphed into a white graceful, fragile flower. They started calling this flower Narcissus. Narcissus thus came to symbolize self-love.

Today Narcissism is regarded as a form of emotional immaturity. It means an excessive interest in or admiration of oneself, extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration.

Read more Mythological Tales.


About the author

Kiran Jhamb

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