Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

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Metamorphoses: Book 3: Narcissus and Echo Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Teiresias becomes a famous prophet. One day, a sea nymph who has just given birth to a beautiful baby, Narcissus, asks Teiresias if Narcissus will live to an old age. Teiresias replies that Narcissus will live a long life if he never knows himself. Narcissus grows up to be very handsome. Boys and girls desire him, but he is too proud to give himself to any of them.
As a prophet, Teiresias can see things about the future that are invisible to everyone else. This reveals that, in the world of the Metamorphoses, the future is predetermined—that everything has a set fate. Although it seems that there are many changeable factors in each of the stories, in reality neither gods nor humans have control over what is fated to occur.
Themes
Time, Fate, and Poetry  Theme Icon
One day, Narcissus is spotted by Echo, who falls in love with him. Echo is a nymph who used to help Jupiter in his infidelities by distracting Juno before she could catch Jupiter in the act. To punish Echo for this, Juno cursed her to only be able to repeat the words that are spoken to her. Echo follows Narcissus, unable to say the loving things she wants to say to him.
In this instance, the contest between Jupiter and Juno once again affects human reality. It’s also an example of (in effect) the loss of speech inhibiting someone’s heartfelt self-expression.
Themes
Gods and Humans Theme Icon
Narcissus asks who’s there, and Echo repeats his question. Startled by his own voice’s reflection, Narcissus tells the voice to come out so they can be together. Echo repeats Narcissus’s words, reveals herself, and tries to embrace him. Horrified, Narcissus scolds her away. She flees in embarrassment, repeating his insults. Echo spends the rest of her life in caves, but her voice wanders the world as echoes.
Narcissus rejects all of his lovers, but he is intrigued by Echo because she repeats his own words back to him. Narcissus’s self-absorption is actually the origin of the modern term “narcissist.” He is only interested in himself and is outraged when he discovers that Echo is a woman and not some image of himself.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
One day, one of Narcissus’s rejected lovers prays to the god Nemesis that Narcissus will one day fall in love and be unable to obtain the object of his desire. Soon after, Narcissus comes upon a clear pool after a tiring day of hunting. He stoops over the pool to drink and is struck by the beauty of his own reflection. He falls in love with himself and plunges his arms in the pool to try and embrace his reflection.
When Narcissus falls in love with his reflection, he fulfills the prophecy that Teiresias made about him. Recall that Teiresias had said that “knowing himself” would be the death of Narcissus. Both his interest in his own voice’s echo and his obsession with his own face in the pool make Narcissus want to know himself.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
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Narcissus stays by the pool day and night, not turning away from his reflection to sleep or eat. He laments that no one has loved as tragically as himself, who longs but can’t reach his beloved. As soulmates, he and his reflection will die together. He watches his reflection repeat his words but can’t hear them. He cries, and his tears blur his reflection. Unable to see himself, Narcissus tears at his clothes and beats his chest until a welt appears. Narcissus passes away, consumed by his unsatisfied desire.
Narcissus’s obsession with himself tortures him because he can’t possess himself as he could another lover. His attempt to embrace himself and his tears destroying his reflection cause him to go mad with grief. His only consolation is a tragic one in which he and his reflection die together as soulmates. In this way, Narcissus’s story is an example of love’s destructiveness.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon
Echo watches Narcissus die. She echoes the sound of his fists beating his chest and his words of farewell to his reflection. As Narcissus crosses the River Styx into Hades—the land of the dead—he gazes at his own reflection. His body is never found, only a white and gold flower where he had died.
Echo’s presence exacerbates Narcissus’s love. She echoes the sound of his misery, leading him to believe that his reflection is mimicking his grief in his voice. Narcissus believes that he has fallen in love with an exact copy of himself.
Themes
Love and Destruction Theme Icon